Freetown. Checkers is a popular game in p
rison, with inmates sometimes gambling, often ending up in arguments and fights. Image © Fernando Moleres / Panos / laif.
For the past two years, Spanish photographer Fernando Moleres has been helping juvenile detainees in some of the most violent prisons of Sierra Leone. He speaks to BJP about the authorities’ inactions and how he’s trying to make a difference.
“Thousands of children in Africa have been abandoned and are living in prison, with adults, in conditions so extreme that their survival is at stake. Overcrowding, violence, sexual harassment, promiscuity, malnutrition, poor hygiene, infectious diseases, and lack of medical care are all common,” says Spanish photographer Fernando Moleres about his project Juveniles behind Bars in Africa. “Most African countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990) which has strict regulations on the detention of juveniles.”
BJP: What pushed you to cover this particular issue?
Fernando Moleres: My project started at Visa Pour l’Image a few years ago when I saw Lizzie Sadin’s Juvenile Suffering exhibition at the Couvent des Minimes [Sadin's work was on show in 2007]. Part of her exhibition was made up of photos from Africa, and this particular part surprised and touched me. That’s when I decided to work on this theme.
BJP: But why Africa over other continents and countries?
Fernando Moleres: First, it was because you have more chances of dying in these prisons than anywhere else – you can die of diseases, malnutrition. Also, injustice is more flagrant than anywhere else. There are barely any lawyers, some detainees have spent years in prison without even going in front of a court. There is a deep injustice – deeper than in any other country such as Russia, India, Israel or the United States.
BJP: How do you make the transition between the idea and the actual images? How do you get access, in essence?
Fernando Moleres: The entire process lasted two years in total. It all started with a Spanish bursary that allowed me to launch the project in the first place. I had one year to complete this work and I spent six months investigating the subject, trying to find the prisons that would allow me to work within their walls. I chose Sierra Leone.
BJP: When you describe, in the text accompanying your images, that you were the sole white man among 1300 black detainees, what impact has this had on your work? How did you come to be accepted within the prison?
Fernando Moleres: When I first arrived in that prison, there was a marked distance between myself and the detainees – except from a few men that wanted to see their stories told, who wanted to expose the conditions they lived in. I particularly remember one man, named Joseph, who spoke a little bit of English and became my guide. He had been accused of murder and had been in that prison for several years, so he knew the place quite well, who to speak to. These people helped me enter that world.
BJP: You also denounce the fact that NGOs aren’t helping these detainees. Is that really the case? Why not?
Fernando Moleres: I think the main reason is that NGOs prefer to work on projects that relate to young people and women – on health issues. It’s a lot more difficult for them to pay attention to people caught in the prison system. It’s difficult to find support from the public for a widespread campaign. For many people, when they see someone in prison, they think that person deserves to be there – because they did something bad, we think about violence, drugs, etc. It’s easier to get public support to help starving kids or pregnant women. But, people don’t realise the extent of the injustice present in these prisons. They are forgotten by everyone. When I was asking for help to NGOs – the Red Cross, Médecins du Monde, etc. – no one, absolutely no one wanted to help me. Of course, I was there on my own initiative; so I didn’t have a project they could study, send to Europe for the green light, which would then be rescinded… There’s so much bureaucracy that in these cases it would just not be possible.
Pademba Central Prison, Freetown. Bathing in rainwater. The wet season is the best time as inmates can wash. Water is a real problem in prisons in Sierra Leone: there is no running water and sometimes no drinking water, unless prisoners pay for it (1000 leones or 25 US cents a bucket). Image © Fernando Moleres / Panos / laif.
BJP: I understand that, beyond taking photos in these prisons, you are helping these young people. Why are you doing that?
Fernando Moleres: What’s going on there really is dramatic. I had to help them. How? I can bring some medicine inside the prisons [Moleres would take pictures of the detainees' conditions to show to pharmacists and doctors outside the prison and get the right treatments]. It’s very simple for me – I put them in my bag and get them in easily. What I do as well, is create a link between the detainees and their families. I can find them and call them. What you need to know is that a lot of families are not aware that their kids are in prison. Now, I’d like to help them differently. I’d like to do more than getting them out of the prisons. I’d like to prevent them seeing the walls of a jail in the first place. I can do that by being there during their first trial and by paying for their bail.
BJP: How do you manage this work, in addition to your full-time job as a photographer?
