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The bad side of news photography as a freelance (con’t)

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On the way back home to Hout Bay, Cape Town after a short outing I was informed of the terrible tragedy that had befallen those on the catamaran, Miroshga near Duiker Island.

It had already been several hours since the event and the first set of survivors had been brought to shore and the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) were busy in attempting to rescue a second set of survivors from the overturned vessel.

A broken engine had left the catamaran stranded and the boat had then capsized in the high winds and choppy waters.  Of the 33 or 34 tourists on board, 1 was later confirmed dead and several seriously injured.  Many of the passengers had had to wait hours underneath the overturned catamaran surviving on small pockets of air until the NSRI had been able to reach the boat.  Several poachers (of perleman and crayfish) had gotten to the site earlier and had made brave attempts to rescue as many of the passengers as they could.

After assessing the situation I realised this would be an international story of sorts and had to go down to the harbour where the passengers of the Miroshga were being brought in.

The first sign that things for the media were amiss was when I got down there and spoke to several news people from local and international outlets.  They had not been briefed and were already annoyed at the lack of access and the way the police was treating them.  We found ourselves being mishandled, told to always move away and were kept as far away from the survivors and the rescue operation coming in as possible.

Apart from protecting the identity the deceased survivor until next of kin had been informed and on a larger scale minimising any PR damage for the Cape Town tourist industry – whatever the good intentions, being mishandled in such a manner was both demeaning and was a general affront to the press and the work they do. We could just as easily have been briefed on the do’s and dont’s and would have respected any reasonable guidelines given.

A fellow photographer working with the local newspapers aptly said after an argument with a policeman that the next time they wanted to feed a ‘feel-good’ story to the press, they wouldn’t oblige them.

I have already blogged about the professional value as a freelance of working as a news photographer.  Here though was the other side of the coin I also dislike – the photos themselves are restrictive in terms of quality and what you can achieve but also in many events now in news photography, everything is carefully staged and choreographed on the whole.  You will find the most media savvy people in even the remotest parts of Africa keen to try and control access.  Not only is it necessary to use your best skills in a limited setting to convey whatever you are photographing (for little reward as a freelance as I have written in past blogs) but increasingly you must also at the same time navigate a mountain of control and access issues of what pics can and can’t be taken.

Over the years, I have learnt to gently push in such situations to get the pics that are required – but given that my pics – however good (and they def weren’t in this case) – would not have received any interest from media outlets (who as I have said before would go to Reuters, AFP and AP for such pics whose staff photogs and cameramen were already on the scene at the Harbour) I decided after a couple of hours and a few weak pics to go home and continue with my relaxing Saturday.

This event was even more confirmation for me that moving away from this type of photography was a good and positive move for me both professionally and personally.

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