Photojournalism: An Eye on Your Career

HackPack has just launched its meet-up series of secret events focused on the media industry. Every two months, we organize events in interesting locations with experts, so you can improve your career and meet fellow colleagues.

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From left to right: James Hill, Max Avdeev and Denis Sinyakov. Photo credits: Sergey Otroshko

How it works:
You apply to attend, we select about 35–50 participants, then two days before, we announce to selected members exactly where the event will be. You then meet colleagues truly interested in the topic and learn how to improve your career. Currently, we are only organizing these in Moscow, but if you are interested in starting a Pack in your city, let us know via Facebook or Twitter!

Our first event October 3 in Moscow focused on photography. Pulitzer Prize winning photographer James Hill, Max Avdeev who has worked for Buzzfeed and Denis Sinyakov, previously with Reuters all spoke at Delai Sam/a.

Here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite. See the whole video on Facebook Live, and we’ll bring you the edited video a bit later.

Working in conflict zones

James Hill: There’s an internal pressure within journalism that says you can’t be a real photojournalist if you don’t cover a war. I’ve covered wars in Nagorno Karabakh, Iraq and Afghanistan. It really isn’t too complicated of a task. The key is to just be close to the action. But in essence, you become a different person. Every day you see people die. After Beslan, I realized that I couldn’t continue covering wars.

War is a part of our world, but there are also many other stories that need to be told.

Denis Sinyakov: Working in a conflict is very simple. Everything is extremely structured and day after day you repeat the same thing. Everything follows a specific schedule and really it is very simple. It is much more difficult to peer through the window of a neighboring building and work with them than cover a conflict.

Max Avdeev: The most difficult aspect is waiting. You continuously wait for something to happen, and there is nothing else to do. Covering the Ukrainian conflict was unique because I can’t think of another conflict in the past 20 years when so many photographers were able to cover both sides of the conflict. But for me covering conflicts isn’t in of itself a goal.

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HackPack.press founder, Justin Varilek. Photo credits: Sergey Otroshko

Working in a foreign country

Hill: I always wanted to work in a different country, a big country. I can’t work in England. Everything is so close to me, and you can really only see the big picture when you distance yourself from the topic. Distancing yourself is a really important factor.

Avdeev: I like working when I’m curious about a topic, when I have a lot of questions to resolve. I really crave far away places in barren territories and small populations. I work a lot in Yakutia and the more northern territories of Russia.

Sinyakov: I believe it is far more interesting to work where you understand the locality. For me it is easier to work in Russia. My understanding of the country and people adds a whole other element to my work.

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Photo credits: Sergey Otroshko

Always improving

Hill: The most important thing is to always be striving to be better. Choose a single project and always be working on it. Follow the concepts and trends that you are interested.

Sinyakov: Currently, a photographer doesn’t just take photos, he or she must also be a researcher or fixer. Actually I believe that the future is in video, art photography and documentaries.

Avdeev: Nowadays, you need to constantly think about what and for whom you are working. Think of who will buy your photos — in which countries or publications. Der Spiegel needs one type of format, Buzzfeed a completely different one. And in essence the glossy magazines don’t need photos anymore. No one will see the inside spread of Time except a small number of subscribers. Whereas a picture in Buzzfeed’s Instagram with gather a couple million views within 24 hours.

And formats are continually changing. I ran across a situation where at RIA Novosti they requested that I take only horizontal photos because supposedly everyone only looked at photos on a computer. I was surprised because National Geographic was requesting photos to be only vertical — everyone looked at them from their telephones. You need to think about the change in formats as the main battle is for the attention of a publication’s audience.

What do you not publish?

Hill: What is appropriate and what is not? The answer to this question is constantly in flux. In different countries, there are different barriers, and they really depend more on the culture of a country. There are photos that are too violent and it just isn’t worth publishing them. Take the book War Porn, which details many of those photos.

Avdeev: From one point of view, you want to tell a story, but are you ready to sacrifice the people in them? Think about how much you could hurt others with your photos.

You take a photo, then leave and those who remain must deal with the consequences.

Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have this problem. A photographer for Time could travel to a far off corner of the world, take a photo and none of the locals would ever see it. Now we’re in a different age and everything can be Googled.

Sinyakov: A photo cannot change the world, but it could change the life of a specific person. So it is very important to think of the subjects in your photos.

For me, a photo isn’t worth someone else’s suffering. The choice between a sensational photo or the principal “do no harm” is very clear.

Financing your life

Avdeev: I’ve always just done freelance. You never know how much or exactly when you will be paid.

Within a few years, you get used to this intense level of financial instability, where you may earn a lot of money for two months, then not a single request for the next two months.

Sinyakov: Previously you could really earn a lot of money working as a photographer; however now is a different time. The size of honorariums are falling. People ask me, ‘ what is it like to trade a stable life to one where you don’t know how much money you will have at the end of the month?’ You work, but sometimes you won’t receive the honorarium for half a year.

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