We asked photojournalist, Ian McNaught Davis, to share some of his thoughts on what it was like covering the recent ‘Velvet Revolution’ protests in Yerevan, Armenia.
What’s the most difficult part of covering a major event like this?
When there’s so much going on the difficult part is picking a shooting strategy and sticking to it. Since there are so many emotions and distractions, walking around and being entirely reactive to the scenes around you can get overwhelming, as you’re always thinking you could be getting better shots somewhere else. The challenge is to make a call on where you think you could be most effective – In the crowds? Amongst the riot police? In front of the protest leaders? And then committing to it until you get the shot. Then deciding if it’s worth moving on.
This kind of photography can be dangerous at times. What was the general mood of the crowd, or the police? Did you ever feel insecure?
I find crowd dynamics fascinating. I photographed protests in Yerevan after the rise in electricity prices three years ago and it was a similar scenario – it’s a cross-section of society: there’s a group of vocal, angry protestors but the majority were in a celebratory mood – dancing, singing, flirting, gossiping. There was an undeniable feeling of unity in the ever-expanding crowds. I think it’s especially unique to Armenia. The police, on the other hand, were hard to read. And I think that’s their job. They were aggressive in the arrests I photographed and one tried to knock my camera out of my hands, but for the majority of the time, they guarded official buildings and themselves stoically. There was a volcanic energy about them – there’s potential to erupt but you can never be sure when it might happen. Approach with caution.
What do you think the value of photojournalism is today when seemingly everyone has access to a mobile device with a camera?
That’s a good question in this case. I think both photojournalism and smartphone photography both are important in the Yerevan protests – phone photography creates a noise on the internet and moves quicker across the world, and I genuinely believe it’s important for the world to see what’s going on in Armenia: people got fed up with corruption so the made a noise without violence until their leader quit. A lot of countries could learn from that, and phones help with that. Where good photojournalism comes in is that can make people feel. A good photograph can captivate the mind and heart when so many pictures can only reach the eye.
The news, to me at least, has increasingly “more us versus them”. We need to see more of the grey areas and ambiguities if we’re supposed to understand people with opinions that are different to ours. And photographs that make you feel something that you can’t quite explain with words help with this. Understanding other people is a lengthy and sometimes painful process. Instant news doesn’t speed this up – just because it’s early doesn’t mean it’s the truth. So, photojournalism is incredibly important nowadays. So hug a photographer today and buy them lunch. They’re an underpaid breed and normally hungry.
What did you try to capture that you noticed other people were missing? What’s your favorite photo from the series and the story behind it?