As promised in the previous post presenting Ali Mazrui’s article that was published 50 years ago exactly, here more recent contributions to the discussion on, and understanding of the apparatus within which (photo)journalists in Uganda do their work.
Below you find three reports of conversations. The first report is a transcription of a round table discussion initiated by the good people of the Uganda Press Photo Award. What was said is only slightly edited to benefit the readability. Around the table were upcoming and professional Ugandan photojournalists and photo editors working in Ugandan news media.
The third report is written based on notes taken and memories of a conversation between, again, Andrea Stultiens and Kalungi Kabuye, who has a long standing experience as a photographer and writer with Ugandan news media, and is currently a picture editor and columnist at New Vision.
To ground the reports here first a few notions on photojournalism from, I guess, a global (even though formulated from western standpoint) perspective:
Wikipedia says that ‘Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism (the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that employs images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some cases the term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (e.g., documentary photography, social documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by complying with a rigid ethical framework which demands that the work is both honest and impartial whilst telling the story in strictly journalistic terms. Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media.
Like a writer, a photojournalist is a reporter but he or she must often make decisions instantly and carry photographic equipment, often while exposed to significant obstacles (e.g., physical danger, weather, crowds).’
In an opinion article on the Times Lightbox blog photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind writes:
‘Photojournalism is about helping the public understand what’s happening in the world. More than just visual testimonies, photojournalism is about ideas, and I believe we desperately need more diversity in the way we approach it. […] Perhaps the core of the problem is the imbalance of gender, race and ethnicity in our industry. Different eyes make different pictures of the world. Imagine an industry of image-makers as diverse as the communities they photograph, and the people they photograph for. This is a daunting task that would go a long way in combating a single homogenous dominant narrative.’
1. February 25th 2016 at the Uganda Society.
On the table: A wide variety of newspapers. Mostly Uganda, quite a number Dutch, some British/American. Explicitly discussed are:
Daily Monitor (UG) Obama cover, Sudan piece talks. Date currently unknownThe Times of London (UK), cover, Thursday February 11th 2016 NRC Handelsblad (NL), cover, Thursday February 11th 2016De Telegraaf (NL), cover + page 2 & 3, Thursday February 11th, 2016Bukedde (UG), page 10+11, Friday February 19th (election day) 2016Red Pepper (UG), Thursday February 11th 2016
Around the table:
Andrea Stultiens (A) – initiator of discussion, one of the initiators of HIPUganda, author of the HIPUganda books, presenting and activating various photo collections in Uganda
Anna Kucma (AK) – Curator. Polish, but long term Ugandan resident. Uganda Press Photographers Association (UPPA)
Annette Sebba (AS) – Photographer and designer, Staff member Makerere University [joined second half].
Eugene Turagene – artist, getting into documentary photography.
Katumba Badru (K) – “learning photography”. Studied journalism and communication.
Norman Katende (N) – staff all round journalist (photographer, writer, t.v.) at New Vision Group
Peter Tera (P) – Free lance photographer, shoots anything, trying to get into documentary and the commercial side.
Stella Nantongo (S) – working with UPPA,
Yusuf Muziransa (Y) – former photo editor Daily Monitor, master student journalism and communication.
Before 5.30pm. Just Yusuf and Andrea:
Y: I left Monitor about two months ago because there were certain things I wanted to do in life. I am doing a masters in journalism and communication at Makerere University, which I needed to complete. I took it on for the benefit of photography. I want photography to also have people who have masters. There is a difference between images and photographs. Photographs can be anything. Anything shot by a camera person is a photograph. A photograph does not have to tell a story. The photographs you are seeing here, those pictures [cut out women on top of the front page of The London Times], those are photographs. But an image has to have an imagination, it has to create an imagination. So it should have some kind of a story I should say.
A: so it could then be a photo, a drawing, a painting, as long as it has a story. Is there then a difference between an image that is a photograph or an image that is a painting…?
Y: I think it is just about the mechanics. One is made using a camera, the other one is made using a pen and a piece of paper. I think that’s the only difference. A number of countries don’t allow photographers to go to their court rooms. They do sketches, images… They have professionals who draw images. Here in Uganda the law allows us to go into the court room, so we take those images. So the difference between the two is just the mechanics.
A: But to draw an image, you don’t necessarily have to be there…
Y: Yes, that takes us back to what I said earlier, that an image has to come out of imaginations. It creates imaginations.
A: So for you a photograph is not more proof than a drawing, because it means that the camera was there…
Y: Yes, but still, even if you use the camera to take the image, it takes prior thinking. You need to tell a story, so you don’t just go shooting. You have to think before you shoot.
A: Isn’t that the job of the picture editor?
Y: That job starts with the editor because you have to brief the photographer on what you want. But once the photographer moves out of the newsroom you have no control over him. It is up to him to either bring you what you need or to spoil it. A photographer can make you or kill you as an editor. You can send them to your best assignment and they can give you trash. I have seen it before. When the photographer did not like the work and decided to play around with it and bring you something very funny. And there are times when you send a photographer to just a press conference, and you are not expecting anything big from that and then the photographer brings you an image an you even use it on the cover. The photographer can kill the editor also at caption writing. They can give you wrong names of the subjects. And then the person on the photograph will blame the editor. The photographer is 80% responsible for execution of the pictures in the paper. But when fire comes, the editor takes 80% of the fire.
A: Why would you want that job then?
Y: It is very interesting to look at other people’s images and do comparisons. I am very proud to have created a team. I did not find it there. The desk was not there. I created the desk and recruited the photographers. By the time I left seven of them were staff, getting paid monthly wages. The retained photographers have a small fee that is attached to their duty, plus the pictures that they publish.
A: Do they also work internationally? Or do you sometimes forward photographs to international media?
