Photojournalism is an art that needs more attention and respect. Regular journalism in comparison is more widely noticed and respected. However, not many realise that a photo can actually be worth 1000 words. Take Nic Dunlop, a photojournalist who has covered regimes of South-east Asian countries, for over 25 years purely through photos. He came and visited Grade 9 students from UWCSEA East during the annual “Writers Fortnight” event that happens in UWCSEA. He talked about his life experiences in war-torn places in South East Asia, specifically in Cambodia and Burma.
His inspiration to quit arts school and come to Cambodia, to pursue photojournalism, was the film "The Killing Fields". In his first assignment in Cambodia, he was able to expose one of the Khmer rouge leaders Comrade Duch who was under the radar for many years, with his book, "The Lost Executioner". Dunlop's exposure resulted in Duch being the first person in the Khmer rouge to be found guilty of crimes against humanity by the UN. This just proves that photo journalism is a tool that can find the unknown and bring it to the attention of the world.
After Cambodia, Dunlop has worked in Burma for over 20 years. He covered the military coup, which has caused one of the longest internal conflicts in recent memory, and also covered the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi. He wrote another book during his time there called "Brave New Burma" and used his skills to direct the documentary "Burma Soldier". He got nominated for an Emmy Award for this in 2012. Photojournalism's rich content can be used in multiple popular media such as film and bookmaking. At the core of good photo journalism is the photo itself. It has the capability to be used very effectively to provide a strong message. Let us talk about what contributes to make an effective photo?
Cover of Dunlop's Second Book "Brave New Burma"
A great photo is insightful and can reveal a deeper meaning. When he did his “Writers Fortnight” workshop, Dunlop used one of his photos of a woman suffering from malaria in a bed with mosquito nets, as part of an activity of finding all possible meaning within a photo. Most people when asked said that it shows pain and suffering, however, in that very photo, there was a ray of light on top to represent a glimmer of hope, to represent that there is a chance of good things to come. Finding the hidden meaning is often the key to making a photo worth a thousand words. The other aspect that has a bigger impact on the photo than what people think is the colour used. In Dunlop’s book "Brave New Burma", he mainly used black and white photography. He used this rather dull colour to convey grief and hard times of the civilians and the state of the country at the time. This workshop with Dunlop taught me how you can add a whole new layer of meaning with photojournalism, if you are willing to look and think deep enough.
The photo Dunlop used in his "Writes Fortnight" workshop
With pioneers like Dunlop, I believe photojournalism has a bright future ahead. With social media platforms and growth of internet and various applications especially Instagram, people will continue to share more digital media every day and appreciate each other's work. I feel that due to this explosive growth of internet and use of digital media, photo journalism has a bright future that can open people’s world, bring wonderful new possibilities and can well be the new, most effective and popular form of journalism.
Overall photojournalism is an art that needs more respect and awareness. It is one of the most powerful and often underrated form of providing a social message and has pioneers already like Nic Dunlop. Good news is that it has the potential for a bright future and I am predicting it will be even more recognised in the future as the new way of doing journalism.