Reality of a Protest

The interview for this article was conducted in early June 2013. The video was filmed during 2012 events and comments were made in reference to the nature of events in Egypt before June 2013. 

Since the Arab Spring, news from Egypt comes delivered with dramatic images of protests painting a thrilling time for a population demanding its rights.

For Cairo-based photojournalist Amanda Mustard, these images don’t always accurately reflect what it’s like to be present at a protest.  It’s not that the images aren’t of real moments, she explains, but that collectively they can oversaturate the media and can misrepresent the reality on the ground.

These images represent protests in beautiful, euphoric or tragic moments, but in reality they can be boring and uneventful. In a fiercely competitive industry where jobs are scarce, many photographers can get caught up in finding these dramatic photographs, or increasing the intensity of the image’s impact through crafty photo editing.

There are many ways of dramatizing an image. Many recognized photographers such as Paolo Pellegrin, Finbarr O’Reilly and Marcus Bleasdale  use professional re-touchers. This can make it even harder for new photographers to get into the game, because these services can be expensive.

This is not new idea, but as digital photography has become more easily accessible, retouching has become a sort-of syndrome in the photojournalism community. Mustard is frequently contacted by photo re-touchers offering their services, which she always rejects. “The image itself should be powerful enough,” she says. “Not editing much teaches me to be a better photographer. I spend no more than thirty seconds on an image [in Lightroom].”

Mustard has seen some photographers go as far as staging photographs by asking protesters to wave their arms in a certain way or re-enact something that already happened. Though she has seen this minimally, the fact that it happens at all is insulting to her. “The resulting image may not be offensive to the photographer, but it is to me,” she says. “It makes me angry that that’s what sells.”

Watch this video from minute 3:38 to get a clear idea of what she means.

Even protesters take part in the over-dramatization of the images by putting on an act for the camera. “My issue in Egypt is that people have become so familiar with photographers. Some see it as an opportunity to ‘be famous’ and they’ll start acting dramatically after they see my lens pointed at them,” she says. “It is very hard to get a natural reaction.”

Frustrated by this misrepresentation, Mustard finds solutions that better show the reality of protests. While she knows surviving as a photographer means photographing exhilarating moments for the wires (she’s currently with Redux, Polaris and  ZUMA Press), she also has a desire to go deeper.

In this effort to document the ongoing revolutions in a more truthful way, she attached a GoPro camera to the top of her Canon 5D. She found this to be a great tool, one that helps to show her audience what it’s like to work as a photographer under these circumstances.

GoPro footage of the protests and clashes that stirred up outside of the US Embassy after an Anti-Islamic film went viral. These clips are from three of these days, closing with the morning of 15 September, when police clamped down on the uprising with force, destroying stalls and tents in Tahrir Square and arresting scores of protestors. (Equipment: GoPro 2 mounted on a Canon DMarkII DSLR, 24-70mm 2.8 lens). © Amanda Mustard 

While the project started as a creative tool for her documentary work, she quickly realized that the GoPro served as both a way to study her own workflow, and perhaps more importantly, as a type of protection.

The single most threatening thing to female protesters and journalists in Cairo is widespread sexual assault, and it’s hard to capture on camera. “You can be running from tear gas and your ass is being grabbed,” says Mustard.

During protests from June 30th to July 3rd, at least 91 incidents of sexual assault were registered in Cairo, and these are just the attacks that were reported.  “It’s like having your own surveillance camera,” she says. “It’s hard to get footage of rapes and if it were to happen to me it could be recorded.”

The GoPro project is a different way to document these protests. “It’s a new perspective of how images are created,” says Mustard. “And there’s value in my ethical approach.”

The interview for this article was conducted in early June 2013. The video was filmed during 2012 events and comments were made in reference to the nature of events in Egypt before June 2013.

For more on Amanda Mustard read: How to Cover a Protest


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