A Million Shillings - Alixandra Fazzina

(Courtesy of Trolley Books)

Recently I went to a book signing in London's The Photographers Gallery, for the book A Million Shillings - Escape from Somalia by Alixandra Fazzina.   

This is an indepth account, both written and in photographic form, of the plight of Somali's fleeing the bloodshed in their country for a better life abroad.   It is also pretty much an undocumented story since it is too dangerous for any Western organisation to exist within Somalia's borders.   Alixandra Fazzina has produced an amazing book and body of work, under the hardest of conditions, documenting some of the desparate and brutal lives of these forgotten people.

Click here to read this girls story. (Courtesy of Trolley Books)

Fleeing the gang warfare and violence inherent in Somalia, the refugees head North towards the coast, with a promise of a better life.   The journey overland to the smuggler towns, can take weeks and with danger around every turn.   The refugees are often beaten and robbed at temporary checkpoints along the roads, stripping them of their meagre possessions.  
Once reaching the town where the smugglers work from, many call their relatives to get money wired through to them to pay for the crossing to Yemen.   A Million Shillings, or 50 dollars is the price of this dangerous journey.   
Once the money is paid, the smugglers take them to the coast; a journey taking many weeks in cramped transportation before they have to wait for days, often out in the open on exposed beaches.   At this point the refugees have exhausted their food supplies and until they reach the coast of Yemen, will have nothing to eat.   

(Courtesy of Trolley Books)

Once the boats are ready, they wade out into the waters to get dragged up onboard the boats, where they are tied together in a chain by the smugglers for the journey ahead.   
The smugglers are violent men and abuse and kill the refugees at many points on the crossing.   Summary executions are often held on the beach where trouble makers are lined up kneeling on the beach before they are shot.  
On the boats the situation is no better.   They have to sit with their legs pulled in; stretching out your legs can mean a beating or even death.   Anyone who complains can also be killed and thrown overboard in the 2 to 3 day crossing.
Once reaching the Yemen coast, due to police patrols, the refugees are thrown overboard often 2 kilometres off the coast.   Many can't swim and others are too exhausted to make it to the beaches.   

Only 1 in 20 people survive the journey.

If they make it to the beaches of Yemen they are faced with few options in this country.   Their situation is dire due to the amount of people arriving in the refugee camps and cities in Yemen, and often find that their lives consist of searching for food and a fight for survival.

(Courtesy of Trolley Books)

This book is an amazing accomplishment.   Often risking her own life to gain access to the refugees, Alixandra was shot at by the human traffickers, but persevered with talks with the smugglers to gain an inside view of the story.   The photos on the beaches of Somalia, showing the refugees boarding the boats could have been taken in no other way.   The story is comprehensive and deep, showing the horrific world these people have been born into.

Some of the most heartbreaking parts of this book are the many personal stories of the refugees both in Somalia and across Yemen.   These interviews are stories of unimaginable hardship and loss, often with a bleak future ahead.   The story of Salima on Alixandra Fazzina's website is one such story.

This should not only be classed as a photobook but also as a piece of journalism of the highest calibre, since the coverage of the story is so deep and intense.   In my previous post, I noted that if the current media does not start focussing on quality, they will become obsolete.   They should take a look at this book and learn what real journalism is.

The photos are underexposed which creates a brooding mood that fits perfectly with the story.   They are eerily beautiful.   They also put faces to the stories which gives the stories context in the real world.

I hope that this book can make it into the hands of anyone with enough money, power or control to do something to fix this situation.   Hopefully the mainstream press can show a section of the story, to gain publicity for this book and the ongoing situation in Somalia.   I also hope to see this book in future photojournalism awards.

The main issue with this situation is that there is no big event for people to take note.   The situation has progressively degraded over many years, which allows the situation to go unnoticed by the mainsteam media, which often focusses on sensationalism.
This book gives a voice to these forgotten people but the question is, will anyone listen?

(Courtesy of Trolley Books

If you want to contribute to helping these people, go to and donate.

The Death & Rebirth of Journalism


The death of journalism and the death of photo journalism. These stories are everywhere at the moment. Its ridiculous.

