More Than 1000 Words

“Frame By Frame” doc screened by Minnesota Journalism Center

In the photo, Tarana Akbari is 12 years old. She is wearing green and she is screaming. She is the one of the few people standing. She was a witness of a suicide bombing that occurred at the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan in December 2011. Photojournalist Massoud Hossaini snaps her photo. In times of tragedy, celebration, and even everyday life, photojournalists run toward the news to share it with the world.

The documentary “Frame By Frame” opens with several photojournalists racing toward the scene of a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Narration includes details of Afghanistan’s photography ban during the Taliban Regime, from 1996 to 2001. The documentary follows four photojournalists in the field working on projects ranging from breaking news photography to more project-based photography, regarding women’s rights, and the lives of drug addicts.

Photographer: Kellen Renstrom

Photographer: Kellen Renstrom

At the Nov. 2 screening hosted by the Minnesota Journalism Center, students and community members watched the 2015 documentary and followed up with an open discussion. The film gained traction at SXSW in 2015 and has since been submitted for Oscar consideration. Funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, the documentary drew in over 70,000 dollars from 1,200 backers.

The film details the importance of both photography and the issues brought to light by the photographers. After the media ban in Afghanistan was lifted, local journalism became much more accessible. As described on the Kickstarter campaign page, “The need for local photojournalism [in Afghanistan] couldn’t be more important in documenting the country’s issues both now, and in the future.”

Directed by filmmakers Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach, the documentary is beautifully shot and poignantly edited. Even with the four, strong central characters, the star of the film is not a single person, but photography itself.

“I’m certain that a photo can lead to change,” Wakil Kohsar said in the film. One project Kohsar worked on tapped into both addiction and recovery, chronicling the life of drug addicts.

A common theme of empathy resonated throughout the film. As one of the journalists explained, their duty is to empathize with the subject of the photo.

Even today, a hesitance toward photography hangs in the air, because many are still wary of the information it can so clearly convey. One of the journalists, Farzana Wahidy, whose focus is photographing Afghani women, is often met with hesitation and opposition. One scene in the film shows Wahidy’s struggles as she tries to photograph women in a hospital in Heart—a city in western Afghanistan—who suffered serious burns from self-immolation. Earlier in the film, Wahidy says she will be selling some of these photos to UNICEF. Eventually, Wahidy meets with a victim in her home and learns the woman’s in-laws burned her before being forced to give up her own daughter. In a tender moment, Wahidy lifts her camera and takes a photo of the woman.

A common theme of empathy resonated throughout the film. As one of the journalists explained, their duty is to empathize with the subject of the photo.

After the film, the Minnesota Journalism Center hosted the discussion, partially led by School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor and photojournalist Mike Zerby. Colleagues of Zerby, along with several of the visiting Edward R. Murrow Press Fellows also commented in the discussion.

Zerby began the discussion by mentioning the contrast in breaking news photography and photography of daily life, both of which were covered in the film. While each of the photojournalists would “go right to the news,” the film also pointed out how they spent time photographing the normal, daily life in Afghanistan. Photojournalism is about more than just capturing the news, Zerby said, and it should include the smaller moments of daily life more often.

Other comments in the discussion brought up the importance of telling someone’s story through photojournalism. Even when faced against a tragic event or a heartbreaking situation, people want their story to be told. Yet the story belongs to the subject, not the photographer, Zerby said.

Throughout the film, the journalists were constantly pushing further to make an empathetic connection between the viewer and the subject in order to tell that story properly. While it can be tempting to settle for a “good enough” photo, continuing to shoot is often the difference between a good photo and a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo.

One student attendee also pointed out the necessity for the photographers to do more than just take photos. “First you’ve got to interact, then you take the picture,” he said.

A good photo shows what something looked like, Zerby said. A great photo shows what something felt like. To extract emotion from a slice of a scene is the job of a photojournalist.

“If it’s good enough, you’ll know it,” Zerby said. “And you’ll say, damn!”