Will video games give documentary photography a shot in the arm?

Very interesting to read about some new video games being developed (and there’s the thing: this is still at development stage and we have not seen the market response) that tell important stories using real documentary footage.

In ‘Are Video Games the Future of Storytelling’, Meghan Ahearn references Marcus Bleasdale and his work to create a video game about the impact of mining conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bleasdale cites his teenage niece and nephew, and the realization that they would likely never see the work he shot on assignment, because it’s placed in media that don’t reach them. “If we [want] to educate them and get them to understand places like DRC, we have to take the issues that we are concerned about to them on the platforms they want to engage in.”
Bleasdale’s video game, called Blood Minerals Congo, highlights an irony to me: some of the very minerals that are being mined in DRC are intended for the gaming devices, tablets  and computers that will keep teenagers and the pre-30-something market away from the original means of reaching them with photojournalism: newspapers.
What a potent way to tell the important stories of the day. To bring good old-fashioned photo journ across the technological divide and into the hands, hearts and minds of the generation who will feel its impact most, and can make the most change.
Ahearn’s article also highlighted a Dutch cowboy outfit, Butch & Sundance, who are using NGO funding primarily, by the looks of it, to develop other games and some really innovative storytelling techniques. I’m interested in one particularly: “The Web-based On the Ground Reporter games are told from the viewpoint of a journalist covering a conflict area; Uganda, Sudan and Afghanistan have already been used as locations in the series. The games exist in a purely photographic world: the images and videos shot on location are used to show the people and places the player interacts with. The games’ stories are based on research or ‘the journalistic stories of others,’ Hekman explains, citing as an example On the Ground Reporter: Uganda, which was based ‘partly on the stories of Josh Kron of The New York Times‘.”
Launch dates are unclear and English availability is not looking like an option but, based on what I’ve seen, saying I am impressed is an understatement. (And yes, yes, naysayers, I know: it’s seriously costly and labour intensive. But so was putting journalists on ships and planes and sending them to war zones in the pre-email days.)
Let’s see where the future goes with this.
Bottom line: #journalismisnotdead!

Type for Photos


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Simple is beautiful.

Love the use of type on the cover of The New York Times Magazine Photographs book.

A bold move for designers who had a great selection of images to play with. They chose counter-intuitively. And oh so powerfully.


On Teaching Self-expression

Baboon footprints on my car window at dawn. Shot by me using Hipstamatic app on my iPhone. Whose identity? Whose creative expression? Any originality?

“I don’t have any problem with using others’ concepts and putting your vision onto them but straight out shooting to look like someone else isn’t going to get you (or anyone else) very far. Surely we are photographers because we want to share our personal vision of the world with others, much like writers and painters. We create something which expresses how WE see the world, not how we think others want us to see the world.”

So writes photographer, “digital artist” and blogger Mark Ivkovic on a post titled “Lacking Curiosity” on his bang | Photography blog.

On the same day, fellow Briton Gillian Holding titles her blog post with a question: Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

“Of course, if you think of creative writing or art as simply the outcome of a process of applying a specific skill set, then there is a strong argument for saying yes, it can be taught. Skills can be taught to anyone who wants to learn,” she writes.

You know there’s a “but” coming up, don’t you?

“But then as any artist/writer/musician will recognise there’s rules and then there’s the rest of it. The unquantifiable, the ineffable, the x factor. The work product which rises out of and in spite of and above the rule-guided product. The spark, the life, the essence. Can this be taught?”

I find myself reading her blog with personal interest, challenged by her comment on the “fashionable delusion these days that everything can and needs to be taught. Yet whilst this clearly applies to skills of all sorts, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can teach the mindsets which lead to great novels, wonderful art and memorable music.” You see, I have increasingly found lately that some of my most rewarding hours are working with clients and their text. People who have incredible stories to tell; important things to say. And I try to draw it out of them in the most readable, flowing, inspiring way. I find myself thoroughly energized by these interactions, finding my own creativity is heightened as I develop vision and strategy for how to get this story across best, most engagingly, yet authentically in this author’s voice. And we invariably also need to get the story across in a way that will sell. So the trick is always to articulate the writer’s own vision in their own words. Yet this does not mean we can’t use mechanisms that have worked for others.

