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Photojournalists get down to business in Albania

Tuesday, 29 September 2015 14:02 GMT

Footprints are all that’s left of the giant statue of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha on the main square of Tirana March 26, 1991. The statue was destroyed by thousands of protesters weeks earlier, on Feb. 20. Archive image by REUTERS/Tom Szlukovenyi

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How photographers can make money was just one question posed by a Thomson Reuters Foundation workshop in Tirana

In March 1991, a Reuters photographer named Thomas Szlukovenyi took an image of Tirana’s main square that was iconic for what it didn’t show: a gilded statue of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha that had loomed over the plaza until it was torn down by pro-democracy demonstrators just weeks earlier. The statue’s only remnants were two gaping footprints on the plinth.

Twenty-five years after the overthrow of communism in Albania, the once-concrete Skanderbeg Square is a grassy expanse with fluttering red and black flags, where young people sunbathe and cars buzz past the imposing columns of the Opera House.

Tom, who would go on to become head of Reuters Pictures, was back in the city to mentor a group of young photojournalists. They came from Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia and Romania for a three-day Professional Photojournalism Masterclass held by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Unlike other photojournalism workshops organised by the media development arm of Thomson Reuters, the masterclass focused in depth on the business of photojournalism.

In a world of slashed newsroom budgets, high-tech cameras that make photography "easy" and a glut of user-generated content, we posed the question: How can quality photojournalism survive when many media outfits consider "good enough" pictures to be, well, good enough?

Our answer was simple: Photographers need to work harder than ever to differentiate themselves - or even reinvent themselves - and prove the case for investment in visual storytelling.

Held over three days, the masterclass covered an array of subjects, from how to photograph conflicts, sports, business and fashion to copyright issues and ethics.

Participants also wrestled with the whys of photojournalism. Not least: What qualifies a photojournalist, as a professional and a human being, to take on the mammoth responsibility of influencing public and political opinion through the images he or she takes? The recent photo of a drowned Syrian toddler that made front pages worldwide and arguably prompted changes in countries’ asylum and migration policies is an example of the power of a single, iconic picture.

Other questions included:

  • Should photojournalists also be videographers?
  • What exactly is multimedia?
  • What makes a great photo story?
  • How can news agency photographers balance the daily need to “feed the beast” with creative work that stands out from the pack?
  • Can, and should, photojournalism be "artistic"?

Practical exercises put participants under pressure. They tried their hand at the often overlooked but essential art of photo editing during a fast-breaking news story, using pictures from the recent Emmy Awards as fodder for practice. 

They then went out onto the streets to shoot a photo story, given the brief: "My Tirana - what has changed since Hoxha’s statue came down?" The challenge was to find a unifying idea rather than just come back with a bunch of pictures.

One photojournalist focused on the Tirana Pyramid, a glass-and-steel monument to Hoxha’s legacy erected by the dictator’s daughter after his death in 1985. Today it is covered in graffiti and swarmed over by youngsters who smoke and drink on its slopes, taking in the views of the bustling city below.

Others did studies in then and now, old and new and light and shadows. A couple of photographers honed in on one of Tirana’s last bunkers in a country that once boasted 750,000 concrete pillboxes, built by Hoxha against an invasion that never came.


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