Fernando Moleres: I’m actually not the one that is actually going to court to help these kids. I pay a salary a person I’ve worked with in the past. This person is tasked with going to court, find guarantors for these kids and pay their bail. I’m also looking to develop other aspects – for example, where should we house orphans. This person receives $300 a month, which I pay from my own funds. Right now, I have enough money for three to four months, but I’d like to go beyond that, and that’s why I’ve started this campaign to raise funds.
BJP: What exactly are you trying to do?
Fernando Moleres: Right now, I’m just appealing for people to give money. I’m also trying to build a network of lawyers and other people that can help us locally.
BJP: Would you like to expand your activities beyond Sierra Leone – maybe across other countries in Africa?
Fernando Moleres: No. Simply because, right now, I’m the only one paying for all of this. I’m spending my own money. This exhibition, which is travelling around Spain at the moment, has received an award from the NGO Medecins du Monde. During the award ceremony, I asked them if they could help me finance this project. Their answer was no.
BJP: How do local authorities, including prison guards, react to your work?
Fernando Moleres: In Sierra Leone, the authorities are trying to change the perception that poor people don’t have access to the same justice system as richer ones. This sense of injustice has, in the past, led to a war. The government thought that the easiest way to prevent a war was to improve conditions within prisons or to change the perception of justice. The University of Oxford has launched a study to find out what should be changed to help these detainees. They found out that Sierra Leone was plagued with corruption – for example, a prison guard only earns $30 a month, which is barely enough to buy three lunches in a bar. So, of course, these men try to find other revenues. As a result, while there is a will to beat corruption, in reality it’s a lot harder to achieve.
BJP: What about the media? Have they helped in getting your message out?
Fernando Moleres: My goal was to get this work published in newspapers and magazines, and, indeed, I’ve been successful in getting the story out there. It’s been published 12 times in Europe already – three times in France, twice in the UK and in Spain, etc. I think this project is easy to publish, because it’s focussed on one country – Sierra Leone. What I’d like now, is to get another circle of people to react to this work. I’d like to see people exercise pressure on Sierra Leone to change these conditions. I think it would be easy for an organisation to force Sierra Leone to do something. The United Nations, for example, would be the perfect organisation to do so. Talking about the United Nations, when I was in Sierra Leone, a representative from the organisation came to the prison to visit the detainees. I went with him. He talked with a few dealers, the guards, etc. But when other detainees came to see him to denounce the injustice of the entire system, his answer was: “I’m not here to solve your personal problems.” This man, whose name is Antonio Maria Costa [his official title is Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Director-General of the United Nations Office in Vienna], has access to the country’s vice president and home affairs minister. He could have done something about it, but he chose not to
Listening in: The use of audio in photography
Sebastian Meyer shot this image in Ras Lanuf, Libya. While his photograph doesn’t necessarily convey the destructive effect of the explosion, the audio is “genuinely terrifying,” he says. Image © Sebastian Meyer.
Some photographers believe audio is a better partner for still images, adding depth to their multimedia presentations, despite video getting all the attention right now. Olivier Laurent talks with photographers and picture editors about the benefits and pitfalls of producing audio slideshows.
30 Aug 2011
Photographers have often combined images and audio to bring more depth to their stories. But with the development of high-speed internet and the democratisation of new media outlets such as Apple's iPad, they can now reach larger audiences with more sophisticated audio slideshows at a fraction of yesterday's cost. And while the use of video is on the rise, some believe that still images and audio is all you need for powerful narratives.
“The main reason I record audio is simple – because I work in Africa,” says Peter DiCampo, winner of BJP's International Photography Award 2010 (#7782). “I have, basically, one ideal in my work, which is to make issue-based stories without making them into ‘poverty porn'. I could easily get some facts and figures from experts, put them into a story description, and then make photographs that illustrate the problem – but I don't feel like the story is complete without hearing what the local people have to say about how an issue impacts their lives. Audio and video interviews allow me to share those opinions, and, based on the feedback I've received, it's been a successful way of making the viewer feel more connected.”
Feel the noise
In fact, audio can, at times, be the only thing that gives power to a photographer's images. Sebastian Meyer was embedded with US troops in Afghanistan last year, when his patrol came under heavy fire. “When I came back and I looked at the images, I thought they were okay. But then I went back to them a week or two later, and I thought, ‘These suck. They're terrible. They're a lie.'
“The lie for me,” he explains, “is that photographs are inherently silent. They don't make any noise. They also don't exist in time. They're frozen moments. For example, combat is extremely loud. The noise itself is essential in understanding what it's like to be there. As a journalist, you're telling that story – so it's misleading for these images to be quiet because they give a false impression of what it's like to be there.”
