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Matinee: Bleasdale On Avoiding Photographic Dangers Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

23 April 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 132nd in our series of Saturday matinees today: Marcus Bleasdale: Avoiding Photographic Dangers.

British photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale has been covering the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998.

He's published several books on the Congo, two of which he mentions in the video, which dates from 2010. One Hundred Years of Darkness, published 100 years after Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, was the first and the second, The Rape of a Nation, was awarded the Best Photography Book Award in 2009 by Pictures of the Year International. His most recent book on the topic is The Unravelling: Central African Republic, which won the 2015 FotoEvidence Book Award.

So the man knows trouble.

Fortunately, he also knows how to diffuse tension. And that's the subject of this four-and-a-half minute video. Which, like Bleasdale's work, is shot in black-and-white.

His first tip is a little trick he plays in ambiguous situations. "Sometimes I use the camera and the fact that I take a picture to see if that process is possible."

Child soldiers, most of whom are on drugs and out of control, tend to be excitable.

He demonstrates. With the camera lowered and his gaze diverted, he just fires the shutter. He wants to see if anyone notices or complains. Sort of like that classmate in grade school who, after tossing a spit ball at you, looked out the window as if they wanted to be a meteorologist when they grew up.

If nobody menaces him after hearing the shutter go off, he knows he can go about his work normally, carefully composing his shots without fear of reprisal.

He tells you how he used that cautious approach to tell the story of a child soldier he found cleaning the mud out of the chain of his bike, a rifle strapped over his shoulder.

When the boy got back on his bike, Bleasdale noticed his feet barely reached the pedals. There are 30,000 kids out there doing this, he says. He wants you to see them all through this one child.

Child soldiers, most of whom are on drugs and out of control, tend to be excitable. They point their weapons at him. They scream. They shout. He raises his hands. Then he points to his pocket.

He always carries a pack of cigarettes in that pocket, he laughs. And that buys him 30 seconds to diffuse the situation. They invite him into their hut. Guns withdrawn.

The Congo has registered the largest death toll in the world since World War II, he says. People aren't aware of that, he says before insisting, "We're not doing enough to make it stop."

Near the end he explains, "The reason I take pictures is because I get angry about things that are happening. And I want them to change. And the tool that I use to do that is a camera."

And a pack of cigarettes. And, no doubt, a light.

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