Y: No. The main reason for that, the biggest disadvantage we have is exposure. You may have this photographer who does very nice pictures… But because you are not very exposed… [another person walks in and is greeted.] Exposure cuts in multiple ways. One for you to know where to send your stuff. Two, for you to learn. Three for someone out there to see your work. So when you are handcuffed on those, you are not going to grow, but you will stay where you are. We have very fine photographers. I can name them, But because of lack of exposure they have not gone anywhere.
After people arrive we start off by picking up something Yusuf brought up before I started the recording of the conversation between us. He mentioned that the design of the front page of The London Times did not look very attractive or communicate very well, compared to the monitor.
Y: The lead story, the headline on this cover is a little bit smaller than we play ours. Then there is a lot of text on the cover. There is nothing that you can just look at and that attracts you spontaneously. Ours have so many adverts, at the top and the bottom. It comes away better than the others, it is more attractive.
N: The international newspapers have an audience who subscribe, so they do not need to attract attention with their covers. In Uganda we have a problem. If you have a poor headline people don’t want to buy the paper. In Europe people read the paper anyway, here if you don’t like what is brought or how it is brought you drop it. Going back to photographs, one person can be more creative about it than others. For example when students are doing their exams. You have to report on what happened, but it is the same every year. That is when you have to be creative to still get a good picture. Maybe you noticed that New Vision has a lot of mug shots on the front page, just because we do not have a better one that deserves to be on the front page. We use a mug shot to cover that up.
A: Referencing the people who were involved.
N: Yes. So you do not have a good picture of the school itself, you use mug shots to show the results so people will still say ‘oh that is a nice school, let me go in’. You have to know whether you take a picture for the front page, or for something else… I don’t think it is only with new vision, but photographers have become lacks in taking their photos, they do not use their creativity, they just come and shoot.
Z: So Ugandan news papers majorly think about sales?
N: No, they have to consider their audience.
A: Your questions shows the tension between having to sell by drawing attention, and the journalistic task to inform your audience.
Y: But the photo at the cover and anywhere in the newspaper does not only have to draw attention, it also has to make sense.
A: Is photojournalism a separate studies? Or is it part of the package when you become a journalist?
S: For most journalism students photography is a small chunk of everything else.
Z: They teach more theory. The practical bit is like 30% of it. It is more self learning.
Y: I have been teaching photography at Makerere for the past three years. The problem is that the department is loosing interest in photography. There is no course unit called photography in journalism. It is embedded in a course unit I do not really understand. It is called graphics.
Z: You mean visual communication?
Y: Yes. You study photography only four times in the whole package of four years. So people come out without exactly knowing what…
A: How was that with you Norman? Did you start as a writing journalist and photography was added?
N: I did a diploma course of one year, we were taught photography in that for three months. We had about 15 or 20 lectures. I had the advantage that I was already working with monitor at the time, so coming up with photographs was not a problem for me.
K: I am just learning photography. I studied journalism and communication. I want to go into the media but I still need to learn to get to the right point to go there. I do not want to get to this point of just being sent to go and do this. I first want to discover things on my own. Time will come when I feel I know things, then people can send me to do stuff. I am working free lance for soms German newspaper. And also some online platforms.
P: I have not been published in news media yet. But some of my photographs have appeared in news papers.
A: How do they pick them up then?
P: It happens that I work for clients who have an event, and then later on I see the photographs in the paper. The client handles that.
N: The clients take the rights. They become the owners of the photographs. So you never know who took the photos.
S: They do not credit?
N: No. For instance when I take photographs for Uganda breweries, I just give them the cd, they pay me, I move out of the gate.
S: You never ask for photo credits? So that you can still say ‘this is what I did for …’. I get the issue with the rights, but the photo credits is still something you can use to further your career. So that you can be found.
N: It is a good idea, but not something that is working.
S: But that may be because we are not asking for it. That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that the client paid you and that’s it.
A: What it also does, and is interesting to me, is that it is not considered to be important that a specific someone took that photo. It means that there is no assumed authorship with a photo. Suppose you Norman and Zahara would have been at a certain event. That would have led to different photographs. Because of your different heights, because one of you is a man, the other a woman. People may respond differently to each one of you. These are factors that, when you know them as a viewer, may change your interpretation of the image. But that information gets lost if you as an author are lost. Or is that something that may be nice in theory, but does not actually matter in practice?
N: The system is like, somebody calls me, and i get a contract. My dealing with him is a cd. I can’t ask for anything or it will complicate my payment. The employer will be asking ‘how do I benefit from that, will I still get those photographs?’ That is the situation we are in.
S: I think what Andrea was asking was; when you see a photograph, does it change your mindset when you see a name underneath? Like when it is a woman or a man.
K: It does. When it is a lady who took it then… I’ll not assume it was a warzone.
Z: Should we say it is easier to make a mark when you are a female photographer in a male dominated industry?
N: It just depends on the quality of the work.
A: Yes, lets hope it does, but there are for instance grants specifically for women. There are situations where men have benefits, and others where women have easier access. If there are situations with children for instance…
S: … or other women.
A: You noticed my response when you came in. Saying ‘I am so happy to see a woman among the photographers. So far in my research and work I have only been dealing with male photographers. That goes particularly for the historical photographs, but also largely for the contemporary artists. It is pretty much male dominated. Internationally that is a bit different. Maybe not in photojournalism, but in photography in the wider sense and in the arts it is.
S: Do you think a female photographer would be well received here in Uganda?
A: I think that internationally, if you manage to make good international contacts, you might raise extra interest for people to work with you because you are a woman. In Uganda I don’t know. That might be something to ask our picture editor…
Y: Here it would be difficult to have a female dominated photo-desk. First of all, in their life, they are always at some point disturbed and stuff like that… And then from that disturbance…
A: You mean they are ‘producing’.