Meyer adds that his images did not end up looking as nearly as scary as they should have done. “They're not as loud as they should be, or as disorienting. Sound is really an essential part in showing that aspect.”
When Meyer found himself in Libya earlier this year, he chose to start recording audio. “The frontlines were pretty hairy there,” he recalls. “I had a [Samson] H4 recorder and I found a way to fix it to one of my side pouches with a microphone sticking out.” It was very basic, he admits, but it did the job. “You can hear bullets going past you. All of it sounds a lot like a video game.”
But then came the bombs. While in Ras Lanuf, Meyer photographed the explosion of a bomb dropped from a pro-Gaddafi warplane. The image [top] in itself isn't very scary, but says Meyer, “Somehow, the sound – that gets me upset. That takes me to a place that is genuinely terrifying. And I hope this recording of it gives the audience a better impression of what it was like.” [Listen to the recording here]
Of course, audio doesn't have to be used in tense situations, such as in warzones. For DiCampo, ambient sound is very important. “With the Life Without Lights project, audio has been key because I'm dealing so much with darkness and nighttime imagery,” he says. “I like to think that people watch these pieces in a dark room with all the lights turned off – so the sounds of crickets, and the nightly activities of the villagers, hopefully make the viewer feel more like they are a part of the scene and helps them understand the issue.”
In fact, says Meaghan Looram, a deputy picture editor at The New York Times, aud
io should only be used when it “makes sense” and adds to the narrative. “For example, I had a conversation with James Hill, [the newspaper's European contract photographer] when he was assigned to shoot the week leading up to the Royal Wedding. He was going out to shoot features and portraits in anticipation of the big day. He has quite a witty eye and he and I discussed the idea of trying to capture some audio that could be paired with this kind of images. Quotes from the people he was doing portraits of, or some sort of textural ambient noise.”
However, Looram admits, it doesn't necessarily work every time. “This particular idea could be great, or might not work out once you have the piece in front of you, and to be totally honest, what ended up happening with Hill is that it was a very busy news week. A few days later we talked again and decided that, not only could he not really find defining texture audiowise, but I could tell him from our opinion that we weren't going to have the bandwidth to [justify] an audio producer put it together.”
But when it's appropriate, and “when we think we have a good chance of making a strong piece, we'd do it.” Of course, she's quick to add, it's not always easy to add audio to photographs. “It's extremely work-intensive and it's not always a slam-dunk in terms of its effectiveness,” she tells BJP. “We are working on a handful of projects that combine audio, stills and video, and I tend to think that the times when it works out the best are when one of two things have happened. This might be a bit counter-intuitive, but either the audio exists first before any shooting has taken place or the audio and the photographs are being gathered at the same time.”
As an example, she cites the Emmy-award-winning One in 8 Million project. “Todd Heisler [a contract photographer for The New York Times] didn't go out and shoot anything until we had a draft of the audio,” she explains. “Some people have said that this seems a little bit counter-intuitive and corners you in to what sort of imagery you can get, but I'm of the mind that it actually creates a much better marriage of the stills and the audio. He would get a sense of the kind of theme of the piece, the tone of voice, a feeling that would let him focus on certain things.”
Then comes another problem. “Many people underestimate just how much photographic material you need [to produce an effective audio slideshow], says Looram. “I think it's very easy for audio slideshows to get very slow. It's a real challenge for the photography, because you need far more variety that a regular slideshow would demand.”
Also, adds DiCampo, producing an audio slideshow requires a lot of different skills. “It takes a lot of time that is often unpaid to build photography, audio, and video into one story,” he says. “What I've learnt in the past year is that I've tried too much to be a one-man show with all of this. I'm always asking dozens of people questions on the piece and the software, but I'm not actually partnering with anyone. The whole process takes an absurd amount of time and is never worth the money, but I want to see the piece finished. I want the idea I have in my head to be something I can watch and share with people.”
Even at The New York Times, the workload can be too daunting. “Many of our photographers are equipped to do their own audio gathering, but it's a lot of demands for one person,” says Looram. “It's a lot of pressure to put on them. One thing might suffer if you try to do everything at once. I think it's better if you try to pair a photographer with a reporter or an audio producer – everyone can focus on what they're best at.” But, she adds, “we decide on a case-by-case basis. We have to assess whether or not we have the resources to produce it in the first place.”
