Glenna Gordon is a free-lance photojournalist and writer newly based in Monrovia, Liberia. View her portfolio at GlennaGordon.com. Follow her on her blog, Scarlet Lion. Here, she talks with CS&W about the trials and adventures of living and working in the (very) developing world:
1. You’re currently living in Liberia, after living in and reporting from Uganda. What’s the Africa connection? And why choose as a base what must be one of the more challenging cities from which to work – Monrovia? You read all the time about photojournalists who base themselves in Nairobi or Jo’burg, places with most of the creature comforts, and then just drop themselves into the action.
– I don’t want to drop into anything – I prefer to be based where I want to work and travel from there. That way, there are fewer people doing the kind of work I want to do and I can really focus on my own projects. Uganda was very comfortable and cheaper than Nairobi, and I got a lot of Uganda specific work, so it made sense. Now I’m getting a lot of Liberia specific work, so it’s just a matter of how long I’m okay being less than comfortable, which Monrovia definitely is.
As for the Africa connection, I never really planned to come to Africa. But I had just finished journalism school, which I disliked so much that I thought I didn’t want to be a journalist, and I came to visit my brother who was working in Rwanda at the time and tried my hand at journalism here and feel in love with the potential for stories and images that I felt Africa held, and still holds, for me.
2. Which leads to the next question, and I guess it applies in general to the free lancer: Which came first – the location or the job? In other words, did you decide to move to Kampala (then Monrovia) and then look for places to contribute your writing and photos, or did you get an assignment that took you there first? Is the way it happened for you the way it happens for most free lancers like yourself? Do you get assignments from your editors, or do you decide what’s important, write it and then pitch it? Maybe both?
– Little bit of both. In Rwanda, I worked for a local paper, and the editor there put me in touch with a local paper in Uganda. When I was feeling ready to leave Uganda, I started researching other places to go. Liberia seemed like a good option as there aren’t many journalists based here. I then got in touch with some people who pull purse strings, and they gave me the go ahead.
As for individual stories, most of the time I pitch to editors or outlets that I have relationships with, and then they say yeah or nay. Sometimes they tell me they’re looking for a specific story, but that’s only occasionally. And if there’s breaking news, it’s a joint decision.
3. It must be hard to get certain things done living in a place like Monrovia that we take for granted back home. I’m thinking of just basic internet access, or, say, camera maintenance if you should need it. Any stories you’d like to share?