The Washington Post's Travis Fox has done it again. Travis is a backpack journalist who travels the world documenting stories with video for the Post's Web site. He is just home from Darfur, and the work he brought home with him may be his best yet.
I'm dedicating today's column to this work for three reasons. First, newspaper folks want to learn how to do online multimedia. Second, even the most experienced TV folks can benefit from watching Travis' video. And finally, the educators and students who read this column daily will learn a ton.
If you are pressed for time, just watch the opening story.(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/interactives/chad/index.html)
This is a story that utilizes silence and quiet moments to teach us something about what life is like in a refugee camp. I especially like the way Travis uses the shots of barren soil to transition from character to character. And his use of natural light is nothing short of spectacular.
Travis also wrote an article about what he saw.( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/07/AR2007030702253.html)And at the bottom of the Web page, you can find a number of panoramic photos he created. I really like these because they give me context that I can't get in a single shot.
Last week, the National Press Photographers Association awarded Travis first and second place in the in-depth online photojournalism category of its Best of Television Photojournalism contest.
I interviewed Travis by e-mail earlier this week.
Al Tompkins: What did you hope to accomplish with this work?
Travis Fox: In the broadest sense, I wanted to give our viewers a sense of place and give the victims in Chad a voice. More specifically, I wanted these videos to provide a deeper understanding of the issues behind the horrific personal stories coming from Darfur. Finally, I wanted to show (not tell) just how fragile the situation is, to focus not so much on the backstory, but on why this story matters right now.
Al: What has the reaction been to this piece?
Travis: The reaction has been positive. I have received e-mails from viewers who have been propelled to make donations by the package. That is always nice to hear.
Al: What were some of the obstacles you ran into and how did you get around them?
Travis: There are several obstacles [to] working in eastern Chad, but compared to what the people living there have to face everyday, I feel a bit ashamed to list them. There are several rebel groups in the area that are best avoided. It was always unclear to me what would happen if we came across them, perhaps a situation of theft, not necessarily violence, but these encounters are notoriously unpredictable. Logistics were an issue. The U.N. was nice enough to allow us to stay in their basic compounds for a small fee, where [such facilities] existed and when there was space. Other than that, home was a tent. Electricity came from the car battery. There aren't really roads out there, so we drove in a 4x4 through the sand. It took four days of driving from N'djamena, the capital, to the farthest point, Dogdore. Luckily, I was able to skip one of those legs by catching a U.N. flight, but our driver had to make the journey with the car filled with enough water and food for the two weeks we spent in eastern Chad.
Al: Were you working alone?
Travis: I worked with a great translator and driver. Mubarak, the translator, is a refugee himself from Darfur and knew the territory well. Our driver, Abdullah, was also great, as driving a 4x4 through the sand is a real skill. He was also a mechanic, which was invaluable as the intensity of driving meant that the car often needed servicing.
Al: Give us a rundown of the gear you use on a tough assignment like this.
Travis: The most important things are my video camera, satellite phones for communication, and power converter for recharging batteries in the car. I usually bring a can of compressed air to clean the incredible amounts of dust, but I forgot it this time.
Al: After you have been to a place like Darfur, how do you get back to normal in your life? What enduring images from your trip stick in your mind?
Travis: I think the image of crying, malnourish[ed] babies in Dogdore is one that is stuck in my head and something [viewers tell me] is a lasting image. The image of Sadiya, who was gang raped, covering her face because she was embarrassed to tell the story of what had happened to her is the other powerful image in this package. It's often difficult to readjust to a normal life. Sometimes I stop off in a third country to decompress. This trip hasn't been as difficult for me as war situations such as Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza, where the adrenaline is pumping all the time and the fear of a bomb falling on you at any time is a hard sensation to shake, even after you're back home.
FROM AL'S MORNING MEETING