[general laughter. The verb to produce is used in Uganda when speaking about women giving birth, producing a child]
Y: Exactly. I didn’t want to say that. You said it.
A: But it is what you mean, no?
Y: I have seen it before… When that happens that person is going to take a minimum of a year or more to get back to the rails. During that time you miss out on a number of things as a photojournalist. You lose your contacts. Things don’t wait for you. You might not agree with me. But it is a fact. For example. We sent a female photojournalist to Somalia to do some pictures. People who went with that photographer earlier on asked for the same name, but she was not there. We had to give them the next available person, who was a male photographer. And we had to give them reasons as to why the other one could not be part of it. And again the next time, the first person had not yet recovered and they had to take the second person. When the first person had recovered and they were going again they said ‘a a, let us work with the person we have been working with of late’. What does that mean?
A: That Zahara will have to prove herself.
Y: And then the other thing is the pace at which we do things. If you have a photo-desk that is dominated by female photographers, the pace at which things are going to be done… It could be a Ugandan thing, I don’t know about this, but the experience I have is that female photographers in Uganda, they want to be a little bit slower than the other people. Not in thinking, some of them actually think faster than the guys. But when it comes to delivering, there is a little bit of a problem there. When you look at all those things as a photo editor, who of course wants things to be moving at a very high rate, you wouldn’t want any disturbances when it comes to delivering. So usually you pick up on the male photojournalists. And when they work with female photojournalists they place them on desks like health and education.
A: Could you say something about this photo-desk concept? Because to me it is new.
Y: In every newsroom there is a photo editor who overall selects the photos that run in the papers. Then there are those who work in very close contacts with the different sections of the paper; desks. So you attach female journalists to the slower desks.
Z: That is a stereotype.
Y: Yes. That is a challenge. I have also spoken to the photo editor of The Nation in Nairobi, who is a woman. You would expect her to have more female photographers, but if you look at her desk there are only two out of fourty photo journalists. When I asked her about it she gave almost the same reasons that I am raising here.
A: The thing with stereotypes is that they are usually there for a reason… Some of this sounds pretty universal. Even though the ‘producing’ bit would not be raised in those words in the Netherlands. It would not be called ‘a disturbance’, but it might come down to more or less the same thing. I think that I might know more female photo editors in the Netherlands than female photojournalists. It was said earlier that a picture has to make sense for it to be in the newspaper.
N: The picture has to have a meaning.
A: With all the examples we have here on the table, is there a picture that you see that does not seem to have a meaning, or would, in the case of the international newspapers, definitely not have been published in a Ugandan newspaper.
N: I would not have this one on the front page of the paper [family portrait of Syrian refugees, De Telegraaf].
Y: Neither would I want to have this [Obama arrives, article on Sudan peace talks? Daily Monitor]
A: So it is from after you left as a picture editor…
Y: We shall discuss the reason later on.
A: O.k. so this is the cover of De Telegraaf. You could maybe compare this paper to Red Pepper in Uganda. It is a bit on the sensational side of things, and a bit on the conservative side of things. It is both a subscription paper and sold at news stands. So what do you see on that picture.
M + Z: A family.
A: Any idea what kind of family? Why they would be on the front page?
S: I think it is a good thing that we cannot understand the language now.
A: Yes, you have to respond to the photograph.
S: I think it is about big families and how they survive.
N: I think those are like immigrants.
Y: Yes, those must be immigrants.
A: That paper is from last week. And a big thing in the news in Europe right now is the refugee crisis with people coming from Syria. So both of those [pointing at both De Telegraaf as well as de NRC] are related to that.
Y: You want to blow up that one [NRC] and throw out the other one [De Telegraaf]. I don’t even want to look at it, seriously. If a photographer brings you that one…
A: But why?
N: This one [NRC] says so much.
A: Like what?
N: You see somebody whose life is hard.
Y: But anyway, it depends on what the article is about…
S: I think this one [De Telegraaf] works if you want to talk about refugee families and they adjust well in certain areas. Then you wouldn’t use this [NRC] no?
Y: No you still wouldn’t use that.
N: Not on the front page.
Y: So this [De Telegraaf] is about positive experiences people have gone through in Europe. Which is something you can use on the cover. But with a photo of, for instance, a refugee kid in class studying. There are so many things you know, other activities. But not a posed portrait.
N: With this one [NRC] you know that they are having trouble. You don’t even need to read the text with it.
A: This [De Telegraaf] continues on the next page. Did you notice? Almost all of this page is devoted to this family.
K: Actually the photos inside are better than the cover photo.
A: I don’t see a lot of Dutch news papers, I live, when it comes to media information, online, and am traveling half of the year. The main headline on the page has nothing to do with the photo, but with a warehouse chain going bankrupt. There is no real headline with this photo. It just says ‘Thank you Netherlands’. De Telegraaf is known as a conservative newspaper. I would think they are serving mostly an audience who have negative feelings towards refugees. So seeing this success story of a refugee family who is coping well with the situation they are in, was surprising to me. And this one [NRC] on the same day, the headline says ‘ten thousands are stuck’. It is about refugees who are not allowed to enter Turkey. So this one you would consider for your front page if you have a story like that?
Y: Yes… At the end of the day it is about… How about running a story about the other family, but adding a picture from where refugees are refused to enter in Turkey? But we in the Netherlands have allowed them to come. The story is about the family that has been given a reception in the Netherlands. But the photo is about the refugee families that have been denied access in Turkey. You can do two stories about the same thing.
N: There is a photo of the refugee kid holding a phone. That is a very good picture.
A: Why is that a very good picture?
Silence while the picture is shown.
A: This brings me back to something we were talking about before with The London Times. Yusuf was counting photographs. Annette, how many photographs do you count here?
AS: On the page? Four.
