Sunday, November 22, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Photojournalist Tim Freccia

Drifter Media took time to sit down with veteran freelance videographer and photojournalist, Tim Freccia, in Nairobi, Kenya this weekend before he flew into Somalia on assignment.

[Photo credit:  Drifter Media© archives -- Tim Freccia (Twitter account), seen at center left and holding camera, and Horeb Bulambo, center right, while working in the DR Congo in November 2008.]

[Photo credit:  Tim Freccia© -- Mount Nyiragongo volcano steams in the background while security guards protect Congolese President Joseph Kabila as he stands at attention for the national anthem in the eastern provincial capital, Goma. Kabila toured North Kivu Province in early 2009.]

DM:  You started out as a videographer/documentary guy, didn't you?  But you've made the switch to mostly still photography -- is that correct?  If so, why?  Is there more "work" out there for stills?

TF:  No -- I started out as an Alaska fisherman, then went to school for still photography.  I bought an Olympus Rangefinder at a garage sale when I was six years old.  I started working as a shooter while in school, and by the time I got out in the late 1980s I wanted to shoot motion pictures.  I started working as a professional photographer in 1987, and kept going. One of my first gigs was in Haiti, and soon after that I went to work in West Africa.  I've been doing both ever since.  Most of my work over the last two decades has been video, though over the last five years, or so, I've gravitated back more toward stills.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of them definitely isn't that "there's more work."

I'm shooting more stills because it's where I started and I miss the simplicity of telling a story with a single image (or series of images).  Up until very recently it was very difficult to bill myself as a "dual shooter."  There really haven't been that many shooters who do both (Mohamed Amin was one who did), and it usually confused people.  Now, editors want shooters who can do both, and I'm particularly suited for these projects.

[Tim Freccia©:  Ethnic Somali Kenyans in the dusty, drought-stricken northeastern town of Garissa in early 2009.  The pastoralist community in that area has been severely impacted by five years of little to no rain.]

DM:  You seem to have a preference for black and white photography ... do you think that black and white is ever "overused" by shooters?  Do you prefer it, overall, to color?  If so, why?

TF:  I'm not a "B&W" shooter or a "color" shooter.  I make photographs.  I started shooting on black and white film (hand rolled) because I couldn't afford chrome.  I processed my own film in the hotel bathroom in Haiti during Aristide's ouster.  Like I said before, I miss the simplicity, and I like the graphic quality of grayscale images.  As far as "overused" is concerned -- I'm not sure what you're asking, but maybe people are using B&W to cover bad images.  Color can be overwhelming in some instances or enchanting in others. If it's a great photograph, it's great.  If it sucks, B&W won't make it better.

[Tim Freccia©:  An FARDC (Congolese government army) soldier runs into enemy fire during a final advance against CNDP rebels, north of Goma, DRC, November 2008.]

DM:  Where have you been working over 2008 and 2009?  Anything already on the books for 2010?

TF:  I spent 2008 in Cambodia and then the last part covering Eastern DR Congo.  I've spent 2009 almost exclusively in East and Central Africa.  I'm booked pretty much up to Christmas, and then most of the first part of the New Year.

DM:  Who have you been working for lately (and over the course of your career)?  We also know you've been doing work for aid groups and media outlets ... do you have a preference to either?  Which pays better?  We also noticed you had a feature spread in The New York Times recently ... what was that story like?

TF:  Basically, I've billed myself as a "Media Mercenary" for 20 years.  I like to shoot either stills or motion pictures.  I spent about 10 years in Europe acting as a creative director and doing commercial and interactive stuff.  Over the years I've worked for a ton of media outlets and NGOs, as well as commercial work for big multinationals like Unilever.  I just did a story for BusinessWeek in Kisumu, Kenya; the story for NYT with Jeffrey Gettleman was great.  The Ogiek are an interesting tribe that face extinction, and the Mau Forest in Kenya is beautiful.  The NGOs don't really pay more, but I like doing the work to balance out the more "merc" stuff.

[Tim Freccia©:  A boy butcher in Kiwanja, DRC, where a massacre of civilians happened at the hands of CNDP rebels in November 2008.]

DM:  Is it getting better or harder for freelancers in Africa? Are you able to sustain yourself and family?

TF:  I'm probably not the best person to ask this question.  I'm able to sustain my family and myself, but that doesn't mean everyone can.  On the other hand, I believe that if you are talented and remain diligent, Africa has a lot to offer in terms of opportunity.  It's a huge continent, full of amazing people and stories.  Like my mom says:  "Do what you love, the money will follow."

DM:  What gear do you use?

TF:  Anything that works.  I've worked with probably every major system made in the last 50 years.  I started on a Nikon system and switched to Canon when the EOS system came out.  For a long time I shot everything on Pentax 6x7.  At the moment I'm shooting Nikon and a Panasonic HVX, though I'm starting to work more and more with video capable DSLRs.

[Tim Freccia©:  Police beat a street boy accused of stealing a cell phone in Goma, DRC.]

DM:  Do you have any advice for fresh young photographers aspiring to do the work you are doing?

TF:  Don't walk, run to a psychotherapist and seek help and/or medication immediately (if you think you want to do this stuff for a living).  Just kidding -- my advice is the same as my mom's, which I already mentioned.  I'd say don't get into this for the money.  There isn't very much anyway, but you can do well at times.  If you're doing it for the money (which you have to at times) you won't be able to go that far.  Another thing I say is don't get into it for "the adventure" -- you'll become jaded and will miss the point.  If you aren't
passionate about *making* images (as opposed to *taking* them), then this isn't the right field for you.

Maybe my best piece of advice is to look at other photographers' work and show them yours. Despite all the "di** swinging" that goes on in the business, it's a creative process full of creative people, and it's good to bounce ideas off friends. If you isolate (yourself), you'll become creatively constipated.  On the other hand, if you spend too much time socializing, you'll become boring, fat and ugly.  Don't over plan projects and don't drop into a place without knowing anything about it.  A poor workman blames his tools.  Keep the sticky side down and the shiny side up.  Don't eat (that) yellow snow.

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