Deadline Every Second: On the road with photojournalists

“I wanted to show the range that photojournalists do, and I wanted to somehow grasp the idea that they could be doing a basketball game in the afternoon and going to Haiti that night. I think it’s one of the most remarkable things that these people are able to do so many things and do them so well.”

In Deadline Every Second, director Kenneth Kobre did exactly that. Following 12 photographers from the Associated Press, Kobre captures the working lives of those journalists on assignment in locations across the world, from Downing Street to Gaza. Lefteris Pitarakis, one of those featured in the documentary, joined Kenneth at the Frontline Club for a screening of the film and a Q&A session on 21 September.

The wide ranging discussion with the audience opened with AP photographer Pitarakis defending the emergence of citizen journalism:

“It’s great if everyone’s able to take pictures on the spot and report what he or she sees especially local people in areas where I can’t go, then it’s great for all of us. The mainstream media has very strict ethical rules about how we validate the work and make sure the truth is there so there are some issues that have to be addressed every time.”

Kobre added that professionals always bring a different perspective to a story and produce quality work:

“During the Arab Spring, the first pictures out were those citizen journalist pictures but very soon afterwards you saw the professionals start to arrive and the quality of the photos improved immensely. Photojournalists see the world in a very different way than an amateur sees the world and even if the equipment is the same, the pictures are rarely the same.”

The discussion then touched on technological developments and their impact on the profession. Pitarakis acknowledged the benefits and the downsides of digital technology and rolling news coverage:

“For me the most important thing is that I’m able to stay in a place for longer … because I have a satellite modem and I can send my pictures right there. Sometimes it causes trouble because of the volume of pictures. Personally it causes me overload and I over work. I’m lucky if I sleep three hours.”

Turning to a question on the power of photography, Kobre stressed the cumulative impact of a series of photographs.

“No single picture changes history. A picture doesn’t end a war, but they start to add together. They are used over and over again and become burned in to our minds. I can’t point to any picture that’s changed history recently except for one and that’s the one in Somalia, with the dead soldier being dragged, Black Hawk Down. That caused Clinton to have a fear of that ever happening again and when Rwanda occurred he didn’t send in American troops in part, they say, because he feared that kind of publicity. But short of that I don’t think individual pictures do, it’s like drops of water that add up.”