Tag: Laurence Cornet

Connect: Metrography, the first and only Iraqi photography agency.

Blink is committed to connecting local journalists with media companies around the world; such connections allow companies to hire people who are on the ground and able to tell their own stories from inside the communities that they know better than anyone else. This is exactly what Metrography has achieved in Iraq.

Laurence Cornet interviews Metrography Agency’s editor in chief Stefano Carini and agency photographer Rawsht Twana for the first installment in our new series “Connect,” interviews with outstanding professionals from the Blink network.


LC: Stefano, you started to work with Metrography in May and it has been the most productive time since the agency started…

SC: When I arrived there was no war – it was a very boring Kurdistan for the editors. My role was to work with the photographers on developing in-depth stories and coach them. Already, in the first month I had lined up about 5 or 6 stories that would be developed, all of which we could not finish because the war started and we had to react to it.  We needed to exploit, basically, the moment and the photographers wanted to talk about what was happening in their country.

The events made it possible to work more. We gained some trust, people knew that we were there, and now we are slowly moving back to the stories that we had in mind, that we believe are important and will give legacy to Kurdish photography.


LC: What kind of challenges do you face?

SC: I don’t speak Kurdish so it’s difficult for me to promote the agency in Kurdistan in Iraq. We currently don’t work with people in the South because I have never met them personally and I can’t put an editor in New York in touch with somebody I have never met. It would be too stressful. Assignments are usually in dangerous places or about things that are difficult to access, so to send somebody without much experience would be risky.


LC: It’s not an easy job to be a photojournalist who satisfies internationally known photo editors…

SC: You need to prove that you can do it, and we did. We did several assignments with Der Spiegel, Le Monde and Al Jazeera. The editors were always happy.

Having a photographer who speaks Kurdish, but also Arabic or other dialects helps when it comes down to getting the access or finding the people you need for your piece. When you are from abroad, either you have been here many many times, in which case you are kind of a local, or you are not going to find the right people. You are going to find the mainstream characters that are always the same – politicians and so forth. The best scenario is to match local knowledge with international understanding and experience, in other words, to have an experienced writer teamed up with one of our photographers.


LC: Do you work with local writers?

SC: We tried to work with local writers but journalism here is hardly independent and the Kurdish language is very difficult to translate. What we do is work with international journalists who live here and know the place. Some of the most interesting stories we did involved this combination of international writers and local photographers.


LC: What successful stories did you produce recently?

SC: We are working on a large project about Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) in Iraqi Kurdistan – there are 1.2 million Iraqis who have entered Kurdistan since the beginning of the war in June. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s not really newsworthy so we are raising funds to do a series of in-depth stories.

The first story we did was with Rawsht who found a family in Erbil that was hosting two children from Alqosh, a Christian enclave in the North of Iraq. At that time Alqosh was attacked and then controlled by ISIS, so everybody left the city.

RT: The children are originally from Baghdad. The father left them. He is in Baghdad and doesn’t care about them. The mother died of cancer, so the children were left in an orphanage in Alqosh after having already been displaced a couple of times. When ISIS arrived they had to escape and that’s when I met them in Erbil where an uncle hosted them.

SC: Rawsht has this very particular way of working that he gets really close to people.

RT: I always eat with them!

SC: Rawsht had already started the story. We got some money for the expenses and a fee so he could continue the work and stay with them for a few weeks. Alqosh became secure again, so the orphanage reopened and school started. The children had to go back to the orphanage. They were being displaced once again from their family environment in Erbil, and sent back to the orphanage.  Rawsht went back to Erbil and stayed with the children for a few days, then traveled with them to Alqosh and spent one night at the orphanage. That’s something you can only afford to do with a local photographer – you get that kind of intimacy.

Of course, foreign photographers could do that but it would take a level of commitment that is very hard to capture when you come from abroad; because you are spending money to fly to a place that you only stay in for a limited amount of time. It took Rawsht two months, working every week with the family.


LC : Do you plan to develop the agency across the region?

