Back in Burma with More Light: A Review of the Ice Light

We are working in an era where technology is fueling our passion to create powerful multimedia. However, the market is so saturated with constantly evolving technology that, in my short career, I’ve found that the gear purchases I make are often completely obsolete for me six months later and almost certainly one year later (here’s where you picture a club full of manufacturers smoking cigars and drinking scotch that I’ve paid for).

Today, I’m six months down the road from a purchase I made this year at NAB, and I’m just as excited about it today as I was then. It’s the Ice Light from Westcott.

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How should we judge the best multimedia? An open letter to World Press Photo

To Micha Bruinvels:
Contest coordinator at World Press Photo

Thank you for inviting me to visit World Press Photo in Amsterdam last week. It was a true pleasure to meet you and your colleagues as well as to see and learn about all of the work being done to promote and improve visual journalism around the world by WPP.

It was also very insightful to be able to talk to you about WPP’s young multimedia contest and the challenges that occur in trying to create categories that are applicable to a constantly changing media environment across the globe.

Every year, following contest season there seems to be quite a lot of debate about who wins what as well as what categories and merits multimedia journalists are judged in. While debate and discussion are healthy, there has been some criticism of the contest categories of WPP’s multimedia site, including on this site here and here.

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Robbing our subjects or helping our audience?

“In the end, we didn’t reach an agreement. They got violent and took me away from the villager’s home. They hit me in the head, slapped my face and pushed me down the stairs. Then they forced me into the car and kept hitting me … They Forced me to meet their leader. They took me there and pushed me out their car and I saw the office of their leader. I thought I would be safe, but it wasn’t true. I was pushed into the office and I saw him sitting behind the desk. He was just staring at me. Then the thugs poured hot tea on my face and body. He just started at me in silence.”

Getting quotes like these is very difficult in China, especially when it comes to land rights. It’s even more difficult to get people to say it on camera. If a subject says something like this to me, on camera, they are risking even more problems for themselves. But in the video above, you won’t actually hear the subject say this in Chinese; instead, you’ll hear a voice-over in English.

I often wonder who I am truly making videos for. Am I doing it for the subjects in the videos, to give them a voice? Is it for a cause that needs more awareness? Am I doing it for me?

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Xièxie Chinese State Security!

About a year ago while reporting on work conditions of Foxconn employees for the New York Times’ iECONOMY series, my team ran into some small problems with state security.

While visiting a dorm room of a factory worker, I noticed the normal entourage of people following us around had increased. Among the crowd, a couple of heavy set fellows with crew cuts continually taking photos of us. These are plain clothed policeman. In my experience, when police start following you, they aren’t actually too sneaky. These young men weren’t being shy about it. At points they would walk right up to you and snap a photo 5 inches away from your face with their oversized cell phones.

These policemen were actually very friendly. We even talked to them. They told us they knew our names and that we were from the Times. They were very excited when they got the opportunity to show us the photos they were taking. They even had photos of us from days earlier and showed us photos of colleague who had been in the area before.

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Land in China: Über Touchy

The New York Times released their second installment of Leaving the Land on Sunday.

Articles in this series look at “how China’s government-driven effort to push the population to towns and cities is reshaping a nation that for millenniums has been defined by its rural life.” There’s a ton of effort going into this ongoing project in China and New York, similar in size to last year’s iECONOMY series or the previous year’s Culture and Control series.

With this installment, the first of three videos I made for the series published. The title “China’s Consuming Billion” plays off of Tom Miller’s book “China’s Urban Billion: The Story Behind the Biggest Migration in Human History” and McKinsey Global Institute’s report “Preparing for China’s urban billion.” The video, filmed in Beijing, Shanghai and Shaanxi Province sheds light on a possible by-product of China’s urbanization plan: a consumer culture that could drive and sustain economy.

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A Not So Ordinary Night at the Beijing Opera

In the winter of 2011 I followed director Chen Shi-Zheng as he created a new take on a classic Beijing opera, Farewell My Concubine.

Trying to do new takes on traditional art forms in China can be a bit risky. A decade earlier, Chen made a modern production of an opera that was so wildly different than the norm, the government actually shut down the production.

Initially these videos were going to be part of the Times’ Culture and Control series, as a positive example of change. The Times’ Culture and Control series explore the struggle to shape the culture of authoritarian China.

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Petrol Practicality: A Review of Petrol Camera Bags

Jonah M. Kessel with Petrol's Digibag DSLR Camera Bag.

Year-to-year, month-to-month and sometimes even day-to-day, my opinions about gear and cinematography change. There are things I said a year ago, that I now completely disagree with. In part, this is due to evolving technology in a rapidly changing industry. Another part is personal growth as a filmmaker. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and therefor feel a bit privlidged in having been able to learn so much.

One of the only constants in my never ending quest to grow as a filmmaker is the need for more bags. They are always needed and you can never have enough. Different situations, require different bags.

Last year, camera bag maker Petrol Bags sent me some samples to test out.

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Why We Blog

One of my least favorite things to read is an apology for not blogging more. This is not that.

But instead, some thoughts about why we, and specifically I, blog at all.

If it becomes boring feel free to click off onto recent work embedded throughout this post. Its probably more entertaining than my words.

On November 26, 2011, I wrote an entry on this blog titled “To Staff or Freelance, that is the question.” The blog post marked the end of a 1.5-year-long contract with China Daily, a shorter contract in Algeria and three years as a staff member at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. After the 5+ year stint as a staff member at newspapers, I wrote:

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Size Matters — My field test of the Canon C100 in Burma

C100 in the Palm of Your Hand.

The C100 (literarily) fits in the palm of your hand.

I went to Burma with a simple task: to investigate challenges to Myanmar’s nascent model of democracy using the mining industry as a device to talk about bigger issues. Wait … that wasn’t simple at all. In fact, that was very complicated. However, my second goal of the trip was simple: to field test Canon’s C100 in a large variety of environments in a real world context. This would be the opposite of a desk test.

When I first tried Canon’s C300 my DSLR was instantly jealous. However, at the $16,000 benchmark, I knew it wouldn’t be a game changer for most. It wasn’t till I got my hands on Canon’s C100 that the DSLR became outdated.

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Committed to Truth: Liu Jianfeng

In May of 2012 the Committee to Protect Journalists approached me, asking if I would be interested in making a short film about a Chinese journalist.

Last month, the piece published. It would be my umpteenth video looking at free speech and cencorship in China. Although it only took two days to film, there was about 10 months of planning involved. Thats mostly because, no one wanted to be featured.

I emailed many dozens of Chinese journalists for months and was having zero luck. They were interested in being featured until they found out the topic was human rights and free speech. As soon as they heard these words, most would immediately stop answering emails. Sadly, I think these people are better examples of what the average journalist in China. They are part of the system, and not willing to shake it … or in this case, come close to the shaker.

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Visual Journalism | 视频记者 Cinematography