I guess Holding is right: All that I can really do “is provide an environment (please follow her fascinating link) in which it can be facilitated and encouraged and nurtured.”

Simple imagery says it all

Prosthetics on the sofa

What a great image used on the cover of the latest issue of World Press Photo’s ENTER online mag!

Laura Boushnak respected her subject, who did not want to be photographed, and captured this image of his prosthetic limbs left behind on the sofa in a Palestinian refugee camp when he went to bed.
This is powerful, poignant and sensitive storytelling – proving those terms are not mutually exclusive.

Moonshine Media’s latest book reconnects children with nature

This is a shameless plug for a book I am publishing. My friends and family will immediately ask what on earth I know about kids. Well, truth is, I really only know what Daniela and Matthias, my sister’s children, have taught me.

Petra Vandecasteele, on the other hand, knows a whole lot more. She brings her role as a mother, her passion for nature and her inspirational creative ability to this project, in which she also partners with a talented photographer who also happens to be her husband.

A wholly fresh approach to children’s storytelling, ‘Enya and James in the Land of Magic’ takes a range of tried and trusted children’s book techniques, shakes them up with some innovative ideas and delivers an interactive reading experience for primary-school-aged children. And one with a powerful and most inspirational message at its heart.

The tried-and-trusted techniques: in the style of Harry Potter and other successful children’s literature, the central characters are seemingly-normal, outgoing, inquisitive children who become endowed with special powers and must take on the responsibility of saving the world in the face of adults’ failure to do so.

Also, we know that a children’s book must be filled with colour. This one simply bursts with every hue of the spectrum, courtesy of Paul Godard’s breathtaking nature photography, not to mention the intimate portraits and documentaries of the two central characters, Enya and James, who also happen to be his own children. (Would that all fathers had Paul’s ability to capture such precious moments in their children’s lives so gracefully.)

The innovation comes in writer-mom Petra Vandecasteele’s story-telling techniques: the first-person emails from Enya and James to the reader of the book, inviting responses, and the journal entries in which Enya confides in her Dear Diary, once again drawing the young reader into the inner circle of friendship and trust.

Good storytelling and sheer entertainment aside, what sets this book apart is its intent: to educate children about the metaphorical magic of nature, and the role we can each play in caring for our planet. In that respect, this is really a book for adults – a tool with which parents, aunts, educators and others can begin a very grown-up conversation with those who will inherit the Earth.

‘Enya and James – In the Land of Magic’ is available for pre-order now.

Journalism now

See the post below, where I’ve just been introduced to a great blog (thanks, Lizane Louw!) at http://www.12thpress.com, where Nicholas Calcott summarises the predicament and our frustrations most articulately.

He references Colin Pantell’s blog (which in turn references Paul Lowe), but all base their discussion on a provocative speech by Stephen Mayes, who recently retired as secretary of World Press Photo. “Mayes questions why people photograph in a way that replicates – why do photojournalists photograph like ‘photojournalists’, why does 90% of their work come from 10% of the world?

I’m writing from Cairo right now, where I’m involved in training for the Twenty Ten project, which ironically has World Press Photo as one of the main partners, and this issue of emulation is one that is bothering me today. On this particular training module (of which there are four across Africa), we have 24 radio and print journalists from 13 different African nations, and yet I am concerned about the lack of variety I am seeing in their assignment work. Is this because they lack professionalism, creativity or initiative? No, certainly not.

This is some of Africa’s brightest talent, with dinner conversations challenging and insightful. The issue I see is exactly what Mayes was referring to: journalists are producing the content that they think they should. They’re following the old rules. In trying to be as professional as possible, they’re adhering to a dated code.

I believe that this code needs to be brought in line with the realities of modern society, rather than our (we, the media) continually lamenting the unravelling of the edges, the blurring of the lines between citizen and professional journalism.

Mayes encouraged photographers to ‘photograph what really, really intrigues you’, commenting that ‘In general what is really missing in photojournalism is work that is really intimate and personal’. I’ll second that. And I believe it applies to all types of journalism, as well as to most modes of photography.