SC: If we had more resources we would have already grown. It would not make sense to make the agency an international one, but a regional agency – yes. It would be very interesting to expand to the countries that border with Iraq such as Iran, which has huge photographic potential. Perhaps even Turkey, and connect a few photographers working in the Kurdish areas. You can then share, invite everybody, send the photographers from one side to the other and get different views on the same topics. But until now it has been impossible because of time and the amount of work, coupled with limited resources.


LC: What are your plans for the near future?

SC: We have many plans and projects in the works. We finally edited a 5-year project by Aram Karim about the smugglers on the border of Kurdistan. We also have a huge exhibition on contemporary photography from Kurdistan that you will hopefully see in New York in the next couple of years. Also, in Rawsht’s father’s archive there are over 30,000 images from a period of time when there were no formal records of Kurdistan. It’s a unique piece of work, so we are trying to find funds to archive it properly and create a project that would combine that with Rawsht’s own work. It’s all work in progress!


Metrography was founded in Iraq in 2009 by two photojournalists who wanted to create a place for photography in a country where it is largely misrepresented. Kamaran Najm Ibrahim and Sebastian Meyer’s idea was to define the agency as a place for the photographers to be protected, helped, supported and educated. Basically, a place where anybody could stop by to show their portfolio, browse through a book from James Nachtwey or Reza, learn, and most importantly meet an editor with international experience and a level of understanding for photography that could be inspiring.

Stefano Carini started photography in 2009. He then became the photo editor of Noor Agency for one year, working with some of the best photographers in the world. His idea for Metrography is to implement Noor’s very clear and organized structure on a local agency level, working with what he believes is something really important and often overlooked: local photographers and journalists. In the meantime he works on his own long-term projects without too much stress.

Rawsht Twana started photography in 2006 when he found the archive of his father, who photographed Kurdistan from 1965 to 1992. He became a member of Metrography in 2009, and is currently working on a book.

Laurence Cornet is a writer, a photography critic and a curator based in Brooklyn. Her clients include L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Magnum Foundation, Images magazine, Vice, MSNBC, Vogue and Camera.

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Nicolas Levesque's transformation from Photojournalist to Filmmaker

Nicolas Levesque is a photographer and a filmmaker based in Chicoutimi, Quebec who’s latest short documentary, “Interview With a Free Man,” was featured at the Tribeca Film Festival a few weeks ago. Laurence Cornet talks with Nicolas about the transformation from still photographer to filmmaker and the lessons he learned along the way.

LC: Can you start by giving a little bit of background about yourself?

NL: I studied photography for 3 years. I was then interested in cinema and wanted to become a director of photography so, I went to a cinema school in Santiago in Chile, where I study DP. When I came back, I made my first documentary short. It was a film about my father and how I didn’t takeover his farm. The film traveled a lot and won a distribution prize in a festival. I tried to sell it to the national television in Canada; they didn’t take it but they called me two months later and said: “We need a director with your style”. That’s how I started to work for national television, and this lasted about 5 years. In the meantime, I was still making some photography projects, and trying to look differently at things.


LC: How do you make a living? From the film industry, the photo industry?

NL: Of course there is more money in the film industry – maybe not in narrative films but television buys a lot of documentaries. Maybe it’s a “sexier” media; it’s easier to get some people interested in a film than in a photo essay. Television is a way for me to make a living and get a bit of extra money to start a project. Then, I ask for money from the government to continue a project; that’s how I usually work.


LC: Do you always have to start a project in order to get it funded?

NL: Not always. For my three last projects, I didn’t have to start them. I just asked for the money and luckily enough, I got it. But television is great, even if it’s sometimes boring – you have a time constraint, you have to do boring interviews with people in the center of the frame or things like that, you can not try some aesthetic movements. I learned a lot about journalism and reportage from the television industry; I learned how to be accepted into various contexts. It was a great school, and I don’t regret it.


LC: You just had a short documentary about prisoners reentry employment program at the Tribeca Film Festival. What else are you up to?