AK: In a way… I don’t know how those two women on top count…
A: That was also my response. When Yusuf said ‘there are four photographs’, I said ‘four?, there are two. And then there are two cut out women, who, for me at best refer to photographs to come.’ That led to your remark that as a picture editor you need images, not ‘just’ photographs.
AK: So images are not the same as photographs?
Y: They are, and you may use the two words at the same time. But in my thinking an image must create some kind of imagination from execution to the person who is going to look at it.
AK: A photo can just be a snapshot…
A: My response was, and I would love to hear what you think of that, ‘so if it is about imagination, than it doesn’t matter whether it is a drawing or a photograph’. It seems like there is no difference.
Z: They are not the same. But any photo is an image.
AS: Image and photo are the same. A drawing would be an illustration.
A: So here we have different definitions of image and photograph. Yusuf says, a photograph does not function as an image, unless it triggers imagination.
AS: That is a different aspect of it. Going back to images which would not appear in Kampala or various newspapers in this area… Newspapers also have cultures that affect which image is going to be on the front page. For instance with a subject like the refugees, as a newspaper you are thinking, which side are we taking in this situation?
A: Than you extent my argument that as a photographer you are an author, with a view that produces an images that can trigger imagination. With what you are saying this gets extended to the picture editor.
AS: It also comes back. The photographer is out there. The news editor is back there. He does not create. The image is created for the paper following the ideas of what the editor wants.
N: Let me try to sort this. When you bring a photo to the editor, you ask ‘what does it say?’ He may say ‘this is nothing’, or he may see that it has a message that can be put out there without anything. Because it is an image that has an imagination in relation to what it is communicating.
Y: The reason why the word journalism is attached to photo is because we assume you are going to create connections with it. You are going to connect a photo to a story. You are going to make a story. When you speak of the word journalism you are taking mere photographs until they start telling stories, then they become images.
S: But don’t photographs invoke different subjects, different things, for different people? So if I take a photo that ends up in the style section while I did not intent it to be in that section of the paper what am I then? A journalist?
Y: In the newsroom there are two things. You are either taking a photo to enhance a story, or you are taking a photo to tell a story.
AK: Look at this… How are they enhancing a story. It’s only the faces. What are those doing there? They make a lot of sense, but if we speak of it like this I wonder. When I look at this I do not know where to look. It is too busy, too many things. All ugly. [Bukedde Presidential candidates]. For me it is much more pleasurable to look at that [The London Times]. There is a lot of text but I am intrigued by the image and maybe I will have another look at it because I do not know exactly what it is. It is not into my face. While here, it is kind of too much.
A: so that is a general thing. Too much information screaming for your attention. I relate to that. You?
Y: Yes I agree, but there are pictures that are used just to support the story. As is the case with those faces. They do not tell the story, but support it.
A: [Norman holds up a spread with mostly photographs on elections. Bukedde] I am here in the same position as you with the Dutch newspaper with the refugees, since I do not read Luganda. I have no immediate clue what I am looking at.
Y: Actually Ugandans do a better job than the Dutch newspapers. [M chips in] You can look at any of these images and get something. But the Dutch images, nah.
[A is handed the paper]
A: o.k. now from closer by I can see that it is about elections. I see a ballot box, I see an old lady going to vote being helped by a red baret soldier.
N: Somebody arguing.
A: Yeah. Somebody being chased by an army man. Anyway a lot of uniformed people. In various uniforms that for me, even though I have been here a lot, are still hard to read. Who is police, who is military…
Y: Now in the newsroom where I come from that is called a picture story. You use different images to tell a complete story. And I guess, that when you add those pictures together, even without reading the text, you can know what it is about.
A: Well, yes, me to some extent. [general laughter…] I am curious when I show this to an average Dutch person, how far they would be able to go. Maybe I can test that later. Could you expand a bit on the remark that Ugandan newspapers are doing a better job than the Dutch ones?
Y: Yes, even when you put those pictures together [the refugee family in De Telegraaf] there is no story. People are just eating, holding a camera…
Z: So this brings back the authorship, and whether it lies with the newspaper or with the photojournalist. It brings a sense of ownership of the newspaper towards the photographs that are used.
Y: To a certain extent. In this case it is the selection that is given issues. You can’t have a photo of people in that kind of situation [NRC] and then show that [De Telegraaf]. If you put those issues on a weighing scale, Which one needs that people know about it? These ones who are living happily? Or the other ones who are living in a dire situation?
N: But this [De Telegraaf] is not happiness. What happiness?
Y: It is posed happiness.
N: It is not natural… But they could have photographed some action to make them look happy. At least. Ad life.
Z: That sounds like censorship in editorial…
AS: You can do that in news??
N: Yes, we are allowed to do that. You can ask people to stage something. If people are going to do something and you feel you can get a better image, then you have to set them up.
Y: Even international newspapers do that. Even Reuters…
Z: Have you ever set up a picture?
Y: Yes we have, we won’t deny that.
A: If you say it is about imagination and triggering imagination that seems to give you the green card to manipulate.
Y: Even in the political campaigns. Photographers make the images of the candidates
N: I can give you an example. I was with Bessigye [the main opposition candidate] for 12 days. Whenever he was coming he was addressing the people from a vehicle. I told him that I was tired of these pictures. That he should get out of the vehicle, go to the people. And then I said ‘yes now we are talking, now we have good photos.’
Y: You have seen that President Museveni, in all his campaigns, there are always pictures of him traveling through big crowds in his car. That is not his own making. It is the making of photojournalists. They know what needs to be done to make crowds appear big.
A: But it could also be the other way around, where the journalist is only given something staged to photograph.
N: You are not changing the parts, the meaning.
S: You are changing it if you are telling Bessigye to go out of the car. He seems like a different person then.
N: No you are not. The problem would come when I would cut parts out and add another crowd. That is a manipulation we cannot do.
