An interview with Søren Pagter - Photojournalism Department Head at The Danish School of Media & Journalism
DMJX & Photopia: A Promising Photojournalism Educational Affiliation in Cairo
Photopia is bringing to Cairo the first Photojournalism certificate program in collaboration with The Danish School of Media & Journalism (DMJX) . The Language of Photojournalism Educational Program is a series of four workshops held by four of DJMX’s world-renowned educators over nine months from September 2019 - June 2020 at Photopia’s venue in East Cairo. This program is generously supported by The Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI).
The program includes 4 workshops:
Workshop 1 - Photojournalistic Method by Søren Pagter,
Workshop 2 – Portraiture by Mads Greve,
Workshop 3 - Written Journalism by Gitte Luk,
Workshop 4 – Final editing and Visual Storytelling by Søren Pagter and Gitte Luk
The first workshop was held between September 10th to the 14th, given by Søren Pagter, focused on the photojournalistic method. Søren is a reputable name in the Photojournalism education field and has been the head of DMJX Photojournalism since 1998. He’s been teaching the art of photojournalism in Denmark and abroad for the past several years.
Meet the 12 Egyptian photographers who were selected to attend this program’s first round in Cairo.
Photographer & Photopia instructor Sabry Khaled will be assisting the three instructors throughout the program.
We sat down with Søren after the first workshop was successfully concluded and gathered some of his interesting insights about this program, Egyptian photographers & photojournalism in Egypt.
"This is the strongest way to tell stories is always ask yourself; why must I tell THIS story?” - Søren Pagter
How are you finding this photojournalism program translating to the Egyptian community as opposed to the Danish one?
Since there is no formula of photojournalistic education in Egypt, we hope to provide the participants with some of the same theoretical and practical skills as we give to our students at the school in Denmark. We're not doing anything specifically different for the Egyptian students. We start by teaching some of the basic theories within photojournalism - like the genres, ethics, story types, etc. And then we use the students' own work as a way to discuss how their visual stories can be told in the best possible way. This part is a bit different than at the school in Denmark, where we start with practical assignments. But since most of the Egyptians already have a lot of practical experience it's more important to further develop this before they go out to shoot their stories. I've worked with many Egyptian photographers over the years and they're all just as skilled as any other students, I've had. The difference is that maybe their knowledge about other photographers aren't as broad. This is important. We spend a lot of time showing a lot of other stories and ways of using photography so that the participants get a more creative and free way of approaching storytelling.
Has the photojournalistic temperature of Cairo adjusted your curriculum? How would this certificate help Egyptian participants from your own point of view?
With reference to which photo stories are possible to do in Egypt, this is something that we discuss during the workshops and especially when it comes to the final project that the participants must do. We want them to be able to work with their stories and expressions and here we must take into consideration, what is possible. On the other hand, we show work from all over the world, also work that is critical and difficult to make. The participants must understand that photojournalism is always critical and will always show the world the photographer sees it - sometimes the photographer needs to find ways around that. Then we talk about how to do that.
Getting a certificate from an internationally acknowledged school like ours is really important if you want to study further or get your work shown outside Egypt. The certificate will help the participants when they apply for grants, scholarships, workshops, further study etc.
"I've worked with many Egyptian photographers over the years and they're all just as skilled as any other students I've had. The difference is that maybe their knowledge about other photographers aren't as broad."- Søren Pagter
How do you find the Egyptian photojournalists in general and your group of participants in specific?
There's a lot of talent and an urge to tell important stories among the Egyptian photographers. It's great to see that most of them have a personal interest in the stories, they want to tell. This is the strongest way to tell stories - always ask yourself; why must I tell THIS story? The participants have this longing for telling something close to their hearts.
The challenge for many Egyptian photographers are the lack of input from other storytellers. As I see it, lots of photographers are stuck in the belief that stories are told in one specific, traditional way. This, we will change. Just like we want the participant to get a stronger language to talk about photography - only by talking about and sharing work with each other, we can become better.
"There's a lot of talent and an urge to tell important stories among the Egyptian photographers." - Søren Pagter
What surprised you most about the students, if anything?
I can not say I was surprised - like really surprised - since I've worked with many Egyptian photographers before. But, compared to the photographers I met five years ago I think there has been a small change among the photojournalistic community. In the years after 2011, I meet a lot of news photographers - or photographers who were educated within the media and news.
They wanted to make more personal work but hadn't done it yet. Now, I can see that a lot of the participants have already started doing personal stories.
What are you expecting to see in the final project?
Each participant must make one significant body of work within a specific topic. This, they'll start after the third workshop in January. I expect each one of them to work hard on their stories and spend a lot of time. This is really a great opportunity for them and they must use it to the best of their abilities. Imagine, that you get three intensive workshops, then you start a project and a skilled teacher coaches you on the way. This is a luxury. Therefore, they must develop in this period. For me, it is not so important if each story becomes a success. It's the learning process that's important. Maybe some participants will not make a perfect story this time, but then they'll do it next time. We're planting seeds and we don't always know when they will flourish.
What areas of photojournalism are you expecting to flourish in Egypt at this time?
From the ideas that I've already discussed with the participants, we get a lot of different stories made in various styles. That's also the purpose. We don't want the participants to shoot in one specific way or to make the same type of stories. The most important thing is that the stories come from the heart and that they make an impact on the viewers.
Photopia is excited to see what incredible work of the participants by next summer! The stories will be exhibited at Cairo Photo Week 2020.
Thanks to Søren Pagter, DMJX school and DEDI for supporting the Egyptian photography scene.
Interview by Noran Morsi
Edited by Reham ElSheimy