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Panpa Bulletin : November 2010
www.panpa.org.au 22 | NOVEMBER 2010 | The PANPA Bulletin APN's new leading force A MOB descends on the dusty streets, men, women and children are beaten as they confront soldiers in the name of democracy, calling for an end to the autocratic rule of an oppressive king. Freelance photographer Philip Blenkinsop captures the brutality of all the king's men. He turns to one, appalled at the scene. "Excuse me," he says to a Nepalese solider on the streets of Kathmandu. "Do you have children?" "Yes, why?" replies the soldier. "Because there were many small boys who were beaten, their heads split open. Would you like your chil- dren to be beaten like that? "What are your children going to ask you? 'Father, what did you do in this year, 2006?' and you can say, 'I managed to beat and kill a lot of children'. "I hope you're proud." Blenkinsop vividly recollects this episode in his life, which was captured in a wrenching scene of My Asian Heart, a documentary by David Bradbury. Blenkinsop says he cannot stand-by and be an impartial observer no mat- ter what industry ethics might say. He started his career in the late 1980s but packed his bags in '89 and has been a freelance photographer in South-East Asia, covering human suffering. "First and foremost you have to be a human being in these situations, isn't that what it's all about?" he asks. "I don't think I could live with myself otherwise". "People hide behind objectivity. "As a white photographer in Nepal, I was able to confront the soldier and get away without a beating. Though I have had a few beatings at the hands of Nepalese police," he recalls. "You don't know how they are going to react, but they need to hear it."Starting on the Sunday Times in Perth and then moving to Sydney to work on The Australian, Blenkinsop says he once held aspirations to work on Fleet Street. "I couldn't really see a higher call- ing than working on The Independent in London," he recalls. The lure of newspaper photogra- phy wore off only a few years into his career. He says he could not develop his own photographic vision, and was given "very little room in terms of interpreting a scene", letting the tech- nical ability of the camera lenses to do the work. "It took me about a year (at The Australian) to become jaded. It had become formulaic and I wasn't re- ally thinking. A lot of newspapers encourage a formulaic approach, I don't think it is limited to Australia. "I wasn't going to go anywhere. If I wanted to take the photography somewhere and mature visually, I had to get out." A one-way ticket to Bangkok (where he has been based ever since) transported him to another photo- graphic realm, covering cannibalistic conflict in Kalimantan; guerrilla struggles in East Timor, Tibet and the Philippines; internal civil war in Cambodia, and environmental dev- astation in China and Bangladesh. His pictures could show such hor- ror, yet editors refused to print them. While editors make such decisions on the basis of what is acceptable to their readership, Blenkinsop com- plains readers can be "treated like fools". "Readers are old enough and intel- ligent enough to be able to decide whether they want to read something or not or what they want to look at," says Blenkinsop. "There is also a lot of self-censoring among photographers, too, because the image they should be taking won't be published, because they think that it is too upsetting or, because if it isn't published they won't get paid." Prior to leaving for Asia, Blenkin- sop ditched his SLR cameras, opting instead for a Leica rangefinder. Later on in his freelance career he started using Mamiya 6 rangefinders for his medium format work. He has never once been tempted by the speed and convenience of digital camera technology, sticking instead to processing his prints in his own dark room. "The negative is a more valuable record," he says. "With film you have the tangible aspect, it's very important to me that it does actually exits. "I like the printing process, to be able to print from a negative in a dark room, wet processing, chemicals, the sense of the object when I produce a print. "The idea of hanging something on the wall which has been spat out of an ink jet printer is just abhorrent. It has no sense of poetry; there is nothing sacrosanct about it. It has no rever- ence." Blenkinsop has taken this idea of the photo as an object one step fur- ther, often writing directly on to an image the subjects' testimonies, or his own thoughts. For exhibitions, he has used animal blood -- "symbolic of life, death and struggle" -- to heighten the viewers' awareness of the story behind the image. "They are aids which allow the viewer to appropriate my own mem- ory of that time and that place and my experiences with those people, in the hope it will bring them closer to the people and to an understanding." Blenkinsop used this technique for some of his photos he took in 2003 when he and Australian journalist An- drew Perrin set out in search of a group of people in the mountains of Laos who were being hunted by the Laotian Gov- ernment because of their allegiance with the USA in wars long past. They were the Hmong people, a group recruited by the CIA to assist in the secret war in Laos which raged in tandem with the Vietnam War 35 years ago. The Hmong were responsible for engaging the Pathet Lao, disrupting troop convoys and helping to rescue downed US pilots. But when the Americans pulled out, the Hmong were abandoned. "We came back with the story of these people and how they had been basically hunted by the Laos military for the last 27 years," recalls Blenkin- sop. The Bradbury documentary about Blenkinsop shows the haunting reac- tion of the Hmong people as the two Australian journalists arrived at their temporary camp, guided by a clan- destine escort. They drop to their knees and start- ed to cry a "symphony of suffering". The Hmong believed the arrival of Blenkinsop and Perrin meant their days of being hunted were over. But nothing changed. Blenkinsop visited Washington to speak of their plight in Congress, and door-knock senators. All turned their backs. "It is depressing you can do something like that; that you can make people aware of it and then still governments won't act" says Blenkinsop. Many of the Hmong managed to escape Laos since 2003, settling in a refugee camp in Thailand, but were forcibly repatriated back to Laos by the Thai military in December 2009. "To my knowledge, there has been no confirmation of their whereabouts and well-being ever since," Blenkin- sop adds sadly. You have to be a human being in these situations, isn't that what it's all about? I don't think I could live with myself otherwise" " Man on a mission in Asia REBECCA LEAVER meets one of the region's most passionate and accomplished photographers, Philip Blenkinsop When on assignment Philip chooses to use Leica and Mamiya 6 rangefinders PHOTOGRAPHER PROFILE APN News and Media has appointed Brett Che- noweth as the next CEO of the Australian and New Zealand publishing com- pany. Mr Chenoweth will take the helm of the company in the new year, following the retirement of chief execu- tive Brendan Hopkins. Chairman of APN, Gavin O' Reilly said, "Brett's experience in growing content-based businesses will enable APN to acceler- ate efforts to serve its high value audiences with an expanded range of content and services. He will also be focused on deploying technology enablers that drive improved returns for marketers eager to reach APN's audiences on all platforms." Mr Chenoweth is cur- rently managing director and head of Asia-Pacific for The Silverfern Group, a New York-based specialist merchant bank, and said: "I am very excited to be joining APN. The media industry globally has changed fundamentally and APN's quality media assets are positioned with a long runway for growth. We have a foundation of great content and we'll be working to ensure market- ers are deriving maximum value from the audiences who enjoy that content." APN also announced the appointment of a new board member, with John Harvey joining as an in- dependent, non-executive director, whose appoint- ment will take effect from January 1, 2011. Mr Harvey is the former senior partner, managing partner Auckland and member of the governance board of Price Waterhouse Coopers New Zealand. Brett Chenoweth to lead APN in the new year Brett's experience in growing content-based businesses will enable APN to accelerate efforts to serve its high value audiences with an expanded range of content and service" "