Sharjah: Photojournalism has no gender. Three exceptional women who have been working on the frontlines of photojournalism, chronicling important events in some of the most troubled areas of the world, have proven that being a woman is no barrier to achieving excellence in their field.
Speaking at the Fifth Xposure International Photography Festival in Expo Center Sharjah, Paula Bronstein, Emma Francis and Claire Thomas spoke about their personal and professional experiences in raising female voices and how a growing number of women are responsible for capturing some of the most captivating images today.
American photojournalist Paula Bronstein, who has been on the field for 35 years, said work ethics are more crucial than gender role “We have fantastic female photographers. It is the way we work in different cultures and countries, adapting to and respecting the cultural and social values of the people we meet, that is more critical in our line of work,” added the author of internationally acclaimed photo book, ‘Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear’, which documents Afghans living against the backdrop of a 16-year war.
British-American national Emma Francis added: “One of the oft-repeated advise I receive is to stay away from so-called ‘dangerous’ places. My response is that their awareness of events in another part of the world is precisely because of the work of people like us. This is my job; it is what I do, I tell them.”
Currently based in Paris, Emma has documented the 2018 presidential elections and stories of Ethiopian refugees in Kenya and also photographed Boko Haram survivors’ stories in Nigeria as well as documented protests in Baghdad, Iraq.
Claire Thomas, a freelance photojournalist and photographer from Wales, United Kingdom, whose work focuses on conflict, humanitarian, and social issues, described her experience of meeting and working with women photojournalists. She said: “I felt I was surrounded by powerful women; we provided each other the emotional support to carry on, especially in conflict and war zones.”
Claire, who photographed the work of volunteer medical professionals during the final liberation of Mosul in Iraq, said: “Photojournalism is a hard industry to step into — irrespective of your gender. I try to focus on my work in this industry, not my work as a woman. I try to remember that it is my choice to be there and how lucky I am to know that I have a safe place to go to at the end of the day.”
The three photojournalists also commended the ongoing work of Women Photograph, a nonprofit organisation set up in 2017 enabling women photographers across the world have more access to professional development opportunities.
‘Look into the emotional story of an image’
In a separate forum, UAE-based British photographer Anthony Lamb spoke about how he “draws the viewer’s interest deeper into the emotional story of an image”.
He said he incorporates stillness and silence in his work. The minimalistic approach to achieve simplicity in his photography shifts the viewer’s perspective so that the imagery is less about the actual place and more about the emotional state. “I have always been drawn to large open outdoor spaces, clean linear design, water bodies and simplicity and balance. These elements that make up many parts of my life have combined to produce a preferred method and approach to my photography,” he said.
“By reducing distraction and introducing negative space into my work, I wanted to portray a sense of calm and silence. This calm pulls on your emotions and the simplicity of the photograph draws you to ask questions. I tend to spend a long time shooting a subject from various angles. This allows me to get to know the object and helps me understand how it sits in its environment,” Lamb added.
Italian photojournalist Francesco Zizola discussed the visual narration between document and photography and showcased how his photographs speak about a visual narrative.
He said: “What photography makes available to us today is more complex than it was in the past. So now is the time to try to entrust photographic images with the task of activating a process of not just narrating what the image shows but also the process that the image is activating in us. In documentary photography, it is important to go beyond the surface.”
Organised by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau, the last day of the four-day Xposure International Photography Festival is on Saturday, February 13. Catch some of the world’s most celebrated photographers’ works at Expo Center Sharjah.