NL: Right now I’m working on two projects. I’m doing a documentary for television about gun ownership in Canada. It echoes my second short film, ‘In Guns We Trust’, which is about gun culture in Kennesaw, near Atlanta, Georgia. This short film traveled to 40 festivals and was sold to a couple of televisions networks; it had a great life. A producer saw it and offered me to do a TV documentary about gun ownership in Canada.

I’m also working on a feature film about seal hunting in Canada – in the Magdalen Islands, to be precise. I’m not looking for experts, I’m almost not looking for interviews, I just want to film people hunting seals – how they do it, how they live, who they are, what it is to live on an island where the nearest land is about 6 hours away by boat? This is going to be a long feature film. What’s going to happen, I hope, is that the film will be selected for festivals, and that television stations will buy it.


LC: So the way to impose your own language, in photo or video, is to do your thing first and then sell it…

NL: Yes. It’s a good thing to do. For ‘In Guns We Trust’, I didn’t ask for money. I used my own money, went there, took some photos, and shot some footage. After that, I found a bit of funding for the editing. And for sound design, you can just do a short demo pretty quickly and then ask for money to do the post-production, which can be very costly.


LC: How about photo projects?

NL: In photo it’s really hard to sell beforehand, so I ask for money from organizations – the Canadian Arts Council, or the Quebec Arts Council, for instance. It’s great if I can sell it to a newspaper or a magazine, but when you ask for institutional money they don’t see it as art if you say it’s for a magazine. You have to come up with something that involves gallery walls, or with a book. And it’s more interesting because you think about your image differently.


LC: What usually makes you choose photo versus video; is it because you like both of them and don’t want to choose or, is it because it helps you tell different kind of stories?

NL: I push them equally. When I have an idea, it comes naturally whether it’s a film, a short film, a photo series or an installation. Each discipline nourishes the other; some have qualities, some don’t. For example, the seal-hunting story is kind of heavy. You have to go with the soundman, a DP, and an assistant director. It’s fun to work in these conditions, but what is great about photography is that you are free to suffer alone if you want to, and not have the rest of the team suffer. Photography is so light. It gives you another access and another kind of image that can be useful in films too.


LC: You are talking a lot about access. Do you have any advice for photographers and videographers about how to get access?

NL: I always smile. And the thing is, when I was in Kennesaw for the gun project, if I had been saying that I’m a photographer for the New York Times that would have scared people. It was good to have the position of the artist doing a photo essay. Some people were like “Oh, poor little guy, he’s doing a photo essay; let’s help him do some pictures with us.” It’s still very confrontational to get in such contexts – it’s you against the subjects, and also you against yourself. And that makes me get better, bigger. You always become a better person when you return from a story because you judge less and you know the problems as a whole.


LC: How does that work for you?

NL: When you start a story people ask you: “Who are you? What are you doing? Why do you do that?” So, you have to think about yourself. And of course, I have a few tricks. Most of the time, you don’t talk too much, and when you do, it has to be something that you know they can relate to. For instance, Kennesaw was a rural place, and I come from a rural place, so we were talking about agriculture, machines and tractors. I was telling them about my first experience with a rifle when I went hunting as a kid, and because of that I was accepted pretty quickly. With the seal hunters, it was the same thing. When I arrived there, I was always asked: “Are you from a big city?” As I come from a small town we have a common ground. I think growing up on my dad’s farm always helped me.


LC: The way you approach people leads me to the next question about activism; you are not truly an activist, but you are always interested in subjects that have a social aspect. How would you describe yourself in that manner?

NL: You know, I first fell in love with Magnum photographers, and then when I was at school Seven was created. I was pretty excited with all that. Then when I studied cinema they always asked the students to explain themselves pretty well. It’s not just about your subject; it’s the reason why you’re doing it that way.

When I was working for my dad, a lot of people working for him were not rich, educated people; they were farm workers. I learned a lot from them, and I have a lot of respect for them. So social was always important to me because I always was interested in people who are working hard, struggling, but still surviving.


