I forgot how much I love this film poster. The poster is much better than the film!


Jerking by Stephanie Diani / New York Times

Jerking AV slideshow, Stephanie Diani/New York Times

Here is a piece I wrote a few months ago about AV slideshows, but didn’t use. I’m bringing it to life now because the excellent ladies at the Humanising Photography Network (Jess Crombie and Autograph ABP‘s Emma Boyd) have now launched their sparkling new website complete with a Twitter account.

Jess is quoted in this piece. They’ve done a great job organising the network which aims “to bring together a diverse group of professionals working in the field of lens-based media including NGO workers, academics, activists, photographers, producers, curators and artists to discuss and explore visual politics and the relationship between lens-based image making, human rights, humanitarianism, and communication”.

In the past year, we’ve explored AV slideshows a few times at DFID with some positive results working with Panos and others. It’s a format I hope we can revisit soon. I’m sure it will take some experimenting before we get it right, but we are not alone. A much lighter subject perhaps, but I absolutely adore the one I mention here produced by Simone S Oliver with pictures and audio by Stephanie Diani for the New York Times.


Jerking – the LA hip hop dance phenomenon taking the United States by storm. Surely the way to cover it online would be an action packed mini documentary in HD. Not so for the New York Times website. They chose the lesser-spotted audiovisual slideshow, and what an inspired decision that was.

Jerking by Stephanie Diani / New York Times

What a video can't do: a still by Stephanie Diani for the New York Times feature

A bit like being at a museum with a headset on, you are guided through a set of images of a young dancer and his friends in an understated way to artistic effect.

While much has been made of the importance of video reporting in the digital age, the AV slideshow’s surprising longevity on the web should provide succour to struggling photojournalists who now have to diversify their output to make ends meet.

A growing number of media providers are eschewing pixelated moving pictures for high resolution images set to music or audio interviews of the subject. “You don’t watch a still image, you look at it,” says Benjamin Chesterton, a photojournalist who specialises in the format with his company DuckRabbit. “Your eye explores it by consciously moving around the picture. It’s a more active experience than watching a moving image which tells the viewer exactly where to look.”

AV slideshows are short (less than five minutes) and can leave a lasting impression – the holy grail for digital campaigners, NGOs and any organisation competing for skittish web-scanning eyes.

Chesterton’s latest work for Medecins Sans Frontieres – a set of films telling the harrowing stories of those affected by conflict in Eastern Congo – have been keeping 60% of viewers tuned in till the end. Proof that pics with sound can hold an audience, claims Chesterton.

“We know that audioslideshows can be very popular,” says BBC News website editor Steve Herrmann. “We often include captions, so people who can’t switch on the audio should still get a good experience, and we also sometimes use text and graphics as part of the mix, to help tell the story.

“A key skill in doing them well is good sound editing, so having a skilled radio producer focusing on them for us has been a major asset. In the end though, they are picture-led so great images are essential.”

But according to WaterAid picture editor Jess Crombie, the format has bear traps like any other. “With very few images you can get a complex message across,” she says.

“But the danger with AV slideshows is the temptation to slide into sentimentality. The beauty of a still is that it gives you room for your own thoughts. Add music and testimony and there is no longer room for interpretation.

“All of us producing slideshows need to be careful to keep emotion in check and trust the viewer to understand the severity of a given situation without needing to resort to heart-rending music and overly dramatic testimony.”

Depending on who you ask, photojournalism and the web haven’t made great bedfellows so far, but this could be a format that keeps people watching while also throwing shutterbugs a welcome extra revenue stream.

There is so much that’s surreal about the scenes at Copiapo these past few days, I hardly know where to begin. A international news sensation with a happy ending? How often does that happen?

Chile on the news 24 hours a day? Unreal. I’m worried I won’t get it all down, so I’m reduced to writing a list:

  • The Pixies played “un concierto inolvidable”, their longest ever set in Santiago last night to celebrate the miners’ rescue. My cousin Janda watched them a few nights ago. I can’t think of anything more perfect by way of celebration.
  • The scenes of jubilation show an outpouring of unity, long overdue for a nation that has been bitterly divided since the coup. Chileans are united by their humanity and relief. Chile is redefining itself on the world stage through this episode.

  • I’m astonished at the way Pinera has played the whole affair. He was clearly made for TV. His timing and wording are totally maximising gain for him both nationally and internationally. Popularity ratings of more than 80% for a right wing president in Chile? Did I mention how surreal this is?

    Even today’s follow up story, carefully worded and timed to get to the nub of the issue, the issue muttered in the shadows by the deepest cynics – that of the mining industry’s negligence – now addressed by Pinera. “Pinera vows to reform Chile’s mining industry” the headlines ran this morning.

    Will this have any impact on the world’s mining industry? Could it change things for the better as the developing world properly taps into the untold wealth beneath its surface? Or will lesser spotted miners continue to be trapped in cycles of poverty that mean they have no choice but to mine in unsafe conditions for ever more?

