Archive for December, 2009

Highest number of journalists killed ever

I heard a terrible report on ABC Radio this morning about the number of journalist casualties around the world this year. Apparently there have been 68 so far, the highest ever and up from 42 last year. Even worse is that most of the journalists killed are usually locals, covering their own country’s events.

Many of these journalists actually risk their lives every day by just stepping out onto the street in their home towns. While some are caught up in the crossfire, others are actually targeted by groups who want to control the messages being sent to the outside world – or in this case eliminating them I guess.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported 31 were killed in the Philippines, nine in Somalia, four in Iraq, four in Pakistan and three in Russia. Only two journalists were not locally based reporters. Nine were freelancers and most were murdered while 11 died covering combat and seven covering other disturbances.

I’m well aware journalists don’t always accurately portray events and have received my own share of abuse, even from friends. But we still need journos out there reporting the news, it’s one way to keep governments and military honest and let us know something about what is going on. I think many of us don’t realize exactly what journalists go through to get their stories. I’ve been a journalist for 12 years but I haven’t covered conflicts. I’ve been in disaster zones, I’ve had guns pointed at me but more for security checks than anything else and I’ve been searched by armed forces. But none of it has been too bad.

I don’t have any desire to cover conflicts but I have interviewed people that have. I did a story on famed British photojournalist Tim Page a few years ago for Capture, a photographic magazine in Australia. I asked Page if he had even been armed with more than a camera in any of the conflicts he’s covered. He’s been in Kosovo, Iraq, Vietnam, Cambodia, Somalia and other places (I heard recently he’s been in Afghanistan). Here’s what he said to me:

“At times you had to pick up a weapon and use it. I mean what do you do when a camp is being overrun, there’s no more mines, there’s no more barbed wire out there, there’s Charlie hurling grenades at you. You don’t say ‘excuse me old boy here’s my passport and my press card’. You’ve got the mother on rock and roll with you, so you drill him. It’s you or me and you’re mad enough to kill me although you don’t know who I am. I’ve got an automatic weapon, excuse me you’re going to be a hamburger.”

He said he had also accompanied small commando groups who insisted no one could look after him, so he had to pack a weapon.

The other terrible thing about war affected places is that the journalists living there, covering the events, often do not have the ability to leave. Foreign correspondents can jump on the next plane out of there if they have been traumatized by an event or been targeted by radical groups. Local journalists simply can’t leave and have no respite from the horrors they see. And it must be far worse seeing atrocities affecting your own family, friends and community.


Feel free to email Jo at [email protected] with your comments/thoughts/photo aspirations.  See and learn more at

Photographing People

One of the most common questions I am asked is how to approach people for a photograph, particularly in developing countries.

I probably take more portrait photographs than anything else as you can see from my website. Portraits are probably amongst the trickiest photos to get because while it’s easy to get photos of a person it may be less easy to get photos about them. But I think the real question people are asking, is how I approach complete strangers for a photo, perhaps in developing countries where you may feel you are exploiting them.

Of course all of this is easier said than done as we often have to work hard to overcome our shyness or their’s. I usually follow some of the following techniques:

1. Engage the person first. The more time you spend with people they are more likely to allow you to photograph. In aboriginal communities in Australia this is often the case. I’ve spent a bit of time in some Queensland communities where the children are asking you to take photos of them by the end of the week. However there are cultures in which photography maybe taboo or be regarded suspiciously. The important thing is to be sensitive to people and the reactions they have to you and your camera.

Aboriginal kids

2. I keep my camera out in the open and let them have a good look at it. I don’t hide behind bushes or do anything covertly, everything is very upfront so people have the chance to refuse the photography.

3. I warm them up towards a portrait by first photographing them doing something instead of looking directly at the camera. For example I might photograph the hands of a woman sewing or take a wider shot before I move in to photograph her face, like this image of the old grandmother below in Vietnam. The first photo is not great but as she got used to me I moved in closer until I finally took this great portrait.

Sapa, Vietnam

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Favourite Places

I am often asked which places I’ve visited are my favourite or where I could live of the places I’ve been. It’s a tough one but I normally answer promptly that home turf, Australia, is the best spot – and it is!

Sunset in South Australia

After that I would probably rank India, Italy, Turkey, Ireland, China and Laos not necessarily in that order. But I also love Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

In terms of a photographic overview here are some of my favourite places to photograph and why.

Prayer by the Ganges, Haridwar (India). You almost can't take a bad photograph in India, everything is so colourful, so exotic and often very unpredictable. You just need to have a camera handy and switched on and you're guaranteed almost once-in-a-lifetime shots like this one.

Sunset in Pamukkale (Turkey). The sun caught the minaret of this mosque just beautifully at sunset. I love the food, the friendly people and the fantastic landscapes of Turkey.

Carnevale, Venice (Italy). Italian festivals are unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. The performers have an incredible ability to engage the audience and audience participation is so fluid and fun. Italians know how to enjoy life and it makes for good people photography.


Feel free to email Jo at [email protected] with your comments/thoughts/photo aspirations.  See and learn more at

Climate Change Photography

Climate Change has become the number one issue here in Australia this year. Our politicians are debating it in parliament and even losing their jobs because over it, water issues such as the Traviston Dam continue to concern communities and rallies have been held around the country to send a message to leaders in Copenhagen.

Climate Change has also become a feature in the realm of photography too and I just discovered yet another competition seeking entrants for images documenting the process – see

I took part in the Canvas for Change competition with Oxfam last year and became a finalist. I can’t find the link now where you voted for images, but the winners are listed here. I always find it’s hard to compete as a photographer with fine artists and illustrators but I was pleased to be short listed. Here is the image I submitted which I thought might be of interest to those concerned with Climate Change.

The Sea is Coming

The Sea is Coming

The Motuans live in houses built on stilts over the sea on the southeastern coast of Papua New Guinea. As climate change effects sea levels the tides are inching closer to these peoples homes. In some parts of PNG rising waters have already swamped farms, destroyed crops and forced people to move and become climate refugees.


Feel free to email Jo at [email protected] with your comments/thoughts/photo aspirations.  See and learn more at

The New Black

Aboriginal girl, Doomadgee

I just finished watching the fantastic ABC TV special tonight “The New Black” with short films averaging about 10 minutes telling Aboriginal stories. Wow! It was incredibly insightful about really pertinent issues such as rape, neglect, adoption, relationships and childhood in both Aboriginal communities and in the city.

Some of it was bleak, a lot was tough going but I often measure stories like this by the impact they have on me personally. And these films made me rethink experiences I have had with Aboriginal people both as a child at school when I might not really have been aware of issues going on for some of my Aboriginal classmates. And as an adult doing voluntary work in several Aboriginal communities and probably not fully grasping what’s involved in the drinking, truancy, suicide and relationships.

If these stories impacted me so personally and sensitively I can only hope that they have done the same for others. The incredible power of these stories are they are actually directed and written by Aboriginal people. They are telling their own stories and that is incredibly empowering both for them as a story telling people and for the wider Australian population. The director of Samson and Delilah, Warwick Thornton, said on the special that there is a real hunger amongst the Australian population for these stories.  I hope more are told and more people see them.

Which reminds me I still need to put the finishing touches to my Doomadgee Memoirs book, telling the lives of six people in a far north Queensland community. I’m still waiting for three signatures so I can print the book but I might just have to go ahead with only the three I have. You can read more about this project here:


Feel free to email Jo at [email protected] with your comments/thoughts/photo aspirations.  See and learn more at

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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter - Martin Luther King Jr.