LC: Do you want to talk about your fishermen project in Ecuador or is this top secret for now?

NL: It’s not top secret. It’s about their daily life. I haven’t looked at my images yet and want to sleep on them for a while, so this is going to take a while. Till then, I have two book projects going on. One of them is the result of a $10,000 grant from an Arts Council that aimed to match an artist with an organization. The organization was a jazz festival. I hung out there for a week, stayed with the artists in the dressing rooms or backstage. That’s a good example of another way to have money and make something with it. Sometimes artists need occasions to create and try something – new twists, or another aesthetic. That’s what makes great films, great art pieces. You have to take some risks.


Nicolas Levesque is a photographer and filmmaker based in Chicoutimi, Canada. Graduated in photography at the Cégep de Matane, he also has a bachelor’s degree in cinema and arts at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. He co-founded the KAHEM photographer’s association, and worked as a director on the Télé Québec network. His documentary In Guns We Trust screened as part of the Not Short of Talent program at Cannes Film Festival before being selected for TIFF’s Top Ten Shorts in 2014. His latest short, Interview With a Free Man, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2015.

Laurence Cornet is a writer, a photography critic and a curator based in Brooklyn. Her clients include L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Magnum Foundation, Images magazine, Vice, MSNBC, Vogue and Camera.

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Connect: Sebastian Junger on the importance of safety training for freelancers.

As media and news organization staff numbers shrink, they increasingly rely on freelancers to produce content – often putting those freelancers in harm’s way. Thankfully, there are organizations committed to giving you the skills and training needed to stay safe and react appropriately when disaster strikes.

Laurence Cornet chats with Sebastian Junger, founder of RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues) who explains why freelancer safety is important and how to be prepared.

Sebastian Junger, you have covered conflicts on and off for 18 years. What made you stop war reporting?

My last war experience was with a photographer named Tim Hetherington. We worked together in an outpost in Afghanistan where we shot Restrepo, which was nominated for an Oscar. Two weeks after the Oscars we were supposed to go on an assignment to cover the Arab Spring, but I found out at the last minute that I couldn’t go. Tim continued his work in Libya as a freelance photographer and was killed in Misrata on April 20th, 2011. He was hit in his groin by a mortar fragment; it was not a very big wound, but it hit his femoral artery and he died of blood loss. Had he been with the American military, the medics could have saved his life, but nobody around him knew what to do. I wouldn’t have known what to do either. I would have watched my friend die.


Very few journalists on the field have medical training…

Freelancers do most of the front line war reporting but they are often the least prepared, and the least supported by the industry. After I learned that Tim was killed I decided within an hour to stop war reporting. I started an organization called RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues) where we train experienced freelance war reporters in combat medicine for free. We originally did it in New York, and we are now starting to do it in other areas of the world.


How many people have you trained so far, and do you have any feedback from them?

We have trained 200 people in three years. The response has been amazing. Journalists, especially freelancers, are not used to anyone doing anything for them. Our organization puts them in a hotel for four days and gives them medical training for free. A lot of them cannot believe it.

The deal is: if you get the training, you have to always carry your medical kit with you in a war zone. Not in the car, not in your hotel room, but on your body.

Anti-trust laws in this country make it illegal for freelancers to unionize or to collectively demand fair pay, and they prevent news agencies from agreeing to elevate pay. However, there is no law against someone making a statement about what they believe, and RISC just issued a statement.


Can you talk about this?

For me, a huge safety issue is fair payment. If you don’t pay people well, they are economically desperate, and they might take risks they would not otherwise take. If you pay them decently, they will be a lot calmer and wiser about the decisions they make in a war zone. When successful news organizations pay $25 for a combat photo, they are exploiting people. It’s not any different than paying a Mexican migrant $1 an hour to pick fruits in an orchard. It’s exploitation and it has a direct impact on the journalist’s safety.

Our statement lists what level of medical training and what equipment freelancers should have, and what they should get paid per word for an article, per photo, or per day.