Y: And that kind of manipulation is too much with international photographers. I have seen examples of people patching up stuff that was not in the original photos. There was this example of a plane that was brought somewhere else in the photograph.
P: They are so common on Instagram, that sort of creative mind…
N: As a photographer you have to make the image that will make people see what it is about. With school exams. When students have done well they need to be happy, hugging people, smiling. You need to make that happen in front of your camera.
Y: It all goes back to audiences. If someone scores the highest grade in Senior Six… Our society plays on moods, so you have to confirm the message with the image.
A: That has to do with an awareness of how you are photographed too that is maybe not present with the student. I have seen a lot of portraits of top graduates of the top schools not looking particularly happy. One of the things that made me want to understand more about photojournalism in Uganda is a story in this book, on Elly Rwakoma’s practice. I had been working with him for two years. And along the way I had digitised negatives that showed a rally showing President Binaisa, dated September 1979 in Jinja and Iganga. There was also one film where there was a panic. You see wounded people on the ground. I did not understand what it was I saw. And there were so many photographs that I also had not asked Elly about these ones. At some point I was talking to him and his wife. And she said ‘do you remember that time when you came home with three bullet holes in your trouser?’. He told me the story. And then I started to connect the story to the negatives. I showed him the digitised negatives and asked him whether it was this event. He confirmed it. He told me it was an attack on Binaisa’s life. That around thirty people died. He was working then as a freelancer for the state newspaper. I said ‘I assume those photographs got published’. He told me that they did not want them. One amazing thing to me was, this is the beauty of seeing a whole film, that after the attack you can see first Museveni, who was minister of defence back then, and after him Binaisa himself, get back on stage. To me that was mind blowing. After this book was published we did some research in newspapers, and found an article on the attack. It has a photo with it, of a rally held a day later in Mbale, not this one. To me political rallies in Uganda they all look the same and are photographed in the same way…
S: Just different colours.
A: Yes, in the photographs nowadays, but in these days they were black and white so even that does not show… So, this newspaper claims that the attack was Kenyan propaganda and that the panic was caused by a snake among the audience, shot by the security, resulting in various wounded people. Then I had someone check Kenyan newspapers for me to see how it was reported on there. And the article there does not say there was an attack on Binaisa’s life, that the panic situation was caused by a flying object, resulting in three dead children. A kind of mug shot portrait of the president was placed with the article, and it is said that they got the news from their Kampala based reporter. So I am curious, do you as journalist or editor have experience with having photographs that you thought were newsworthy, but the paper did not want to publish them?
N: Those are very many situations…
Y: And his case [implying M working for the state newspaper] it is worse…
N: I can give an example. Our first lady, she only wants to be photographed from a certain angle. You may have other very good photographs of her, but they will not get published.
Y: I experienced the same thing. We have gone around it and still published. Then those people called us… But even the newspapers themselves have policies that you have to follow. The Daily Monitor does not run pictures of the dead, bodies.
S: I think it is because they have gotten the following they wanted, so now they can pull back from the extreme.
Y: And even suspects. You have this good photo of some robber. There is more than enough proof that he is guilty. Police is manhandling him. But we have this law that suspects are innocent until it has been ruled in court otherwise so Daily Monitor does not show photographs of suspects who have not yet been judged. Police does not proof anybody guilty or innocent. However nice the picture looks. In the end they are looking at money. What if this persons sues us.
S: I thought that the image itself is, for instance, the police hauling someone in the back of a car. Isn’t that a fact? If you just say ‘Police hauls this man into the back of a car’, without mentioning that he is a suspect, you don’t mention his name. Just ‘Chaos reigns in Kiseka and police hauls a gentleman into a car.
Y: We are talking about criminals…
S: Yes, he is a criminal.
Y: maybe we are talking about different things… [pre election riots in Kiseka??]. I think that that is o.k. because you are defending the person the police is manhandling. But when this person is a robber…
S: We are not, the statement now says nothing about a robber. It is about chaos. That chaos can be caused by a robber, you know, gang violence, right? So ‘Chaos reigns in Kiseka, suspect hauled into the car’. Everything is just abstract.
Y: That leaves the story with a number of holes. You will be asked, so if this is a suspect, what has he done. What qualifies them to be a suspect.
AK: That is why we write captions, right?
Y: Exactly, so if the story is what this person has done for police to manhandle him like this that leaves holes you have to fill as a journalist. So in stead of creating that kind of argument, the photojournalist rather would not bring that material.
AK: Captions can also tell none truths. It happened to a friend of mine, she was said to have been pregnant, pregnant Mzungu, but she was not.
Y: Was that in the Monitor?
AK: No it was not. It was the Kampala Sun.
N: Those captions are not meant to tell truths, to make meaning with the photographs. They present gossip.
A: So could you say that is not journalism but entertainment?
Y: Yes, that is entertainment. What affects us most in the newsroom is on the one hand the newspaper policies, and on the other the state. The policies are so rigid. And we all know what the state here does.
S: Is there an actual list of censorship? Where the government says ‘don’t do this and this’.
Y: They don’t come out, but if you go that route…
A: This Binaisa case by Elly rwakoma is 1979, but still an example. This event literally did not make it into the history books because of censorship.
S: The newspaper decided not to run it. How do you come to this bit where you decide ‘you know what, this might get us into trouble with the current ruling government’.
