I first met Romain Carre when I was traveling in eastern Ukraine, back in April right before civil war broke out in Donetsk. It’s a lot easier for a travel blogger like myself to stay conspicuous with this small camera in my hands but for professionals like Romain, photographing times of turmoil is much more dangerous. In Romain’s own words,
Born in Paris in 1983 I was first was into computers from the age of 10 and changed direction at 20. After different orientations (such as art school, medical school and faculty of history) I decided to orient myself on the field of photojournalism. During five years I’ve covered different fields such as Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Libya, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and others, mainly focusing on conflict fields. You can see some of my photography from these places on my site, RomainCarre.com.
Leave your questions for Romain in the comments below, he’ll be by later today to answer anything you want to know!
Romain’s work has been published in Al Jazeera, ParisMatch, VSD, Time, Elle, Le Figaro, Le Monde, le Parisien, Vesti Reporter, and FranceTv – he’s also worked for WostokPress and Sipa Agency. He’s currently in Kiev, Ukraine and will be here live chatting for two hours, from 12pm-2pm US EST to answer any and all questions you have about photographing conflict zones – all in the comments below!
Did you have problems with Turkish police?
Thanks for your question.
Well i manage to avoid a lots of poblems with Turkish police, i know a lots of colleagues and citizen journalists get beat up and arrested or had their gear confiscated and destroyed.
I had very hot moments …
Once, i was stucked in a small hotel with some demonstratos who tried to cover themselves from the gas effect. All the streets was full of riots police …
Some police officers in civil clothes stormed it and started to kick people before arrested them in a violent way. I was lucky on that one and escaped only with a small kick in the back …
My biggest problem with turkih police was trying to avoid to get shot by their rubber bullets and teargas ammunitions, riot police aimed a lot at the head and wounded very badly a lots of demonstrators and journalists(a journalist got his gasmask transperced by one teargas and his shoulder broken)
what can of protection gear do you use ?
From Facebook Michael Bunel Pro asks: do you work with protection gear ?
During riot the basic equipment is Gas Mask and a helmet(which i don’t really like because it makes yourself more visible) with a first aid kit and products to counter the effect of teargas(such as lemon, maalox, garlic …)
On a war field, if you want to approach fightings or area which are subject to shelling, you need a heavy kevlar vest, a helmet, ballistic glasses and a more complete first aid kit(with israelian bandage, tourniquet, hemostatic products, condoms, military gauze if you have etc)
An other important element is to protect yourself on internet to avoid to get caught, censured or see your data destroyed(it’s important to protect your contacts too), so we need to use programs such as Tails(Linux on a usb key)or other encrypted tools
What is the most dangerous experience you’ve encountered?
hmmm there was a lot, but i will take the most recent of my experience as an example. It happened in Ukraine on my way back from Slovyansk(eastern city who was once under separatists control) with some colleagues.
We had to pass a lots of checkpoints with men heavily armed, and had to show our passport and an accreditation paper from Slovyansk and Donetsk administration, which i didn’t had by the time.
We were stopped at one of those chekpoints and one of the guys insisted a lot to get those papers, it was very long minutes of negociations as he suspected that i was a spy, which, by that time, meant getting kidnapped and torture.
Hopefully our driver helped …
Does being French help? (Better than American?) Or it doesn’t matter?
Sometimes yes it helped. Being American is most of the time not very good
especially in eastern of Europe, i don’t really know why but they love us, ukrainian and pro-russian, it’s a little confused.
But they hate american
oh and where is the most dangerous place??
The most dangerous place is the place where i won’t be able to manage my emotions or where i’m sure i will be alone in front of an imminent danger.
When i say emotion it’s to be able to act like normal when someone aim at you with a gun while an other one ask you questions(it’s just an example, there is a lot …)
For the moment i would say the place under IS control, there is some kind of media black out due to kidnapping of journalists.
Here’s some of Romain’s work:
From Gezi Park protests in Istanbul:
Libyan refugee camp:
What has been the hardest thing for you to photograph? Have there been any shots that you took that you either couldn’t bring yourself to publish or that your editors simply refused to use because of the content?
thanks for your question, people who lost someone or a big part of their life(it can be because of war, or because of natural disaster) are very difficult to photograph as there’s a lots emotions and you kind of don’t feel like you are in the right place.