A photographer just forwarded us an email that she sent to an editor declining a job in Syria and including the link to our statement. So it is starting to be used to demand fair payment from editors.


What about their liability?

I am not a lawyer so I don’t know what the liability of companies hiring freelancers is. Ethically, however, if you send reporters to a war zone you should support them. But this goes in both directions. Employers have the right to expect that freelancers being sent to a war zone have a bulletproof vest, a helmet, medical care, and have been medically trained. It’s a fair thing for employers to expect. And if they are hiring someone who has those things, the freelancer has to right to expect fair payment.


In the meantime many reporters take fishing trips to war because that’s a great opportunity for them to sell a story…

That’s true. That’s a great reason to go overseas. That’s one of the great things about journalism. You can just go overseas, start working, be recognized and work your way to an assignment. It’s amazing. You can’t do that as a lawyer, an accountant, or as a doctor. In journalism you can just go.


So would you advise freelancers to cover wars, warning them about the risks, of course?

Yes. I wasn’t conscious of the risks and of their consequences when I was 30. I wanted to be a journalist; I was totally self-focused, which you are supposed to be when you are young. If you are not self-focused, you are not going to go anywhere. That’s natural, but there is a point, at least in my life, there is a point where I made it; I didn’t need to go back to a war zone in order to become a journalist.

There is also a point of maturity where an experienced war reporter starts to understand that war is super exciting, compelling, frightening, very demanding, it’s all these amazing things, but it’s also incredibly sad. And it takes a long time to understand how sad it is.


Let’s go back to the notion of risk, for people around you.

Until Tim was killed I always thought of the risks that I took as a personal matter. I was gambling with my life and if I lost that gamble I was the one paying the price. Then, when Tim died I suddenly realized that actually, if you get killed you are the only one not suffering the consequences, ironically. Once you are dead, there are no consequences; but the emotional consequences continue for a lifetime in everyone you care about. Your family, your loved ones, your friends, everyone else you love is going to pay for that shit their whole life.

It suddenly made war reporting sort of selfish, and it only felt selfish because I was 50 years old. I think there is a point in your life where you have to start living for others primarily and not for yourself. Tim’s death triggered that realization in me. I am no longer married but my wife and I got the news about Tim by phone. I realized that if I continued war reporting, even if nothing ever happened to me, every day that I was gone she would jump every time the phone would ring. That would have meant inflicting harm to someone I love, there is no other way to put it. And I just couldn’t do it. There are other people, younger people, doing really important work and that’s why I am trying to support them. If you can create a sense of mutual responsibility between freelancers, everyone would be better.


What about you? Can you tell us a few words about your latest movie, The Last Patrol?

I took two soldiers from Restrepo and a photojournalist named Guillermo Cervera who was with Tim when he died, and we did a long walk along the railroad lines from DC to Philadelphia, to Pittsburg. What I wanted to do was not a matter of survival so much. I wanted to experience the closeness of combat at home, and you need hardship and difficulty for that.

I think it is really healthy. I cannot ethically advise people to put their life at risk, but you don’t have to be in danger in order to be out of your comfort zone. You have to do things that you dread in order to lead a really interesting and fulfilling life. If nothing scares you, you are not doing enough.


Sebastian Junger is a freelance journalist, documentarian and best-selling
author of “The Perfect Storm,” “War,” “A Death in Belmont” and “Fire.” He
has covered major international news stories since the early 1990s in
combat zones around the world including Bosnia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and
Afghanistan. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and his work has
also been published in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, National
Geographic Adventure, Outside, and Men’s Journal. Junger’s documentary
“Restrepo,” which he co-directed with close friend and colleague Tim
Hetherington, won the 2010 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival
and was nominated for an Academy Award. In 2013, Junger directed “Which Way
is the Frontline From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington.” In 2014
he released “Korengal,” a sequel to “Restrepo,” and “The Last Patrol.”

Laurence Cornet is a writer, a photography critic and a curator based in Brooklyn. Her clients include L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Magnum Foundation, Images magazine, Vice, MSNBC, Vogue and Camera.

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