Y: The state will not call the editor if they don’t want, for instance, a picture of the first lady to run. You know where they will call? They will call the Aga Khan [main shareholder of Monitor newspaper] and tell him, you know, what your newspaper is doing is not good. Then they will list the examples; you know the other day you ran a bad picture about this and that. So they will threaten him. And then the level of threat comes downwards. It will reach the point where they tell him that ‘you know, after the other day, please leave pictures of the first lady alone. Don’t do this, don’t do that.’ And then our councils here, the organisations we have created, like UJA [Uganda Journalists Association] they are so powerless, they cannot intervene in any way. They are not strong like for instance the ones in South Africa and Nigeria. They can come in and make a point. On Christmas eve, 24th 2013, there was a very controversial picture. So between the news editor, who is very relaxed and doesn’t mind, me, and the chief servant, there was an image that was brought in. The debate was on for like two hours… We use it or we don’t use it. The bosses were not there. It was of course something bad in the eyes of the state. We decided to just close our eyes, slap it there and answer the questions when they would call us. The journalism spirit won from the other things. We ran the photo. The next day, the three of us had emails. We were called for a disciplinary hearing. We went there and I think the MD [Managing Director] was getting instructions. He got like 20 calls from the state, from the people they have in charge of newspapers and stuff. They were calling him ‘what is this, why did they use this picture’. He came back and has been told which questions to ask. ‘You must have a motive, why did you use that picture?’
A: And the journalistic argument is not a valid one?
Y: The MD is looking at other things. He does not want to have the company closed for two weeks. That is another unfortunate thing. Most of the bosses are not people who have done journalism. They come from other sections; marketing, advertising…
AS: Can we go back to Binaisa’s picture, which paper did you read?
A: It was the state newspaper that kept changing names, which makes me doubtful what it’s name was at the time. 1979, I think it was Uganda Times. Uganda Argus during Obote, Voice of Uganda during Amin, Uganda times after Amin. But I could be mixing things up.
Y: And what is it called now? Is it there?
M + S: New Vision. It’s New Vision.
A: That was at the time, as far as I know, the only newspaper that ran photographs. The Luganda newspaper was text only.
AS: Did you read the Luganda one?
A: No I didn’t. The person doing research for me did check the newspapers, but is not Luganda speaking. He had to go on Binaisa, the mention of the name.
AS: I sense a situation where the Luganda version may have had a different story as well.
A: Yes, I would love to go back to that with a Luganda speaker… If I try to conclude the general line of what you have been saying, Ugandan newspapers are doing a better job at getting pictures across in their design than what you see in the international newspapers that I’ve brought.
N: Our pictures communicate stories more.
A: A story meaning that it is a scene out of a bigger situation.
A: But on the other hand there are these restrictions that limit your freedom in journalism.
A: A final question to you as a writer and a photojournalist, can a photograph be leading in taking the message across?
N: There are very few incidents where photographs take the lead, but they do happen. We now also have pictorials, for instance on page two, where they just place a good picture.
AS: What do you mean by a good picture?
The discussion spins towards the technical side, towards photos that cannot be published in print because of their exposure, but they can be published online, because of the character of screen presentation. Then the issue of the quality of the camera, relating to the knowledge of the photographer more or less brings us back to the topic of the education of the photojournalist. We end on the note that the story is partly with the knowledge of the reader. With the balance between confirmation of available knowledge that allows for identification, and new information.
N: confirms that the Ugandan audience wants to get confirmation.
Y: That is a stand alone topic in journalism. You use photographs because of prominence [Obama photo]. On this day there could have been a incident killing many people. But the ruling principle of prominence and identification made the paper choose this photograph of Obama.
AS (afterwards in the car while giving A a lift): Monitor did not use to have photographs, but it had content. Bukedde sold out, even though it is in Luganda. They did have photographs. Now Monitor also has them…
2. Conversation with Will Boase, 29-02-2016
Will Boase was trained in the UK as a photographer, and is a long term resident in Uganda. He works both in photography, mostly for western NGOs and ‘in hospitality’, running a hostel. He is in a relationship with Anna Kucma of the UPPA.
A: I am not sure what makes the [Ugandan] newspapers so disinteresting to me, whether it is the design or the content that I have trouble to connect with. Probably it is a combination of the two. But then, last week at the meeting with the UPPA people, the conclusion was that Ugandan newspapers are much better at communicating the message. Arguments were given.
W: O.k. What were their arguments.
A: It had to do with the visual appeal. In addition came the argument of subscriptions versus news paper sales.
W: I think that goes stronger for the Dutch newspapers than for the UK ones, even though I cannot back that up with figures.
A: I liked hearing it though, that for them the newspapers they are used to communicate much better. For me the ones I am used to communicate better. For me it was good to stop thinking from my view and be open to other ones.
W: I find Ugandan newspapers to be very jumbled, which is reflective of the visual culture here. I mean, graphic design; your shop sign never just has your brand, it has every fucking thing that you sell plus etc. at the bottom in case there is anything you forgot. The same goes for cards, there are six phone numbers and three email addresses and whatever else. There are studies about how people read. Have you seen those eye tracking studies? I wonder whether you get interesting results if you have a Ugandan taking part in that. Because to me the Ugandan newspapers are a bombardment. I can’t set down and read them concentratedly because there is too much stuff happening. I think visual culture counts an awful lot more than we give it credit for.
A: Yes, that is also the point I have arrived at. And therefore I try to look at things without passing judgement, but approach things from a point of not knowing.
W: And then us being trained in artistic business, we are trained along the lines of this being good and that being bad and it is very hard to shake that off. I mean I look at a lot of photography and think it is awful, but it all gets published, so…
A: Have you worked for Ugandan news media?
W: A little bit. When a charity wants an article in the paper, then they hire me because they don’t know who to hire, so it comes with the job. And then some portraits, some bits and pieces… I did some work for the New Vision in 2010. A pair of stories from Gulu. I needed contacts at that time, I needed some publications, some tear sheets to show to people They were totally non discriminatory about the images. I could put anything in. Most mystifying was that I sent them a word document and they inserted spelling mistakes into it even though they could have just copy pasted it. The whole experience was quite bad. I didn’t again with them.
A: Were you briefed in any way?