  • The extraordinary sharing of airspace between Pinera and Morales, two men who might as well be from different planets. No doubt this is a very good thing for Chilean-Bolivian relations.
  • The Daily Mail complaining about the number of BBC journalists covering the story. Is that really the best they can come up with?
  • Fact: people will read whatever they want to into this story. Check these articles passed on by my cousin Miguel Aranda, a journalist in Chile. One from Spain’s El Pais on the real winners and losers of the ordeal, the other from Wall Street Journal: Capitalism Saved the Miners
  • And finally, word has it that mining minister Laurence Golborne could launch his presidential bid of the back of this. Is he the dark horse and the real winner?
  • Solar stories

    Meenakshi Dewan and a solar panel in Orissa, India

    Meenakshi Dewan, 20, brings something very special to her home in Orissa, India: clean energy. Picture: Department for International Development / Abbie Trayler-Smith

    This week we published a photo story and feature about the barefoot solar engineers of Orissa state, India. It’s all about how the India government, with help from DFID, is training illiterate women in very remote and rural communities to maintain solar energy stations in their villages.

    Apart from introducing clean, renewable energy to previously electricity-free places, the project has had the most astounding effect on women’s empowerment in these areas.

    The photos were taken by the very talented Abbie Trayler-Smith and Observer journalist Alex Renton wrote the excellent feature – you can see both on the DFID website here.

    It’s now less than a month to go to Copenhagen, and hopes are higher than ever for an ambitious, politically binding deal. If you’re really interested in all the detail of the pre-Copenhagen negotiations you should take a look at the Act on Copenhagen website.

    Meanwhile, any feedback gratefully received! Pass it on!

    Just a quick post about how amazing last night’s screening of A Prophet was. I don’t think there is another prison drama out there more gripping and visceral. The unknown actor and star of the film Tahar Rahim is an extraodinary cinematic animal. Totally convincing through his journey from brutalised servant to master of his universe. Fantastic characters and ambition, amazing script, wonderful music and some of the most spot-on screen interpretations of dreams I’ve ever seen.

    Just finding this trailer to add, I found a comment from a French Corsican (let’s just say Corsicans “run things” inside the prison). Chilling in every way as it reinforces the truth of the film, even though director Jacques Audiard last night kept insisting on its role as a piece of fiction:

    Je suis Corse, ancien des baumettes (braquage réalisé dans les années 90), et je peux te dire une chose eylliae : les Corses dirigent les prisons francaises tout comme dans le film. J’ai bénéficié du même type de protection (sans avoir à perpetrer un quelconque crime toutefois) et il est vrai que nous, Corses, sommes souvent très durs. J’ai retrouvé dans ce film l’univers carcéral que j’avais connu (même s’il y manque un problème très important : celui de la promiscuité). – ursulala

    Watching A Prophet reminded me intensely of the time I visited a Victorian Category B prison in Liverpool to interview the chaplain about his life and work… But that is a post for another time.

    First free moment to blog since August 29th. Hmm, I’m busier than I thought! I’m determined to keep this going though. No matter what it takes, I WILL blog.

    Earthquake: the Cypress Viaduct in Oakland, California after the 1989 earthquake (courtesy HG Wilshire, US Geological Survey)

    Earthquake: the Cypress Viaduct in Oakland, California, 1989 (courtesy HG Wilshire, US Geological Survey)

    People who have known me long will know earthquakes are a recurring theme in my life. Despite now living on Hackney terra firma, I’ve spent plenty of time in earthquake zones over the years including California, Chile and Japan. I lived through the 1989 7.1 earthquake in northern California which killed 63 people and destroyed hundreds of buildings and structures plus a section of the Bay Bridge and a major section of freeway in Oakland. It’s hard to believe that on October 17, that will be 20 years ago.

    The ’89 quake is an experience emblazoned in my memory. I was 11, still quite new to America and scared to death. I arrived in California the previous year and there were tremors every few months. Threes, fours, sometimes fives. In the summer before the big one, several sixes had my sister and I prepping our under-bed emergency gear every night (shoes, torch, first aid). In retrospect they were precursors to the big autumn slip up the San Andreas Fault.

    Before the big one, people would laugh, shrug them off and tease my mum and I for our terror of the swaying ground. It added to our general culture shock that people didn’t seem fazed by earth that shook. At school along with assemblies and the pledge of allegiance, we had adhoc earthquake drills. Duck and cover with heads away from the windows to avoid shattered glass. Fun and games for the class clowns!

    When it happened I was in San Jose on stage rehearsing for a play after school. (With the power of Google’s streetview, I can actually show you which building I was in!)

    I remember the terrible roar from underground, intense juddering, glass breaking, plaster falling and a dozen kids cramming into a double doorway avoiding falling debris and flagpoles. It lasted about 15 seconds but it felt a lot longer. Looking up I saw windows shattering across the street and the road shaking, rising and falling like a water bed.

    When it stopped, the real dread started. Our bunch were all fine, but many of us started to cry. “That was definitely an eight,” said one girl in floods of tears as we all went into open ground and the lady in charge went to find a radio.

