Johann van Tonder

Only as good as your last shot

2004-11-19 11:00

Photojournalists generally have a humble view on photo awards, even though everyone wants one. "You're only as good as your last picture," we often remind each other.

Be that as it may, only the best pictures are awarded and, of course, not everyone can get one. Only really deserving photojournalists ever get the top honours, and usually they wait for that moment for many years.

One such photographer has been Nic Bothma, a mellow dude who has given up good surfing in South Africa to be relocated to Western Africa.

His turn for the highest local award came this week when he was announced as the Fuji Photographer of the Year in South Africa.

Winning portfolio

The winning portfolio demonstrates versatility and an eye for strong images. And guts. One picture shows a Liberian gunman shooting at rebels, all the while shouting insults at them.

Nic is only a couple of metres from him, framing a tight shot.

"I try to always include background for the sake of context," he explains.

"But with good access to the Liberian front lines, I was able to focus on the drama and emotion of the event."

A number of his images are from war-torn parts of Africa, where he is based nowadays for an international picture agency.

Should we be concerned about the underlying negative story of Africa still being shared with the rest of the world?

"Yes," says Nic. "Which is why I try to show the cultural diversity in my coverage."

He has recently discussed ways with his agency to better reflect the richness of Africa. "The key for me is balance."

'Can't turn a blind eye

"However, we can?t turn a blind eye to the problems on the continent.

"Underdevelopment, famine, poverty ? these are the apparent issues."

That, to him, is unfortunately part of the balance of the African story. "Photojournalism is not public relations."

He remembers the contrived style of some South African newspapers.

"Many of the photographs were set up, controlled entirely by the photographer. I have realised that that is not photojournalism and have moved away from it completely. It is not honest journalism."

So what does the Press Photographer of the Year think are the ingredients of a good news photograph?

"The reader has to understand the situation quickly. The essence of the story must be communicated with the least amount of clutter."

And his favourite photograph in the winning portfolio?

"Surfing."

  • Click here to see the photographs from Nic Bothma's award-winning gallery

    Send your comments to Johann

  • Johann van Tonder is an award-winning news and conflict photographer, and was previously photo editor at Die Burger. He lectures in photojournalism part-time at the University of Stellenbosch and Rhodes University. He is currently finishing a book on how to break into the exclusive industry of photojournalism.

    Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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