But, especially in cases when people have become blasé about images – “they see the pictures of an explosion and barely react to it,” says Meyer – the use of audio, and to a greater extent video, can help bring back engagement from audiences. “I think it's important in an age where we've become numb to a lot of visual images to find another sensory level to tell stories at,” he says. “We have to keep surprising our audiences so they don't fall in a state of lethargy.”
Once Magazine: A new revenue stream for photographers?
Once Magazine isn't really a photography magazine – it's more a showcase for long-term photographic projects. Available as an app for the iPad, Once Magazine presents, each month, the work of three selected photographers. For each one, the magazine publishes around 20 images, with background information, interviews and audio files.
26 Sep 2011
A few days after it launched in August, John Knight and Jackson Solway, respectively executive editor and CEO of Once Magazine, boarded a plane for Perpignan, France. Their goal was to meet with photographers, editors and agencies at the Visa Pour l'Image photojournalism festival. And most of these potential clients listened with interest, as the magazine's managers plan to share their revenues with the featured photographers – “after Apple takes its 30% cut, of course,” says Knight. “We will cut photographers a check every six months for two years, depending on how their work sell.”
The idea for Once Magazine came to Solway even before Apple had announced the release of its iPad. “There were rumours that such a tablet would be coming,” he tells BJP. “I think people like storytelling. So we thought about doing stories on the iPad.” With a couple of friends, Solway started working on the concept for Once Magazine, and that's when Knight came into the fold. “We knew each other from college,” says Solway, and “he had moved to San Francisco and heard us talking about the magazine. He said: ‘I have to be part of this.'”
As with most new enterprises in California, Once Magazine was first built out of someone's bedroom – in this case, Solway's. Of course, now, the team has moved to new offices in San Francisco. “The great thing about being in this city is the enormous support network tha
t exists there,” says Solway. “Also, when people find out that we're not in New York, it opens-up the collective imagination of photographers. They think that we must be tech-savvy.”
To develop the app, Knight, Solway and the team behind Once Magazine had different options. “We could have outsourced the development, tied ourselves to an app-building firm, build it ourselves or buy into an existing platform.” In the end, they chose the latter. “We selected Woodwing, because it's great for what we wanted to do, and also because we didn't think we would have been able to handle the development of the app in addition to gathering all the editorial content.”
Now, the creators have formed a team of editors, researchers and contributors to help sustain the app. “Each issue will have three stories,” says Knight. “The idea was to keep it to three because that means we won't have to split the revenues between 20 people – we wanted the photographers to get a sizable return.”
And, so far, the industry's reaction has been very positive, says Solway. “Photographers look at us as a possible new revenue stream. The only hesitation we've encountered came from agencies, which are concerned or unfamiliar with our business model. But in most cases, after lengthy discussions, they came around.”
Of course, Once Magazine's first real test will come in early October when it releases its paid app. “A satisfying number of downloads would be 10,000,” says Knight. “It would make enough money for it to be considered seriously by the industry. Of course, 15,000 to 20,000 downloads would be great.” Already, a group of young photographers have embraced the initiative with Matt Eich, Munem Wasif, Anastasia Taylor-Lind and Guillaume Herbaut lined up to appear in upcoming issues of the app, which could be available via a subscription once Apple unveils its Newsstands platform.
We have all had the 'which is better Canon or Nikon' argument before. It usually always boils down to what you picked up first. The sentimental attachement and loyalty to that first camera and its brand. For me its always been Canon, so when ever I see news of a new Nikon camera coming out I usually don't read about it, ignorantly assuming that a better canon version is already out or just about to be released. I did however come across the below nikon review from the BJP today, and for a change actually read it. My verdict? Holy Mother of God
Nikon 1 mirrorless cameras
The Nikon 1 system has been built from scratch, says Nikon, with the goal of offering still image and movie recording capabilities “without compromise,” according to the firm. “This next generation pioneers amazing photography features such as pre and post capture technology that starts before you – enabling groundbreaking new shooting modes that mean you'll never miss a thing – even the most fleeting of moments, bringing shots to life to help you to capture images you didn't think possible.”
And that might be Nikon 1's most important feature, setting it apart from the other camera manufacturers that have entered the mirrorless camera market more than three years ago now.
The Nikon 1 V1 and Nikon 1 J1 feature a Motion Snapshot (MSS) option, which “brings a photo to life in just one click.” By selecting MSS, users simultaneously record a slow motion movie and still image that are then combined to create “a photo that moves and captures the story of a moment as never before – a living picture.”