I was recently reading about the death of photojournalism for the millionth time, on a few websites here:

As far as I'm concerned, a lot of the big papers and magazines are killing themselves off by not doing enough indepth journalism and photojouralism work. If you feel that you could get the same news on the web, why would you buy a paper or magazine?

Going Deep

The advantage these industries have over the internet is that they employ professional journalists that can go more in-depth on a story than anyone. They should be able to deliver information that the common person on the street could never have the time or resources to produce, with a higher quality of writing and at a more in-depth level.

The internet is a massive problem for traditional journalism and it is not going to go away. Also, due to bad reporting, public opinion gaining prominance, sound bite reporting and sensationalism in the media, traditional journalism finds itself in a crisis. I think that they need to take a long hard look at the industry and move themselves into a space where they can still be valid. A part of the job that the press always had is to report the latest news. but the internet can do that better than any newspaper can. So, what can they do to still have validity?

They need to go back to their roots, go deep and use journalistic skill to create something more than what you can obtain from the blogosphere. This will mean that they need to reduce the frequency that they can release their product and move themselves closer to the distribution style of magazines. By doing this, they can get journalists to actually investigate into their stories to a deeper level than they can at the moment. This includes in-depth photojournalism projects done by professional photojournalists as stand-alone stories or to back up the articles. 

Obviously, this would entail a large amount of rescaling of the industry, but this is inevitable at the current time. They are currently are too big to be redefined and need to be downscaled to meet future needs.


Rebranding is another issue that needs to be addressed. While every other print based industry has had to continually keep up with design trends, newspapers have been left far behind, with their layouts and design staying pretty much the same for years. I mean, seriously, what industry these days can have the same format for so many years? Innovative layouts, redesign of the front cover and logos, infographics and using the page format interestingly would be some of the steps to renew interesting in these mediums.
This TED video outlines how newspapers can be innovatively rebranded and redesigned to meet modern design standards, without losing their serious image:

Current Newspapers

Recently I got the Sunday Telegraph free with a bottle of water at the train station and had a good look through the whole paper. I went through most of the paper looking for an interesting article or anything that would catch my eye. After about half an hour I had found very little of interest in a paper that was as thick as my old laptop. Most of the paper was so general that I found it hard to believe that anyone could find the articles interesting. Where was the in-depth analysis and unique content? Because it was so thick I wondered when most of the content was created. Was it from a library of stock content? Were they recycling old stories? They need to give it away for free with a bottle of water and that says a lot.
Another aspect of this is, who were they targeting? Who was their demographic? Had they thought about a demographic or were they trying to target everyone? If you target everyone, do you actually target noone? Every company that wants to sell things needs to aim for some kind of demographic. That is fundamental to any business. Newspapers need to define their target audience and start aiming to that audience.


Something that has astounded me recently was the creation of Wikileaks on the internet. They have released classified documents as well as videos of the US military killing civilians. This is an organisation that consists of 5 full time staff that can leak 90,000 classified files, where the normal press has not come even close to this in decades. 

I watched a live press conference of Julian Assange, the editor in chief of wikileaks, being interviewed by the press. I was astounded by the questions that the press were asking this guy. They were labelling him as irresponsible for leaking the classified documents and kept asking him why he thinks that this is important! Finding out what governments are up to should be part of their own jobs and taking the side of the government shows how far from the path many of the press have strayed. It was embarassing to watch.
If 5 people can leak 90,000 classified documents and encripted film footage, news organisations should be embarassed that they can not.

BJP Magazine

I am currently addicted to BJP magazine. It has redefined photography magazines for me and has created something that no other magazine comes close to. 
Currently, photo magazines all seem to be very similar and there are shelves and shelves of them. '10 ways to shoot better Black & White', 'Great lessons to improve your HDR photography', 'How to use the rule of thirds to improve composition'. All of these areas are ok for the first 6 months, when you are starting into the field of photography but quickly are repetitions and regurgitations of basic knowledge that anyone knows. Buy one good photography book and you can learn all of this stuff much easier. Who are buying all of these titles?
BJP magazine is a different story. In-depth interviews with many photographers, a topic per issue tackled from many different angles, detailed news from the photo world and inspirational photography from every corner of the world. The writing is top notch and the quality of articles is incredible. I always feel like a lot of research has gone into the articles and I'm always more informed by the end. 
This is an example of quality journalism that pays off. They have found a niche, hired quality writers and gone deep rather than scratching the surface. I think that the traditional media should pay attention to examples like this.

