Day 1 is mostly filled with nervousness and awkward moments as the students try to begin forming their stories. More important than shooting on the first day is the necessity for each photographer to begin establishing a strong bond with their subjects. If that connection is not made, it will not going to get any easier to make pictures during the course of the week.
by Britney McIntosh
What is the most important and imperative skill a photojournalist can possess? Creativity perhaps and obviously the ability to use a camera; or maybe its persistence or just flat out being charming. Some might argue for the importance of understanding light and the necessity of thoughtful framing.
After two days at Truth With a Camera in Zenica, Bosnia, and only about two hours of shooting time (total) with my NGO, I’ve learned that perhaps without patience and ingenuity none of those other skills would matter. That without the ability to drop your camera (or just put it down gently…) and exercise your plain old journalism reporting skills, then it doesn’t matter how amazing your tilt-shifted–rule-of- thirds–multicolored-over-saturated-5D–Mark- II-shot is: it means nothing.
The NGO I received, well asked for actually, is Pazi Mine, an organization focused on removing landmines from post- war Bosnia. A few people called me stupid, sure, for voluntarily going into a mine field, but I was really pumped about it. That is, until after my three hour journey to get there I realized they weren’t going to let me go up into the mine field with the workers, which left me stuck on a 8×8 foot plot of grass outside the woods sitting in a Land Cruiser with two chain smokers for 8 hours. Naturally I wasn’t going to make a 6 hour round trip to subject myself to such misery again so today, day two, I intended to head to a mass grave excavation. Small catch, the mass grave I was supposed to go to fell through also, again leaving me stuck all day waiting – this time in a classroom eating cornflakes and surfing the Internet.
Now that sounds really awful. But honestly it has probably been the best learning experience so far of any workshop I’ve attended – and I’ve been to a lot. I’ve had to be patient, learn to lay groundwork, and after reading and reading about the aftermath of the Bosnian War, looking through the photos I already have, and bouncing ideas off the poor workshop coaches who are desperate for me to stop bugging them and go shoot- I’ve managed to come up with a plan for a photo essay, that if done right, could turn out to be the best piece I’ve ever shot.
So day two is almost over… in the culmination of the 12ish hours I’ve waited for things to happen I have: ridden a horse, learned to understand Bosnian, chased a herd of cows down a street and seen the tops of the Balkan mountains. Pretty much everything except shoot pictures.
And I finally stopped pouting and realized that great journalists aren’t made by being handed things, they are made great by learning to fight, by learning to research, and by learning not to give up on a story just because you don’t speak a language or because it doesn’t turn out to be what you thought it would be. Great journalists are defined by their ability to report, to get access, not by how well they can manipulate a metal box and push a button.
So maybe I haven’t shot very many photos… but here in Bosnia, I’m learning from some of the best in the business exactly what it takes to be a great journalist. Sometimes it just takes a little waiting.
- This is Britney McIntosh’s second Truth With a Camera workshop. She previously attended the 2010 workshop in Quito Ecuador.