War Zone Freelance Exhibition – The Story Behind the News

January 29, 2016

By Thomas Colson

A panel of freelance journalists and photographers joined an audience at the Frontline Club on Thursday 28 January 2016 to discuss the story behind a new exhibition of freelance war photography. Osie Greenway, Anne Alling, Benjamin Hiller and Jeffry Ruigendijk introduced photography and footage from their time in the Middle East – particularly Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – and explained that the exhibition’s purpose was to bring to light to the complexities that surround freelance journalism, which are rarely recognised by those who ultimately view the content produced. 

“We think there needs to be more light shone on [freelancing], to understand where the news comes from and how the news is reported. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes when you see a picture,” explained photojournalist Osie Greenway.

The panel commented that the War Zone Freelance Exhibition was also created in order to draw attention to the vital – and sometimes highly dangerous – work of fixers and local journalists. 

“They are often forgotten in the long run,” said photojournalist and writer Benjamin Hiller. “We leave, they stay behind, and often they have to take up the consequences of that.” Without them, he said, the work of western journalists would be near impossible. “We are intertwined; we are dependent on each other,” he said.

Dutch photojournalist Jeffry Ruigendijk agreed, saying that local journalists frequently don’t receive recognition for their contributions – even when the western media picks up their stories or photographs. “You see a byline with a name from an Arab country, but apart from that you never hear these guys. You never hear them speak on the radio; they never appear on talk shows. They’re ghosts with a name and a beautiful photo.”

Ruigendijk also commented that the exhibition aimed to provoke a discussion about the inconsistent payment of freelance journalists. “Usually [editors] want the photo or video last week, but you get your invoice paid in a couple of months. At the moment I’m waiting on two invoices: one which is a year and a month old, and a second which is nearly a year old.”

If the exhibition could provoke a discussion of “what is ethical and not ethical” in this context, Ruigendijk said, then it would “help freelancing in general.”

Anne Alling, a Danish writer and reporter, said the exhibition was a “developing project” with the purpose of exposing the unique work of freelancers. She added that the exhibition reflected some emerging trends in freelance work, such as the use of crowdfunding and social media to maximise support for the project. She hoped the exhibition would “give an insight into what it takes to be a freelancer, and provoke some kind of debate about freelance journalism.”

Ultimately, Greenway said, freelance journalism is not a new profession: “it’s an ancient craft, we’re not trailblazing.” Instead, he said, “our goal is to bring it back into the light, to make people see what it takes to take a photo.”

The panel will return to the Frontline Club this evening – Friday 29 January – for a discussion on the future of freelance journalism.

Contact [email protected] for more information on the exhibition, and visit the Frontline Freelance Register website for more information on freelance conflict reporting and its risks.