Speaking at an exclusive press conference this morning, Simon Iddon explained that the Motion Snapshot can be saved as a .mov file. “Going forward, as this develops, it's something that we want to build-on – the way you can share these, for example, is being looked at as we speak.”
Both cameras also have a Smart Photo Selector feature, which, when selected, will shoot 20 full-resolution images in less than a few seconds. “You just press the shutter once and, utilising the pre and post capture technology, the camera starts to take the pictures before you've even fully depressed the button.” The camera then automatically selects the best five shots, which are saved based on facial expression, composition and focus.
Even while shooting Full-HD movies, the Nikon 1 system can take high-resolutions photos, without interrupting recording, claims Nikon.
“This is Nikon's most significant announcement since we introduced our first digital camera 14 years ago” says Nikon Europe's president Takami Tsuchida of the two new cameras. “With the launch of Nikon 1, we're unveiling two groundbreaking interchangeable lens cameras that are packed with revolutionary technology.”
Also speaking at today's press conference, Michio Miwa, Nikon UK's managing director, explained why the new system was created. “Over the last 15 years, the world of photography and videography has developed to such an extent that people not only have the [products] to shoot creatively, but are now able to explore new ways of
enjoying their digital creations,” he said. “We wanted to take the next step [in this development]. Instead of jumping the mirrorless bandwagon, our engineers decided to go back to the drawing board; to start from scratch; and to create a new device from the ground-up.”
He added: “Focussing on usability and design, Nikon began creating a camera for the future with no compromises – a device that would lay the groundwork for new ways of capturing, sharing and experiencing still and moving images. Today, we're not just announcing a new camera system, we're introducing a new category. The Nikon 1 is an Advanced Camera with Interchangeable Lens.
The Nikon 1 V1 and Nikon 1 J1 feature a new type of CMOS image sensor called CX. “Taking its place alongside Nikon's existing DX and FX-format sensors, the all-new Nikon 1 CX-format CMOS sensor is designed for Nikon 1 cameras and the 1-mount,” says the firm. It offers a resolution of 10.1 megapixels and has a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to ISO 6400.
However, Nikon has been criticised for using a 13.2×8.8m sensor, which is smaller than traditional Micro Four Thirds sensors used by Olympus and Panasonic in their mirrorless cameras. But, according to Jeremy Gilbert, Nikon UK's group marketing manager, the choice was deliberate. “[This sensor] allows us to have a small, compact system.”
Simon added: “The key thing about this product was not to be like other people. This is the Nikon 1, the first camera of its kind. We spent four years working on what customers wanted and we built that camera based on that research. Customers wanted compactness, ease of use, speed and image quality as well. The sensor size and the amount of megapixels have been specifically chosen because they are the perfect combination to deliver what the customers were demanding.”
Both cameras are also equipped with a new high-speed autofocus system with 73 AF points. But, says Nikon, “if your subject is stationary, or poorly lit, it will opt for the 135-point Contrast Detect AF system.”
The Nikon 1 system also introduces, for the first time, the Expeed 3 image processor. “To be as fast as a Nikon 1 camera, you need an engine that can handle speed, and this newly developed processor is equipped with two powerful engines that can process images at an incredible 600 megapixels a second,” claims Nikon.
The Nikon 1 V1, the most advanced camera of the two, also features a 1,440,000-pixel electronic viewfinder that delivers 100% frame coverage. The camera boasts magnesium alloy panels (top and front, says Nikon) and a multi-accessory port.
Meanwhile, the Nikon 1 J1 camera is more compact, with a minimalist design, and features a built-in flash. It will be available in pink, red, silver, matte black and white.
Nikon has also introduced a new class of Nikkor lenses to fit the cameras “1-mount,” the first new lens mount launched since the introduction of the F-mount in 1959, says Nikon. To coincide with the launch of the new system, Nikon will release four 1-mount lenses.
The first is a compact Nikkor VR 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, which features Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology and a retractable lens mechanism. Then comes the Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, which can also retract when not in use to ensure “superior portability,” says Nikon. The Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 and Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 PD-Zoom will complete the range.
Of course, Nikon has also announced the release of the FT-1 mount adapter, which will also Nikon 1 owners to use any Nikkor digital SLR lenses, “offering limitless possibilities to match a lens to the shooting situation,” says the firm.
Nikon is also releasing a new “tiny” SB-N5 Speedlight flash and a GP-N100 GPS unit to be used with the Nikon 1 V1 camera.
Both cameras, which will be officially presented later today, will retail from 20 October in a variety of kit options and at prices starting at £550 (€638).