Photographer Eugene Richards is at the Missouri School of Journalism today. He’s a recipient of a 2014 Honor Medal from the J-School.
Richards has been speaking in classes today about his work and how he does it. If you don’t know his work, it’s often very gritty. He’s photographed poverty, racial injustice, drug culture, emergency room doctors and nurses, impoverished mental patients around the world and veterans and families of the Iraq War. He’s also photographed some beautiful things, like a LIFE essay on a couple having a child. Look at his work and you see someone who gets physically and emotionally close to his subjects. It’s not documenting. It’s more of an emotional introduction to the person in the frame.
During question and answer sessions Richards talked about pictures and their place in the world. He knows the public is inundated with images on a daily basis. Pictures of Ebola patients and doctors in Africa might not resonate with everyone, but we still have to take them so people have the opportunity to see what’s going on and what requires a response. He also recognizes photographs have power but not on their own. A photograph by itself doesn’t change anything, but a photograph in the right environment can be a catalyst for change.
Richards was asked how he continues to do the work he does. It takes a lot to see the things he’s seen and to see them continually through different projects. His response? It’s the job. You do it because that’s what you do.
Persistence, and vision.
Congratulations to Mr. Richards on his latest recognition, and thanks for sharing with us today.
“I desperately wanted to leave the room, to leave the country, to be home, but I couldn’t. I continued to photograph.”
The Lightbox feature on TIME magazine’s website has published a collection of photographs on the Ebola outbreak in Africa. “Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved them Most” is a collection of 10 photographs from different locations in Africa, selected by the photographers who made them. The photographers were also asked to reflect on their experiences covering the outbreak and describe the photograph they selected.
Some of the pictures show the victims of the virus. Others show the survivors. A few show people who were not affected directly by the virus but by the public response to it. Some of the pictures are pretty graphic (which is one reason to link to the feature and not reproduce them here.)
The quote above is from Kieran Kesner of the Wall Street Journal. His photograph of a woman’s body and a member of a body removal team accompanies his description. His quote is a reminder that even when they want to turn away, photojournalists document the things that happen in the world – the good, the tragic and everything in between. The photographs add a dimension to reporting on Ebola that words alone can’t convey. They add detail and context to the story. They give voice to people who can’t otherwise share their stories.
Kieran’s photograph in black and white shows the body on the floor, the member of the removal team in protective gear and light coming in from the side. It’s a tragic scene, but one that also shows care and dignity.
It’s why we need photojournalists… and their vision.
International news reporting is a difficult, expensive and often dangerous proposition. Budget tightening at news organizations has reduced the number of foreign staff members, meaning much foreign reporting is done by wire services or freelancers. Freelance reporters and photographers can find themselves operating in dangerous regions with little financial or logistical support. It’s dangerous work, and for women the danger is compounded when working in areas where they are subject to physical and sexual abuse.
Critics also have noted for some time that foreign news often features day-to-day big events. Reporting/photography that explains issues takes time and effort. It can’t be done well by sending in photographers for a short term.
Round Earth Media is trying to change many of those characteristics. The organization is a partnership of world-wide organizations that is training the next generation of global journalists. As part of the effort, the organization is supporting the production of multimedia stories on under-reported issues. Round Earth arranges partnerships between young American journalists and early-career journalists in the countries where the reporting takes place. Veteran journalists from Round Earth mentor the partners.
The arrangement provides some safety for the American journalists, provides understanding from the journalists in other countries and benefits the audience by providing depth to foreign reporting.
Round Earth works to cover the journalists’ expenses. Fees paid by media partners help, and the organization receives grant funding and support from individuals. They also current have a Kickstarter campaign going to fund some specific projects.
I know there are students, and early-career journalists, who really want to cover foreign news, but the options are limited. With more photographers being forced into a freelance career, programs like Round Earth could be beneficial for developing a vision of in-depth reporting from around the world.