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What photography teaches me

I was invited to talk to teachers at the Open Window – Design & Visual Arts / Teachers Conference that was held this weekend.

Maaike Bakker, illustration lecturer at the Open Window, showed some contemporary South African illustration and talked some of the influences, trends and applications.  Look at some of Maaike’s work. 

My talk was about what Photography teaches me.

Here are some of the lessons I shared.

Beauty is everywhere

You will find beauty in unexpected places. You will find beauty in conflict and sadness and you will find beauty in the ordinary.


In 2011 I was fortunate to accompany Gift of the Givers to Mogadishu.  They supplied food and medical assistance to the war ravaged city and we documented the process and city.  I photographed this girl in the Howl-Wadaag IDP (Internally displaced people) camp in Mogadishu.   Look at some more pictures taken in Mogadishu.


Dragonfly floating in our swimming pool.


“News photography teaches you to think fast, to be sure of yourself, self confidence. When you go out on a story, you don’t go back for another sitting. You gotta get it.” – Weegee


Protest at the Memorial service for the Marikana miners that was shot dead by Police earlier this year.  Look at a slideshow of the event.


As a photojournalist you will not be able do your job if you have no empathy.  You have to genuinely be interested in people and have respect for your subjects.  Without it you will struggle to get access to people and your work will be very cold.  When you act with sensitivity and sincerity your viewers are more likely to identify with the people in the story and have an emotional reaction rather than a voyeuristic feeling. At the same time you have to maintain your emotional equilibrium.  It is sometimes difficult to forget what you’ve seen but it is important to maintain the balance between your life and your work.


Victoria Shetuhanga (16) survived the Vingerkraal Fire in which 11 other children was killed.


Family member of one of the Marikana miners that was shot dead by Police at the memorial service.


Photography, as life, is about perspective.  Where you standing, what angle you decide to use sometimes makes a big difference in your picture.



Two fighters at the same Cage-Fighting event shot from different angles.  From below the emphasize power and from above to emphasize vulnerability.

Hard work

“The more I practice, the luckier I get.” ― Gary Player


A girl blowing a bubblegum bubble in Mogadishu.  Shot from a moving vehicle on our way back to our compound.

No excuses

There are lots of reasons for not getting the shot.  We sometimes work in very difficult circumstances. But none of these reasons matter.  If you didn’t get the shot, the story is not going to be told


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