17 December 2013 • by Clare Slater
Spotlight on Gate Debate: Reporting in Conflict Zones
Executive Director Clare Slater give her take on the most recent Gate Debate, in which the Gate invited war photographers Sorious Samura and Travis Beard to discuss their work and why they do it.
“Someone has done their homework” was Sorious’ response to Chris’ opening question about whether THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN felt like an accurate reflection of reporting on the frontline. Sorious Samura made his name as a documentary filmmaker when he captured the brutal civil war in his home country of Sierra Leone in the 1990s. At the time he was working 22 hour days in Burger King in the UK. He was struck by the amount of TV coverage about the Kosovan conflict and the impact it was having politically. He realised that no one was presenting the images of the concurrent Sierra Leonian conflict and so the international community was letting it pass by unnoticed. He got on a plane, picked up a camera and started filming.
“Watching a war zone is like watching play you’ve seen before. You know the scenes. You know the plot.” Sorious speaks with the wisdom of a soul who has been everywhere, seen everything. And whilst he points his camera at even the most atrocious of pictures – some of which he was not afraid to describe for the Gate Debate’s audience – he admits that only 15% of what he shoots tends to make it into his films, since cinema audiences don’t have the appetite for the whole horror. A point Dan O’Brien certainly reiterates in THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN, when Paul Watson talks of photoshopping his images for reasons of taste. But Sorious has a wicked laugh and vital sense of humour. How do you survive what you see? “We joke about it. We laugh about everything. No amount of counselling could help you.”
This is certainly a point Travis Beard agrees with. Travis has been living in Kabul for 7 years, working as a video journalist. Why does Travis live and work in such dangerous places? “We do what have to do to work. Ideally in an area of ‘activity’. You can all jump on a plane to Kabul,” he provokes our audience, “It’s only 11 hours away on a plane. It’s not the territory of the bogeyman.” More recently, Travis has been setting up a variety of community arts projects across the city, designed to inspire the young of Afghanistan. “65% of the population are under 25 in Afghanistan. You have to engage with the youth, since they’re the future.”
Travis says that he knows a lot of people like the character Paul in THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN. Hanging out in bars, drinking. For Travis these are often “friends you want to pull back. Friends you want to warn ‘If you don’t stop what you’re doing soon…’” Travis talks about one friend in particular who lost one arm and two legs in a roadside bomb “and he’s still taking photos.” Just as Sorious said, Travis sees a world he recognises in THE BODY OF AN AMERICAN. A world that is hard to sum up. He kindly praised the Gate’s creative team – “You illustrated all of that in an hour and a half. It took me 7 years.”
Sorious Samura is an investigative journalist, who has produced, filmed and presented films from more than thirty countries. He is best known for the courage of his photographic journalism and the impact of his messages. Some of his films shot on the African continent have involved him personally experiencing the life of ordinary people in extraordinary situations, such as Living with Hunger and Living with Aids. He has won many international awards, including two Emmy’s, a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), Time Magazine European Heroes, Peabody, three Amnesty International Media Awards and three Overseas Press Club of America Awards. Sorious has also won the One World Media Award in 2006, Broadcast Journalist of the Year and the Rory Peck Trust. Columbia University's graduate school of journalism has honoured Sorious with a lifetime achievement award. Sorious served as a consultant in the Hollywood movie, Blood Diamond, which featured Leonardo DiCaprio. Blood Diamond was partly based on Sorious’ documentary, Cry Freetown. http://sorioussamurafoundation.org/
Travis Beard has worked globally as a photojournalist for twelve years. Visiting Afghanistan for the first time in 2001, working in refugee camps in Nimroz. He returned in 2006 to work as Chief Editor of Aina Photojournalism Agency.In 2007, he moved into video-journalism. Ultimately, he founded Argus Productions, which provides numerous media services in Afghanistan. With David Gill and Humayun Zadran, he created Combat Communications, an umbrella group for Afghan artists. In 2009, they organized the Wallords graffiti workshop in Kabul, the first of its kind in the country. He’s an Advisor for the Afghan women-focused organisation M2M (Mountain to Mountain). He was a co-founder of Skateistan, and is co-founder of the Kabul Knights Motorcycle Club. He organised the country’s first alternative arts festival; Sound Central hosted in 2011/12/13. He performs as guitarist for the first ex-pat rock band in Kabul: White City, who in 2014 were invited to SXSW festival in Austin Texas and they will do a US tour to promote their debut album; Landlocked. He is in the process of completing a feature length documentary about the music scene in Afghanistan called Martyrs of Metal.
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Travis Beard and Sorious Samura
Travis Beard and Sorious Samura discuss photojournalism in...