CHRISTOPH BANGERT: ‘Nobody is trying to get rich here’
German photographer CHRISTOPH BANGERT is part of a new generation of photojournalists that came of age post-9/11 and well into the internet era. “The difference with former generations is perhaps that we take a broader view. We know that it is not enough to have good pictures; you have to be good at communicating too.”
Bangert, 32, is from a small town in Germany. He launched his career as a photojournalist in 2003 after studying for a year at the International Photography Center in New York City. Less than two years later he was covering Iraq for The New York Times, which led to the publication of a book, ‘Iraq: The Space Between.’ Bangert is also a semi-professional race driver and has recently returned from a 14-month overland journey with his Land Rover across Africa.
How do things look for someone who has never know the so-called good times?
These days you have to part photojournalist, part computer nerd?
How has the crisis in the media affected your ability to work?
“And of course the quality suffers. Wire photographers are photographers too but they’re not authors. They produce faster; they produce more. It’s single-image driven. It’s a very different thing from what we do. If you want to do quality journalism that has some point of view and authorship the wire services are not the place to go.”
Has it meant that you weren’t able to do certain projects?
“Afterwards you still manage to sell the pictures. It’s not as good as getting an assignment but as long as you can still get the pictures and get them out there everything is fine. Nobody is trying to get rich here. Everybody knows there is no money in this business. It’s about producing. And if you don’t produce you’re finished.”
So basically the media now expect you to make it out there on your own ticket and they’ll look at your pictures afterwards?
When Times photographer João Silva lost both his legs in Afghanistan in October it underlined once more the danger of this kind of reporting. Are you insured when you go into a war zone?
“I have a small daughter so I also have my own insurance, which is very expensive. Most of my colleagues have no insurance at all. If you are making little money and you’re paying your own way, it’s very tempting to look at that insurance fee and say, do I really need this?”
What do you expect from Emphas.is?
“The second thing of course is that you actually find the funding for your project, which is huge.”
Do you think people will be willing to pay for something like this?
What kind of incentives would you offer your backers on Emphas.is?
“On top of that you can do things like send postcards from Afghanistan to your backers or offer people books or prints. For significant donors lectures could also be an option.
“On the distribution end, apart from publishing in magazines and newspapers, I’m interested in doing public exhibitions. I’m not so much into the art gallery scene because the audience is so small. The problem is that public exhibitions are very expensive to do because they take up the place of advertising space. But perhaps slideshow projections in public places at night could be a good idea.”
Your first pitch on Emphas.is is not a specific story, rather you are asking people to support your continued documentation of the war in Afghanistan.
“That may seem a bit broad, but I see it in the vein of what Phillip Jones Griffiths did with ‘Vietnam Inc.’ I don’t want to make it about one soldier; I want to do something big about the whole conflict. It will be mostly embeds in Kandahar because it’s almost impossible now to do otherwise in that area, if only because the risk to your Afghan driver and translator is just too great. But I will be doing unembedded stuff in other areas like Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif.
“Maybe people won’t go for a broad, big-scale project like that; maybe you have to make it really specific and personal. I don’t know. We will have to see.”
(Interview by Gert Van Langendonck)
Christoph Bangert’s website is christophbangert.com.
See a slideshow of his Afghanistan work for The New York Times here.
This is part V in a series of interviews with photojournalists about how the crisis has affected their work and what they expect from Emphas.is.