I’m back in Liberia with Kathleen Flynn and Ken Harper to help out with some media workshops around town. Today Kathleen and Ken led a workshop at the American embassy library here on photojournalism. (Speaking of photography, what a difference a portrait can make. The US embassy with photographs of Obama looking down at your rather than Bush has a completely different feeling to it.)
While Kathleen and Ken prepared for their presentation I sat down with a few of the participants and asked them what it’s like to be a photojournalist here in Liberia. My hidden agenda was to show them how fast and easy it is to make a multimedia slideshow. (I was able to make this in under an hour using iPhoto, Garage Band, and iMovie – all of which comes free on a Mac.)
You can help translate the subtitles of the video into other languages here.
[I am] Moses Togbah. I am from the Mass Communication Department at the University of Liberia. After the university I want to be a broadcast journalist. That is what I’m doing at the university. But with photojournalism, there are courses in photojournalism and so I have interest in taking shots and what have you. The challenges are enormous. For now, we don’t have equipment.
That’s one of the basic areas – we don’t have equipment to do our work with. You go in the field to gather materials, but you don’t have the right equipment. It becomes difficult. And, transportation to get you from one place to another in order to get your material. And, secondly, people are not willing to sit down and talk to journalists. So it is difficult to gather the information.
Me: So if you want to study photography here in Monrovia where do you study?
Toby: There is nowhere. It is the kind of privilege that you give us now by you being here. That’s what we have. And those of us who have the privilege to go to workshops and seminars on photography from out of the country. I mean, those chances are very slim.
Me: Where did you learn how to take photographs?
Toby: It was during the crisis. My interest was never in photography. But because of the crisis I started working with guys from Reuters. And sometimes I was in dangerous places and I could bring back good shots. I had my first course in cameras … you know, intense two-week training in photography
so that I could go out on the field. So, it was like, at the same time I was practicing and learning at the same time.
Me: Is being a photojournalist here a pretty good-paying profession? Are you able to support yourself?
Toby: If you work for a better organization that understands that you have a family and that they need to pay you better then yes, tht could be. But, on the other hand, when people work with our local dailies then no, I can’t consider that good pay.
I am Denna A. Gibson. I am studying Mass Communication at the University of Liberia. I’m an athlete and I’ve decided to go that way in my career. Once you intend to do sports [photography] you have to know how to get pictures of atheletes. Initially I wanted to do broadcasting. It was my dream to do broadcasting. But because of the way I talk I decided to go the other way, which is print journalism, because I want to be a journalist. So I decided, since I cannot do broadcasting, let me go on the print side.
Me: I see that you’re the only woman here today. Are there many women in the Mass Communications department at the university?
Denna: Yes, they have so many women there. But we are very few that are doing print. Yes, we are very few. Especially in Chris’ [photojournalism] class, I am the only female in that class. And I have two other classes where there are only three or four females in those classes. The rest are all doing broadcasting because they want to be on air.
Toby: Some two weeks ago I had to leave because I had one guy, Pasca, from National Geographic … he was here, and for two weeks we had intense training. You know, I worked along with him and he’s a professional man. So all this helps. Once you know photographers are in town … Our state of training is completely small. We don’t have the equipment, we don’t have people that know about the new kind of software that comes up all the time. If we’re dealing with Adobe, you know and we’re going to be dealing with Adobe where you have Photoshop, Lightroom 2 is out, another one is going to come out, but we don’t have the funds and our organizations do not buy these things for some of us. For me, I am with the United Nations. So I can say now that my office can afford it. But if the UN closes and goes, I mean, everything just goes with it.