Johann van Tonder

Summer is on us

2004-11-26 07:30

Newspapers offer a slightly "softer" news component to match the holiday spirit.

Well, in a way, we're really forced to do it as not much happens over this period. Key people are on leave, the high court breaks up and everything, including the traffic in Cape Town, comes to a standstill.

It requires some creative thinking in newsrooms. Picture editors start squeezing rocks for that last drop of the proverbial water. This is when photojournalists rely heavily on something called "features", which document a slice of life in a very particular way.

Features are one of those terms best described as "you recognise one when you see it". Americans call it "wild art", but the best description I've heard is from photojournalism guru Kenneth Kobré, who refers to it as "visual dessert".

The Weather

A favourite feature subject is the weather. Editors are notorious for sending junior photographers out on a weather-assignment, rain or sunshine.

To photographers at the coast in December it means photographing the summer weather, which means one thing: beach photography (read scantily dressed women).

To some, this may sound like the assignment from heaven. Until you find yourself to be the only one on the beach in office attire, clutching cameras mounted with those phallic telephoto lenses. Try asking someone else's girlfriend for permission to take a photograph of her in a bikini.

I've found it discourages even full-time perverts. As picture editor, I would often reserve these assignments for those who deserved to be challenged or punished.

Personally, I would much rather cover a funeral on a hot summer day than prowl around Camps Bay. When I've had to do it, I've tried to go beyond the obvious.

The last time, thankfully a very long time ago, I had a model to work with. Instead of the usual beach-shot, I accompanied her into the water, stripping down to just my underpants. It felt like no-one on that packed beach was looking at her.

The amusing debates about the merits in using these pictures back at the office, however, makes the entire exercise worthwhile as the PC and not-so-PC fight it out with the same old arguments.

So, this summer, as you enjoy (or not) those beach photographs, spare a thought for that lucky bugger.

  • 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.

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