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“The Lens as Witness”— A Webinar on Photojournalism

Shaardhool Shreenath

“Part of the reason you take a picture is to preserve something in time. And I felt compelled to capture normal, everyday events because I was anxious about the future,” said Nina Berman, a renowned documentary photographer and Columbia University professor of Journalism.

“The Lens as Witness” was a webinar organized and hosted by the Columbia Global Centre, Mumbai on the 30th of September. The panelists' included Nina Berman and Danish Siddiqui who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and head of Reuters Pictures Team, India. The session was moderated by the director of Columbia Global Centers, Mumbai – Ravina Aggarwal.

“The discussion will center around the role, scope and challenges of photojournalism in bearing witness and recording history during the current pandemic,” said Aggarwal. Both speakers showcased the photos they had captured in the past couple of months during the lockdown and shared the stories behind each of them.

Berman’s photos captured the empty and dark streets of New York. “Fifth Avenue in New York, which showcases the biggest brands from around the world, a usual shopping hub for the wealthy was now completely empty and deflated,” she said. The pictures captured the contrast and change the city had gone through due to the pandemic. She presented images of closed monuments, homeless people stranded on the streets, deserted parks, healthcare centres and a lot more. She ended by saying, “My pictures aren’t journalistic and are rather personal. It captures me trying to understand the changing world around me and trying to preserve whatever I can that’s left of it.”

Siddiqui’s photos had a completely different story to tell. Based in Delhi, he shared images of deserted streets and highways. He said, “Just a day after the lockdown was imposed, the entire city went quiet. Even the heart of the city, Old Delhi, was completely deserted.” Siddiqui’s focus was more on Migrant Workers and Rural Healthcare centres in India. He managed to capture the story of one migrant in particular and document the kind of hardships the workers go through. “Dayaram, a migrant worker, accompanied by his son and a few other workers took two and a half to three days to walk back to his village in Madhya Pradesh,” he said. Siddiqui also captured images of rural healthcare centres. “There was a shortage of Covid-19 wards at the centre. So, all patients, with or without Covid-19 were treated in the same room.” He said while flipping through the various images of a healthcare center in rural Bihar.

The webinar ended with a Q&A session with the panelists. When asked about what tips Siddiqui would like to give budding photojournalists, he said “The biggest challenge today is to make your photo stand out from the rest. So, keep innovating and coming up with new ideas and be creative while shooting.”

Bhavya Vemulapalli, a 3rd-year journalism student who attended the webinar said, “The session was really informative and inspiring. Both the panellists' are really good at what they do and as a budding journalist, there’s a lot I learnt today.”

Edited by Isha Chincholkar and Karmistha Bhimwal