Video SLRs redefine photojournalism

There’s a lot written about the future of journalism, of photojournalism, of video journalism. Too much, perhaps. Even as write this, yet another link with almost that exact title popped into my Twitter feed, via the ever-quote-happy Arianna Huffington. With all the theorising about how we will work in the post-print era (and who will pay us), we sometimes forget to appreciate that some people are already working in ways which, not long ago, would have seemed ludicrously futuristic.

The Bombay Flying Club – two Danes and a Canadian – seem to be doing just that. They’ve taken the latest in professional-grade digital SLR cameras, the Canon 5D Mk II, and used its HD video capability alongside more traditional photography to cover the story of villagers living on the Jharia coalfields in India’s Jharkhand region. The coalfields have been on fire for almost 100 years because of poor mining techniques.

The story is compelling enough – human suffering in the face of elemental power and corporate neglect. But it’s the telling that makes it special. Produced entirely in black and white, it mixes stark still images which stand tall on their own artistic merit with HD video that does exactly the same. That the stills and video were shot on the same camera is even more impressive.

As a journalist who loves stories and a photographer who instinctively wonders "how did they do that", BFC’s Wasteland film left me struggling to stay focused: one minute I was slack-jawed at the conditions the villagers have to endure in their daily lives, the next I was scratching my head and wondering how the three journalists put their film together.

And how do the journalists make money? By using their slick-as-you-live website to pitch their work to news organisations, new and old. Wasteland has already been picked up by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

Many users of so-called "pro-grade" cameras have tried to bury their heads in the sand over the coming of video to their DSLRs. Some Nikon-toting pros, who have seen video introduced only on the company’s lower-spec D90 camera, have filled online messageboards with cries of "keep away from my D3". 

Brand loyalty aside, few can quibble with the impact of the Canon’s images: still or moving. An impressive nod to the future of photojournalism – today.

Video: Wasteland from Bombay Flying Club on Vimeo