“I thought only men were photographers”

Wed the 24th

As I have traveled teaching photography, in Rwanda, Nepal, Haiti, and now Cameroon, this is a common message from the women and girls I meet.  Based on their experience and what they see around them, photographers are men and so most of the reporters never thought of photography as something they would pursue.  When a reporter here told me “I thought only men were photographers”, it was after a day of photo training, when we had looked at a lot of photography and photo essays and they had begun to see the power of images and were realizing that this could be another form of communication for them and a new tool to tell their stories.    It’s so exciting to watch that light go on when they discover that they can and will be photographers and that they will be able to harness the power of visual storytelling.

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The reporters of the GPI newsdesk in Cameroon with their new cameras

I am very grateful to Pro Photo Supply for their continuing support of my work and for becoming the equipment sponsor for our Cameroon desk by donating the cameras our reporters will be using here.  Nakinti, Irene, Comfort and our newest reporter Mosina, live and work in different towns so it was essential that they all have their own cameras.   It will allow them to be able to take photographs for every story, increasing the impact of their work.

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GPi reporters during the photojournalism training in Cameroon

We continue to tweek the original curriculum that I had put together, as we learn about new challenges our reporters face, additional skills we want them to have, or when we find better approaches to some things.  One of the recurring issues we are seeing and realizing we need to address more, while true for photographers everywhere, seems to be even more of an issue in many of the reporters’ communities, and that is the difficulty in finding a comfort level with photography, both in taking the pictures and in trying to make their subjects comfortable.

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Cameroon reporter Nakinti taking photographs for one of her stories

In Haiti reporters told us that they wouldn’t be allowed to take pictures, because people were generally suspicious of why you were taking it and what you would do with it.   I think they were surprised when we went to a local hospital to do a workshop and we had people lined up wanting to have their picture taken, and it was a good lesson not to assume that your subject will protest.    But I know that they and reporters at other desks have faced a number of difficult shooting situations, and it’s true that these are sometimes challenging environments in which to make pictures, in part because photography isn’t nearly as prevalent, in some cases there are cultural objections to photography, and there is not a paparazzi culture as we have in the US, where you know there is a possibility of having your picture taken around any corner.  So like photographers everywhere, the reporters are learning to negotiate those spaces, to find their own comfort level in photographing people and to teach their subjects about why they need to spend significant amounts of time taking their pictures, rather than just the quick snap shot that they are usually expecting.

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