I remember recently a young woman lost her husband(he was a civilian not a fighter) who died during a shooting, his car was full of bullets. We went to the funerals and were welcomed by the family and relatives who encouraged us to make photos … but it was really tough emotionally speaking as everybody was crying, the child fainted … the pain was very strong.
I usually try not to take pictures which i consider not “ethic”(i’m not sure if this is the right word …) or not “publishable”(which is more a subjectiv matter …) In conflict a lots of people die, are wounded, you have to witness that, but you have to be aware of what you are doing/showing, it can have consequences(mostly psychological and sometimes on a professionnal side).
An other thing is, if i ever take a picture of someone in distress i will never just take a shot and move away, if i can help in any way i will try to do it, and i know for a fact that a lots of colleagues will do the same.
Can I ask how much such a job pays, on average?
well there is not really average pays for a freelancer, in this kind of work. It can start from 0€ a month(if you don’t manage to sell anything) to a lots(in some very rare occasions let say 3000).
If you want to make money, don’t work as a conflict photographer but as a people photographer or fashion/studio photographer 🙂
I’m surprised to read that, I would think there is less competition in conflict photography!
there is competition when you are doing hot news, you come one day on the field and you leave the next day and you have to try be the first to have the best picture possible and sell it fast, i’m not doing that(at least i don’t stay only one day)
And it’s hard for freelancer to do it that way because of the wired agency which have a lots of equipment to make direct sending from the camera. So you have to collaborate with other photographers to share the costs, which make it less competitive.
how much of the year are you travelling?
it depends, sometimes i’m travelling like 6 full months during a year, sometimes 3 months a year.
What equipment do you carry?
I have 1 Nikon D3, a Nikon D800 with one 50mm f1.8, 14-24mm f2.8, 80-200mm f2.8 a bunch of flashcards, my computer with card reader, first aid kit, my knife, skateboard helmet, ballistic glasses, 2 or 3 phones, my gasmask and sometimes a kevlar and heavy helmet and my notebooks(and of course good shoes and sometimes clothes ahah and a basic dictionnary for common words).
How do you pack all of those things! Is it hard for airport security?
No problem so far with airport security 🙂
ahah i have a big bag 🙂 most of the time i rent the kevlar vest on the field so i don’t have to carry it all the way.
where will you go next?? any places you’re too scared to go
i have some project in Sweden(which is not a very dangerous ahah), but i think to come back in Ukraine as the situation is far from being over … and i start to speak better russian 🙂
Yes, i will never put a foot in the Syrian sector control by IS.
Hi Romain, looking forward to today’s chat…
You mention that if you’re in a situation to help someone in need while photographing a dangerous situation, you will. Does that create any conflict for you in terms of impartiality? Are there any guidelines photojournalists follow, whether hard or street rules?
It’s a difficult question.
In term of partiality i consider myself as neutral(or at least i’m trying, and it’s not very easy …) so even if i see a cops very badly injured i will try to help, and trust me it’s not so easy …
The main guidelines is : pay attention to the people who are with you, try to be never alone, at least with one good friend at worst with the most trustable people you can find. And never put yourself in danger, you are a target for a lots of people
I would imagine having the “press” sign on your is at the same time as frightening as it is reassuring…
it’s not reassuring at all, especially nowadays, it’s like wearing a big sign saying “hello it’s me go for it”.
I can’t count the number of situation i had to ran away from police or demonstrators just because i have a camera …
What’s the strangest conflict you’ve been in – like, most bizarre?
i would say in Strasbourg, during the riots for the 60th NATO anniversary.
I was with some clown activists who were running in the city to try to join the big clashes. We were chased by heavy riots cops and find our way through a psy hospital, even the security helped us, it was very fun and weird in a way as it was a big guerilla not very far from there(they burned 2 very big building that day)
What is your regular work day like? If there is such a thing and how do you process your photos?
Looking everyday for new information, following what is happening on other countries, sometimes making pictures of politics, running after activists action in France/Europe, praying to have a phone call for some assignments, keeping contact with friends from abroad, working on my network … It’s a routine, but it’s important to try to keep track of events.
I usually shoot in Raw files(most of my colleagues shoots in jpeg) as i want to have maximum confort to work on my photos(no deterioration out of the box).
