Founded by French photojournalists Pierre Terdjman and Benjamin Girette, #Dysturb is a network of photojournalists who provide international news by occupying urban spaces. Fanny Hauser met Benjamin Girette in Paris and talked to him about the project…
When and why was #Dysturb founded?
The idea evolved out of a frustration over the decline of news organizations to publish our work. In order to offer accessibility to the news events we were covering, my friend and colleague Pierre Terdjman decided to print our photographs in large format and paste them in the streets. By displaying our own images, and those of other respected photojournalists, we created a tool that supported the ever-increasing network of freelance photographers, whilst also simultaneously facilitating the education of the public to modern events.
How are the reactions of people who walk by?
There’s no predetermined reaction and that’s what we like about it. Most reactions, however, are very positive. Some people stop for ten minutes, are intrigued and want to know more about the background of the image. Others just pass by or take a picture and then share it on the social media.
How do you finance the project?
#Dysturb works on a voluntary base, the project does not get any funding. The financing goes step-by-step, invitation-by-invitation. We are looking for financial support from foundations and sponsors so that we can pay our team. But we get much acknowledgement. We were invited to Visa pour l’Image, the international photojournalism festival in Perpignan, the WARM Festival in Sarajevo and many other respected events in New York or Melbourne. We also collaborate with schools and universities.
What are the aims of the project? What do you want to achieve?
Let me tell you a story that marked us: Camille Lepage, an extremely talented photojournalist in her twenties travelled to South Sudan for a story and subsequently settled there. Most photojournalists usually travel to a country and stay there for a couple of weeks, but they always know that they have a return ticket, which will take them back to their family and friends. Camille chose to stay and to submerge herself in South Sudan, which is an extremely complicated country for photographers. Later, in 2014, she travelled to the Central African Republic, and was killed during a conflict. It is a very sad story, but unfortunately journalists do die while reporting in the field. After she passed away, in order to pay her tribute, we pasted her photographs in the streets of Paris. Her death was all over the news. A young man who recognized her work approached us. The man could not understand why she was travelling in this hazardous region. Like Camille, fundamentally, we are storytellers who actively pursue untold stories from those who do not have the ability to tell them. This can push us to venture into very extreme conditions. The purpose of #Dysturb is to help people understand the role of a freelance journalist, and the risks that this profession entails. It is by cutting out the middleman, that we are able to disassociate our profession from the disposability of the news cycle, or the distrust citizens have for media portals.
I always thought of #Dysturb as a critique on the media. Is this your intention?
We are primarily driven by our desire to have people understand that it is an actual human being who takes these photographs. It’s not a newspaper that does it or a machine. Through #Dysturb, we can present our pictures on our own, we apply them and we credit the photographer. We work for the media and we accept the rules of the game. They are, what they are. We don’t have a solution – it’s just a new idea and a different way of distribution.
Do you see yourself as photographers, activists, or both?
We don’t consider ourselves as activists. We are photojournalists, and our work’s purpose is to witness and document stories, and to make them visible to the public. #Dysturb shows that there are multiple ways to achieve this: by publishing it through traditional media platforms like magazines, newspapers, TV channel or websites even through your own personal social networks. What about public spaces like the streets? In every public space, within most cities, advertisement billboards surround people. #Dysturb wants to be seen as much as Nestlé, Apple or Coca Cola. Photography, and specifically photojournalism, is a universal language that has the power to demolish stereotypes. It can trigger discussions, alert consciences and assist people with understanding current world events, and to some extent, understand the world in which we live. One could question the purpose of Coca Cola, Nike and Nestlé advertisements. I don’t think I am an activist for saying this.
Do you think that images or videos have more potential than written words?
All three media can convey on different levels. As I mentioned, images are a universal language. People in the streets don’t have time to stop and read. A picture in large format allows passersby to look for a second and they immediately understand what it’s about. A caption can help the contextualization, of course. It is important to remember that humans are very visually orientated, and we have a visual memory. When people think about 9/11, for example, they will instantly think of images from the event rather than articles they read.
I’ve seen a couple of your photographs in Paris, but none of them were taken in Europe. Are there any thematic restrictions? How do you manage to be up-to-date?
As soon as we see the necessity to speak about a certain subject, we will put it up. It doesn’t matter if it is about border conflicts, anorexia, pollution or overfishing in Asia. There is no thematic restriction. For example, pesticides for the cultivation of genetically engineered soybeans pollute hectares of land in Argentina. Farmers are suffering from cancer and babies are born with diseases, and malformations. It is important to speak about this. We have people who work on this topic and we give visibility to them and their work. To be aware of what is happening in the world is both, our right and our duty as citizens. This year we published a lot of photographs on Syria and Ukraine because they are both major events. However, we have one rule: We never show images related to news from the country we are displaying in. We didn’t publish photographs of the events around Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Since we had to leave to London the next day, we printed our photographs within 24 hours and pasted them there.
Do you also display violent images?
We want our pictures to be appropriate for everyone. It is a fact that a lot of photos make history because they showed shocking or violent scenes. Sometimes this is the best way to represent the matter of urgency. The famous photo of the Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture, by Kevin Carter, is such an example. The public criticized his ethics for taking this picture instead of intervening in the situation. However, it’s not the purpose of photojournalists to save the people. We are not doctors and we don’t go there to provide them with food or medicine. We are there because we want to tell people stories and we believe we contribute a cause by doing so.
Is there a common ground between your project and street art?
We don’t consider our work as art. We are journalists who display photographs that have a current information value. It is unlikely that we would publish a picture just because it is a beautiful shot. Also, we don’t paste in any illegal spots, neither do we vandalize. That is why we use very thin paper and water-based adhesive.
What are your plans for the future?
We would like to establish networks all over the world – our plan is to implement an ambassador in every city or country who coordinates a national network and works with journalists, institutions and schools.
// Interview by Fanny Hauser