W: No. They just let you know who it is and where it is. That’s it basically. I had a really interesting experience over the past weeks working with the Mail and Guardian picture editor in South Africa. Almost without exception there is this one way system where they just take your pictures and you never hear anything back. In this case I took pictures I sent them in and then I got a mail back saying we are not looking for this kind of thing, we are looking for that, can you go out and shoot again. So I went out and shot again and sent the images. They were again still not quite what they were looking for… This was the first time, not just here but anywhere, that I had an editor who had this specific thing already in mind and asked me to frame it for him.
A: Then the picture editor is only not doing it himself because he has to be in South Africa…
W: Well, yes and no. I think he just wanted to highlight particular things in the story. So if they do not come out clearly enough [in the text] he just wants to put you in the right mindset before you start to read the article. The photographs then set the scene for the story. This story was about domestic workers from Saudi Arabia who get mistreated. He was trying to point out the situation that women find themselves in in Kampala where it seems like there is a way out, while there is not. The photographs make a proposition for the reader of the text. It was interesting to have that relation with a picture editor.
A: That seems to me to be a good example of what the journalists last week were saying that a photograph should to, which is be a trigger of imagination. Both on the producer side as well as the reader side in this case.
W: This is Ugandans who were saying that? Surprising.
A: Yes, they were very strong about that. And it is also connected to this Ebifananyi thing again I think.
W: I find that very strange. One of the things I find frustrating here in photographs is that they are so literal. There is never any enigma.
A: No, because the photograph has to look like…
W: All it is is an artist’s impression of the words. In Britain, famously, the job of the new photographer on staff is always to do the enormous cheque. You know when someone wins money, or gives money to a charity there is that huge check that is given. It is impossible to make a creative shot of that. Then the competition obviously becomes to make the most imaginative image of the enormous cheque. I feel if you would give a Ugandan photographer the job, they would just take a photo of the person holding the cheque. They would never do something that would go beyond the picture we have seen before.
A: What I also thought was interesting was the general emphasis on that a good news photograph has to include an action. [I explain the example of the refugee stories]
W: Yes, that seems to be the result of the general consensus of what news photography is and how it is taught. Any syllabus would say ‘News photography is… and contains…’
A: There is a really strong emphasis on story. And part of any story is that there is a scene that changes, meaning there is an action and that the best photograph is of that action. These conventions seem to be very general and universal but then they are placed within this context that has aspects that are really specific. Because both are there, it is really easy for us outsiders to cling to the universal aspects and hard to get to the specific ones. Which is sort of what I am trying to do, without ignoring the universal aspects.
W: I think that there are some very talented photographers working here, but I also feel that the hierarchy that exists within news papers is extremely negative. There is a Ugandan wire photographer here who is kind of a king maker, if he likes your stuff then you can move forward. But he is not a very good photographer. The reason why he is doing well is because he established himself at a time when there was very little competition, and rose to a level where his position is unassailable. So there are these yard sticks that people measure themselves by. They may be technically adept but not very creative. I would prefer them to measure themselves through other people. They pick the wrong idols. Also because the picture desks make the demand by what they publish. People go like ‘oh, they like this picture let me make more like that’. So in the end you don’t get much of a development in visual culture towards something more universal or more Ugandan. All you get is a perpetuation of the status quo. There is a negative reenforcement there, or if not negative then at least not pushing things forward. There is a lot of repetition of doing the visual styles that are done abroad, without having the actual technical requirements needed that would pull images out that would result from knowing how your camera works, how your flash works… Most people here just pull their camera out and go snap snap snap. So you get the intention to do an international style action based photography with things happening and people pointing at each other and stuff, but you don’t have the technical skills on the other side which results in slightly fuzzy and badly made photographs so they don’t really look like one thing or another, they don’t end up fitting anywhere. I do think technical understanding is really poor here. And that’s just because people don’t need to know it. Digital cameras just removed any need for technical knowledge. Just put it on green and there you go shooting. You are fine, it doesn’t cost anything. Shoot 10.000 pictures, pick one. Or drop your card at the office and let someone else do the job.
A: This picture desk-thing. That’s the way every newspaper works?
W: What happens is, there are three ways to get your picture in the paper. You are either shooting through the desk or you are shooting for the wires and the desk is picking pictures of them, or you are shooting for the advertorial or whatever it is and then that will be packaged as a complete thing and the desk has no involvement with it. Which is why adverts in papers have much better shots than anything else. So if you are shooting for the desk itself they just got complete control over wat ends up in the paper. You have the call to go down from a hundred to twenty shots, but they have the call to go down from twenty to one. If you are shooting for wires… I send them maybe twelve frames a day, I don’t send them a huge selection because they do not pay you for that selection. They don’t pay very well and it’s not worth my time to send them all my best images. But those few that I send them might run far because picture desks because they will pick one and run it where they don’t have art for their stories. So the picture desk is in charge. You can argue with them, but that doesn’t mean you will get more jobs…
A: And then the advertorials… [example of Peter Terra during UPPA meeting]
W: I do see pictures here that I shot for a client illustrating news stories… They get to the news paper and they will hold on to them and use them for whatever if something happens in that same area. They just pull it from their catalogue. It is not really allowed. And it should require extra licensing.
A: Did you also experience that internationally?
W: No no, I mean the Guardian, once they have your picture they will use them however they want. But they very rarely use them and they usually do notify you when they do. Mostly you get paid for every single instance of usage. But here, once you have taken a picture and it has gone to the desk, that is theirs and you are never getting it back.
A: Or even when you worked for a client and the client owns the material they…
W: Here people have just given up writing… Four days ago I saw a picture of mine in the Monitor and I sent the link to my client in the UK because it was a picture I made for them. And they wrote back ‘oh, it is really nice to see that’. I know I have a contract with them that says that she is supposed to send a notice passed me prior to usage. But am I really going to chase that around? Is it worth it for a 12.000 shilling licensing fee or something? I think that so many people here just have grown up knowing this is how it works. Knowing that their pictures are gone when they are gone.