After i export it on Lightroom, make a quick review of my pictures, mark the ones i think “works” and after delete the one which doesn’t work.
After that i make a slight modification over contrast, exposition and write the legends, copyrights informations and Tags.
I have to be quick as it has to be send the same day(sometimes in not even an hour).
My most “funny” memory was in greece, i had to send my pictures inside the entrance of a building inthe stairs, 5 meters from the fights, full of teargas, the eyes crying like crazy …
Wow, very interesting. What percentage of photos do you end up keeping of those you take?
as time goes by i try to takes only essentials pictures, to end up with only few pictures to selec, and waste less time in editing. Except when there is a lot of action, it’s hard not to going motors …
In one event, in any case i have absolutely to finish with 5 pictures which is good. 23 pictures is normal. Let say usually in one event i will take 100 pictures without rafal mode(motor) and will keep maybe 10.
you need to be accurate on your work, a bad pictures is a bad pictures, you have to be able to make that decision in 5sec if you don’t want to waste time. Newspaper wants pictures which speak
Have you ever lost a photo you really wish you could get back? Either because of technical failure, deletion, or otherwise?
Yes it happened to me some times, but i always manage to get it back thanks to recovery programs !
Do you have a particular favorite you use?
yes i use a lot PhotoRec, which is a free software and one of the moste efficient, i’m a fan
What are some of your favorite photos of yours?
definetly my photo in Ukraine of the soldier with a cross in his tank, it’s at the very beginning of the portfolio in my website(sorry can’t link it the website don’t allow it, don’t know why)
How do you protect your photos from the Internet? I’m looking to get into this field myself (although I’m older 26) but worry about how to do it plus keep pictures I take from being stolen before I sell them lol
there is absolutely no way to protect your pictures from internet.
You have to accept that when you post it on a website or on flickr etc. You can always go with lawyers but it’s a lot of money …
So act smart, send your work to agencies or galleries etc and keep some for your website, it’s your “vitrine”, it makes people like your work and maybe come back at you later to get a real quality picture
Do you drink a lot with your fellow photographic companions?
Love you bro’
ahahahah sometimes yes, but a good a beer with friends is always a good way to chill 😉
What has been the most memorable thing you’ve taken a photo of? Why?
ok a little story(i have many other but this one is kind of special…)
it was in Tunisia, little time after the revolution. There was a lots of people, young most of the time(sometimes parents sent their children who were around 8years old, one of the guy in charge to help those illegals showed me a video on his phone), who wanted to leave for Europe, the place they considered more or less as an eldorado.
I followed one of those guy, his name was Farid, 25years old, he was a leather artisan and sold all his machines and workshop to pay his passage to Europe. I met him in some dirty hotel in Zarzis. The guy from the reception told me he didn’t went out from his room for something like 3 or 4 consecutives days.
When i talked to him he explained me that, when he was in his boat, they had a breakdown with some others boats, all full. He was “lucky” as he escaped, but his friends were not so lucky … He lost all his luggage and the money he invested to leave. He wanted to get his money back to try again but without success.
After some weeks we ended in a taxi who, by chance, knew they were departure the same night and lead us on a beach lost in the middle of the desert, with only the moon for light …
With the taxi driver and Farid we were welcomed at a “checkpoint” by guys with weapons who checked us before going further. After that we ran to some direction( i had no fucking idea where i was going to be honest …) and met a guy, kind of drunk, escorted by two big let say “bodyguards”, he happened to be the organisator and was very pissed because one of the captains ran away with the money(to give you an idea, every guy had to pay something like 1000€, there was maybe more than 20 migrants …).
Just before leaving Farid, the guy looked at me and told me “you are lucky you are with my brother(the taxi driver), else …”, no need to say that i was more than happy to leave, even if my taxi was laughing when he saw that i was a “little” scared 😉
The next day i received an sms from Farid. His boat was sinking and he had to go back swimming and walked 40km because he wanted to avoid police on the road …
I left him the same day and received an sms a few months later saying he finally succeed to reach Vladivostok. That was the last time i heard from him.
It was on the website but i removed him, i will reupload it later.
Its some real business, this can be dangerous or some times life threatening as well. Be safe brother!