    The aftermath was awful. Car alarms and barking, sirens, screams and crying. First news we heard was that the Bay Bridge had completely collapsed. The death tolls were massively overstated and caused outright panic. I knew my mum would be travelling to collect me, along the 280 freeway which is flush against the fault. I also knew my stepdad was on business on the east coast and my dad was due to arrive at San Francisco airport that evening. He was in the air. He would be safe. Would anyone be able to come for me?

    Luckily most buildings in California are well equipped to withstand earthquakes – it takes a major jolt to topple them. But for us kids at the theatre, the world had fallen to pieces. Pre-internet, the radio was the only source of info and reporting was chaotic. Candlestick Park was in ruins. The Golden Gate was no more.

    Of course the damage was far less serious but the atmosphere was wild and unpredictable. Our carers were great comfort but were clearly worried about their own relatives located around the Bay Area. We listened intently to any new reports coming in. I wanted my mum. So I’ll never forget when I saw her car turn the corner and come into view. We hugged for ages then we went home to assess the damage.

    Our house looked fine, but the contents looked ransacked. Lots of broken glass and crockery, toppled water cooler and a very alarmed cat, but largely in tact. We heard that all flights to SF International had been diverted to LA. That night we slept in the car with the cat, some duvets and a few bare essentials. Aftershocks rocked the car all night and its American suspension almost made it pleasant. It was a very surreal night but I recognise now just how brave my mum was through all of it. She looked after me without flinching, though there was nobody there to look after her.

    The days after we learned of the rescue efforts at the Cypress viaduct where most of the deaths had happened. They were looking for survivors for the longest time. My dad was able to fly in the next day and keep us reassured and supported. He is no stranger to the San Andreas. He of course survived the greatest earthquake ever recorded: the 1960 earthquake of Valdivia, Chile, which measured 9.5 on the Richter Scale (but that’s another story).

    Both these events prompted a lifelong interest in the natural disasters and the effects they have on the cultures and people who live along faultlines. Chile’s history is a long line of proud coastal cities built up and destroyed by earthquakes and tsunamis. So fragile the existence, the constructs, the development. Total wipeout is part of life, and has always struck me as a very different culture to the monolithic continuity of Europe.

    So it’s been with an extra heavy heart that I see the destruction this week in Sumatra, Indonesia and Samoa. The devastation is widespread and we are receiving images and info about both disasters with astonishing speed. Latest images and reports from the outlying villages around Padang make my blood run cold. In 1989, California recovered quickly though they are still expecting the really big one along the lines of 1906. I worry recovery in the remotest parts of Indonesia will not be so fast.

    As the rescue efforts gather pace, and having witnessed some of the preparations at DFID this week, I feel really proud that the UK is one of the countries sending help – not only shelter kits and water purification tablets but a 63-strong search and rescue team. I continue to be in awe of disaster work of this kind and the people who do it.

  • Red Cross and Oxfam are running appeals for victims of the Asia Pacific disasters.
  • Senior global citizens

    North and South: my two grandmothers
    North and South: my two grandmothers
    My British grandmother turned 83 recently – happy birthday Granny! – and it got me thinking about my two grandmothers and the different lives they lead.
    One in the northern hemisphere (UK) and one in the south (Chile). They’ve never met, but have so much in common. Both have close, vibrant families. Both have great-grandchildren by now. One is marvellously world-travelled, the other has stayed much closer to home.
    It’s true that being in Chile makes you feel extremely removed from the rest of the world. The maddening chatter of European politics and media feels a million miles away when settling in for another round of onces/empanadas or driving through the foothills of the Andes. But no matter where we are, we all face the potentially devastating effects of climate change.
    Last time I visited my English Granny we chatted about wind farms and the vehement opposition to expansion plans for a wind farm in her area. “Well, whatever people think about the scenery, we’ve got to do something about the environment. It’s time to act,” she said. “If we don’t, what will my great-grandchildren inherit?”
    Today marked 100 days until to the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen and there are a raft of publicity stunts going on to get climate to the top of the news. Brits will have heard about the pretty low-key Climate Camp down in Blackheath, but climate change stories in the news are really starting to ramp up. My mum and I enjoyed the humour of the tcktcktck underwater living room. BBC News has called its climate change series “The perfect storm” which is pretty inspired. Sure to get people thinking.

    From the Andes to the Himalayas, my team published an item today about next week’s regional climate change conference in Nepal. The Himalayas – the so-called ‘water tower’ of south Asia – are seriously affected right here and now. Did you know that mountain range is a source of water to more than 700m people? That is an astonishing number and many of them are among the poorest in the world. So increased frequency of drought, floods, cyclones and landslides in Nepal threatens the livelihoods of so many.

    The intention at Nepal conference which is supported by DFID is to gather the evidence from the region to take to Copenhagen – and to highlight what action needs to be taken. Our story says:

    There is much at stake. The opportunities in the Himalayas are great. Sustainable management of watersheds, forests and huge untapped hydropower resources will not only provide safety nets but also reduce carbon levels. Management of rivers to improve irrigation and reduce the impacts of floods and droughts will help large numbers of people adapt to their changing environment. These opportunities must not be wasted.

    The future of the region is hanging in the balance.

    I, for one, hope to reach great-grandmotherhood to find these fountains of life preserved.