The rebirth of Journalism

I believe that journalists play an important role in reporting news and are an essential part of our society. The press is needed to hold governments to account for any wrong doing and if the press dissapears many problems and atrocities may never be addressed. If there are no news outlets, most of the information on the internet will dry up, leaving superflous stories and information with no substance. We need quality reporting that is investigative and is comprehensive. 

This need will never dissapear, so journalism will not dissapear but will have to change. By digging deeper into more longform stories, resizing operations, rebranding, redesigning their pages and content, creating topics per issue, targeting specific demographics and focussing on what the internet cannot provide, I believe the journalistic world can save its self. This is no mean feat and many companies will collapse but those that do change and adapt should come out stronger.
But the very moves that companies are making to rescale are the wrong moves. They get rid of their inhouse photographers and reduce the amount of stories that need research over longer periods. These are the very areas that make these industries unique and should be the last to go.
Moving over to deploying content through devices such as the ipad gives these companies a unique moment to do these things and the companies that take this opportunity will be the ones that survive. 

Journalism will not die but will be redefined and updated. This temporary down period will help in the future redefinition of journalism & inturn photojournalism. 

The Press Photographer's Year

The Press Photographer's Year awards is currently showing in the National Theatre in London.

This is a showcase of the best of British press photography over the last year and has been running for 5 years now.   I've been to the last 2 exhibitions and will keep going back.   There are many different categories, which shows a diverse range of photos, from the horrors of the Bhopal Union Carbide disaster to sports and landscape sections.   The diversity of photos means that each wall of the exhibition presents you with a different view of the world.   Most of the photos are of a high standard although some need the context described before you understand what it really means.
I also find that news that doesn't hit the headlines much, like the Kashmir conflict is shown and brought to light in this show.

Although this is not as impressive as the World Press Photo exhibition, mainly due to its lack of substantial photo essays, it definitely shows a great selection of work.  
The only thing that let the show down was that the photo notes were grouped together on one board rather than next to the photos.   This mean't that, generally you had many people trying to read off the small board at one time and you were away from the photo when you were reading its description.   This brought the focus away from the photos, which I found a bit dissapointing.   This has been the same layout since the exhibition started, but I hope they change it at some point!

Click here to see the slideshow of the exhibition photos but I would recommend going to see them at the show first.

World Press Photo

I went to see the World Press Photo exhibition at Royal Exhibition Hall in London.

Most of the photos on show were part of photo essays from the major world events of the last year.   This display of the photo essays really made the exhibition.   Sometimes a photo needs to be part of a collection for its meaning to really shine through.  

I was amazed at the quality and have come away thinking that photo essays are the way forward.   Your photos really need to be linked with either a visual style, similar subject matter or actually creating a story arc for the photos.

This exhibition also shows the distinct lack of good coverage of world events by British news organisations.   As news programmes become more commercial, it seems that real news is disappearing and in its place is the sound-bite.   This exhibition shows how powerful the display of real news can be.   I think that the media needs to support the ongoing efforts of the photojournalist and get back to real reporting.

Vision 09

Well, yesterday I went to the Vision 09 event in London and saw 2 photographers talks.  


The first was Martin Parr.   I loved his work and collections that he has made over the years.  The Saddam Hussein watches were great and his books were inspiring.   His style is very distinctive with saturated colour palettes and similar ideas behind his photography.

The second was Eugene Richards which was a stark contrast to Martin Parrs work.   His lifes work has covered some of the most harrowing subject matter.   His photos were amazing but I found the presentation very harrowing.   I don't think that I could take what this man has done in his life without going mad!

The main thing I found interesting was that both photographers established a visual style early in their careers that has not changed too much.   Each photographer had a distinct vision of the world, coming from a specific direction.   Their visual styles are linked directly to their content of choice.

I think that to make good artwork, both the content and the visual style needs to be closely linked.   Also, from a photography point of view, photo essays are the way to go.