Wednesday, February 10, 2010
LENS: On Assignment with Michael Kamber
The New York Times blog Lens has a nice piece on some of the realities of working with fixers in "difficult" places where language, logistics and mining the field of burocracy to gain access to your subject matter. Fixers can be expensive and they can dig deep holes in the financing of a project. The best advice I can give to any one who uses a fixer is select them well, because there is a huge range of quality out there and some can become more of a liability than a help. In any event, the Lens piece is a good read and shares some insight on Michael Kamber's (photojournalist, writer and videographer) experience in Yemen.
It’s New Year’s Eve in Dakar when the call comes from the editor in New York. A Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up an airliner headed to Detroit six days earlier. I’m told he’d studied in Yemen. Steven Erlanger, chief of The Times’s Paris bureau, is already there filing stories. I’m to join him immediately. I fly to Paris, pick up money and gear at the bureau, then rush back to the airport to catch a flight to Dubai. Thirty-six hours after leaving Senegal, I’m in Yemen.
Its capital, Sana, is easily the most charming city I’ve seen in the Middle East. After Dubai’s garish chintz, Baghdad’s cinderblock boxes and the boring modernity of Amman, Sana astonishes — with narrow winding streets and rows of ancient mud brick buildings decorated with stained-glass windows.
I set out with Steve to photograph the trail of the bomber, who had frequented a local language school and two or three mosques. There is not much to work with. I’m simultaneously shooting video, which adds to the complexity of the situation. To make matters worse, the government assigns a minder who stays with me every minute of the day. A short, jowly man with a huge mustache, his job is ostensibly to facilitate my work. In practice, he follows me around chewing khat, a leafy narcotic, and occasionally expounding on the works of Hemingway, which he has read in Arabic.
At the school, the students don’t want to be photographed for fear their parents will see them. One mosque allows us inside for a few minutes, but we’re quickly ushered out as prayers begin — just when it gets visually interesting. I work around the edges, trying to find interesting visuals: moments, shapes, contrasts.
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