A: [power with the client, from UPPA meeting]
W: I have pushed some copy right things with various clients, but it is always international where they have some knowledge of intellectual property and they do have an understanding of that what I get paid today is not enough. That when they are reusing the image, they are still reusing my work. Then if you have the right audience then that gets you somewhere and you do get better terms. But you only get those better terms if you ask for them. Here, if you don’t run over and play dead, then they won’t use it again. Because here are so many young photographers. All with the same skill level, all working more or less with the same kit. Who cares whether you hire Tom in stead of Dick. It doesn’t matter. The advantage I have is that the clients I am dealing with they don’t have a second photographer they trust in Uganda. So they do have to have that conversation with me. Or they have to go through the essentially risky process of trying a new photographer, maybe paying a shitload of money for a shit set of results. While it is much easier for them to say ‘o.k. lets talk a little bit, and you get the same terms as all the other photographers’. Here you just whitch out the photographer, who is only seen as a camera operator.
A: On the one hand there is the emphasis on imagination, on the other hand there seems to be a total ignoring of authorship and of the specific vision of the photographer.
W: Yes, that is not taken into account at all.
A: When I bring it up I feel like it is a completely theoretical issue that does not hold any ground here.
W: I was working with a Vision reporter last week, and she was asking ‘why does Mail and Guardian use you?’ So I said, ‘well I worked with the guy for a long time and he likes my pictures’. She still didn’t seem to get bother going through the annoyance while you have pictures that show people [by another photographer who had been working along side of her]. She sent me one of the pictures. It was awful. But it was already shot. So why bother getting another photographer. It is the Mail and Guardian with their visual tradition. And then she has a shitty picture of five embarrassed looking women in a nondescript office with a shitload of flash on each forehead. And she doesn’t get why that doesn’t run in the paper. Strange. You can see the Ugandan press gang at press conferences… They are all there in front, while I am in the back of the room trying to find different angles. And they must thing I am an idiot because their newspapers don’t buy the pictures I make. But when the New Yorker runs images of Donald Trump they are not just images of his face, but image that have more depth and interest to them. And they don’t see purpose of image like that. In magazines you get eight pages, 25 frames. You can give a good sense of who you are as a photographer. But when it comes to one image on a news story going through the desk, they will look at the basic technicals, is it sharp, properly exposed, does it not look like shit, and then passed that they will pick the image that they like. It is not about what you feel is good or bad. If you do not want to run a bad image, the only thing you can do is not supply a bad image. And then they might not like you because they don’t have choice. The power of the picture desk should not be underestimated. You should ask one of the guys there to take you through their selection process, should be more interesting than talking to me. It is just business you know, photojournalism. It is not love and it is not art. The only time you find love and art are the bits where it is an individual who has that. Particularly within the newspapers themselves you will find an individual who has the passion, and they are great to work with.
A: But it is cultural production…
W: It is a defining part of visual culture actually. Photography of what is happening in the world is so incredibly pervasive. But the best selling papers here are Red Pepper and Bukedde, who don’t need good pictures, they just need pictures where you can see what is going on. If you ask most photographers here you don’t really have a career as an artistic photographer and you barely have a career as an advertisement photographer because the set up of the advertiser is so expensive, and the set up for fine art is just non existent. No-one is gonna buy your images. There just isn’t a market for it. So almost anyone ends up running photo studios or in photojournalism or events, which falls under photojournalism because they will often sell other pictures on the side. Most young photographers will tell you they do events in their spare time to make money because it pays better than photojournalism. It is a very financially motivated and dispassionate way to enter the industry which I don’t think is the case elsewhere. The only door into the industry that is open is the wrong door.
May 24th 2016, Kalungi Kabuye addition. Not transcribed, as the above, but paraphrased and based on notes because of the noise in the place where we, after trying for months, finally managed to meet. Kalungi is a self trained photojournalist, has been working for the New Vision for 21 years and is now photo editor for the news paper’s life style section.
Press photography in Uganda is very basic and not creative at all. It is a matter of point and shoot.
Press freedom might be more restricted by economical interests than by political ones. All the media houses are there in the first place to make money, there is no ideology behind it. The government may be a major shareholder in the Vision Group, but it does not keep it going. If advertisers complain about content then the content will change. At one point the first lady was asked to step in when the newspaper needed funds and the ministry refused to help out. So the paper tends to report favorably about her. Besides, she has her own press unit, so sometimes you will first work from the material you made yourself, and then the next day follow up on it with material from her press unit.
The presence of prominence in the choice of news pictures has to do with a social structure in which Big Men are seen as very important. There is an emphasis on local news in the newspapers, on what and who people already know, what they read on social media, heard on radio or saw on television. I keep telling my bosses that we should not do that, but it is what sells, so we do it. I do comment on it in sometimes in the weekly column that I have in the New Vision.
The most remarkable change in photojournalism probably lies in the development of the technology. When I send out a reporter to some event I get the text in time. It can be written on, and sent by the writer’s phone from anywhere. The photographs need a bit more and other work. And if the photographer lacks the discipline that means that photos will not be there to be printed.
The job of photo journalist has become more rewarding in Uganda, but only for those who work for a media house. For freelancers things are really hard. There is no respect for the photographer. Not from those photographed by him, and sometimes not even from himself. There is no sense of ownership or authorship. People are just struggling to get by and cannot afford to try to lay such claims. And also, if there is no creating, no creativity and no respect, where should the sense of authorship come from.
When we, towards the end of our meeting talk about the history of visual culture in Uganda, Kalungi thinks out loud and adds that the lack of a tradition of picture makers might have to do with the lack of creativity and respect.
These conversations were continued during the opening of the Updates exhibition, November 12th at the Uganda Museum. An report with highlights can be found here. Full audio recording can be heard here.