Interview: Harmit Kambo on forensic journalism and the future of the audio slideshowPosted: March 23, 2011
Harmit Kambo is an innovative online journalist [see post 10 pioneers in online video journalism] focusing on a niche form of online video: the audio slideshow. Having trained at the LCC in photography, he has developed a wide ranging portfolio through work on various projects with charities and campaign groups, including the multi-story, multi-platform Environmental Justice project. His work combines stills with music, text, voices, ambient sounds and sometimes video.
LHG: You trained as a photojournalist and documentary photographer; what made you decide to focus on producing audio slideshows?
HK: Firstly, I should say I love photography books, and photos on gallery walls. And I think photography in these forms will always find an audience.
However, these avenues can be expensive, and arguably only really available to you once you attain a certain level of success. While you can self-publish easily and relatively cheaply these days, I would question what kind of audience your book will actually find. And while you can probably find an exhibition space on the cheap, how many people are really going to see it?
For me, I’m not a just a photojournalist for the love of it. I want my work to be seen, and by as many people as possible. So, of course, the internet is the right platform for me.
But just placing still images on a website would be like some of the first movies – which were a camera trained on a theatre stage. Movies quickly evolved into a separate form than theatre, playing to the possibilities of the format.
In the same way, I’m one of a number of photographers who wants to use photographs in a way that plays to the strengths of the web platform. For me, photographs are just one aspect of the story. Music, text, voices, ambient sounds combined carefully with stills (and indeed video) are all vital components in online photo-based storytelling.
So, I see audio slideshows as the best way of showing images online.
LHG: Tell us about the most memorable project you’ve worked on?
HK: I see a lot of fantastic photography and photojournalism, but sometimes, even in the best work, I think the narrative can be simplistic. You’re often told what to think by the photojournalist. They can also be highly selective in what they present, to strengthen their argument. So, while I respect photojournalists as photographers, I do think many are actually poor journalists. It was with this in mind, that I set out to undertake a project in a way that I think it should be done.
I worked on a massive project last year called Stories of Environmental (In)Justice . It is made up of 27 different stories, 11 of which are multimedia, others are stills accompanied by a separate audio track, and others are short audio. So, rather than it being a multimedia piece, I see it as a multi-platform piece. The Environmental Justice project was my attempt at being a fairly ‘forensic’ journalist, looking at an issue in detail, providing balance and analysis.
The whole project, from start to finish, was completed over 3 month period. I spent time in 3 different parts of the UK, conducted 20 in-depth interviews, invited a number of people to write blogs, worked closely with an academic research and an activist, to create what I think was an in-depth, engaging, photography based analysis of a complex issue.
LHG: Your recent audio slideshow, Down the local, was published by BBC.co.uk. Do you think audio slideshows have a permanent place in the online journalism landscape?
HK: Yes and no.
Just in the last few years, we have seen that major media players such as the BBC and the Guardian are using a lot more audio slideshows and videos instead of the traditional text-based article with an accompanying image.
So, as print newspapers continue to decline, and content increasingly becomes geared towards being delivered online (the iPad and Kindle have recently ushered in the next stage of the cultural shift from paper to pixel), we’ll be reading less and less, and watching more and more. The balance between these elements will vary from one publication to another but we will see fewer single stills and more slideshows and videos – because the technology makes it easy to do so now.
However, I’m not sure how long the ‘audio slideshow’ format will survive. It’s a format that still lacks definition and shape. I mean, really, what is it? Is it a documentary? Is it just a way of presenting photographs? How long should a slideshow be (we can all agree that a movie should be roughly 90-110 minutes, with a few 3 hour epics around, and that a documentary can be between 30-90 minutes), but who can really define the ‘audio sideshow’ form.
Even though I’m a real fan and champion of it, I wonder if it already looks a bit ‘quaint’, and that the technology’s already moved on, just as it’s starting to get recognised. Professional digital SLRs now have HD video capability, and over the last two years, I’ve started to see a lot more video from people who might still call themselves photographers.
So, what we currently see as audio slideshows, based on stills, might mutate into short documentaries, based on video.
We can speculate about the direction that this will head in. But what is clear is that photographers who want to find an audience through the internet, need to be thinking beyond photographs, but also be thinking about audio, text, graphics and, of course, video.
Down the local: The Marquis of Lorne
You can view the BBC version here.