Covering Funerals Turned Protests

Late last month I covered the funeral of Mohammad al-Jawawneh for the AP. He was a 17-year-old Jordanian kid who was shot dead (along with another Jordanian man) by a security guard at the Israeli embassy after allegedly attacking him with a screwdriver. 

Both governments swiftly issued gag orders on the incident, Israel claimed diplomatic immunity for a security guard, Jordanian police weren't allowed to question him, and the embassy staff were evacuated. This was in the midst of already high tensions around al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which the Jordanian government was working behind the scenes to resolve. 

As a result, many different accounts and rumors swirled following the killing - some said it was a knife, others a screwdriver, others said the boy hadn't attacked anyone at all. What I think is most likely is this: Jawawneh, working his summer job as a furniture delivery man for his family's company, shows up, and it dawns on him that he's working with Israelis. Already incensed by seeing the events in Jerusalem play out on the news, he does something rash and makes a bad decision. The security guard over-reacts, not only killing a teenager (rather than, say wounding him), he also kills an innocent bystander, the landlord for the building.

Placards are seen at the funeral of Mohammed al-Jawawdeh, a 17-year-old Jordanian, who was killed on Sunday evening by an Israeli security guard who said he was attacked by him with a screwdriver, on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Lindsey Leger)

Placards are seen at the funeral of Mohammed al-Jawawdeh, a 17-year-old Jordanian, who was killed on Sunday evening by an Israeli security guard who said he was attacked by him with a screwdriver, on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Lindsey Leger)

I'm thinking of this more now in the wake of the white supremacist riots that recently hit the quiet college town of Charlottesville, VA, and I can't help but think covering something like that would be much scarier to me. As I arrived for the funeral that morning, I was nervous, obviously not belonging there - in a crowd of hundreds of men, the only women I saw were those going in and out of the house, and watching from across the street.

But I started working, approaching people, asking questions, and it got easier. As more and more people gathered for the noon prayers, the other photographers from local media stood on the sidelines. They helped me find out when things were going to happen, where I should wait, and inevitably, wanted to chat about what kind of gear we were all shooting with.

This kind of thing happens just about weekly in the West Bank, but this is rare here in quiet Jordan, and the tension was palpable. It's something of a difficult position to be in as a journalist. Obviously, I don't think people should solve problems by attacking one another. But at the same time, I could absolutely see Jordanians' point of view - which is that two citizens were shot dead in their own country by a foreign assailant, and that person would never face a day in court, let alone jail. And of course I could feel for the family grieving the loss of their teenage son - his father entered the funeral tent absolutely in pieces, crying aloud.

After the prayers, the crowd began to march to the cemetery, some 300m away, chanting, waving flags and signs. When I was pushing my way through a crowd, inevitably someone would call out "make way, there's a girl here" and a path would be cleared. And guys helped pull me onto trucks so I could have a better vantage point.

They marched a few blocks, briefly confronting police at Middle East Circle in Wehdat. A couple of times, someone set off what sounded like fireworks, and we all ducked. And then it was over.

I sat down in a shady spot on the curb to quickly edit and file my pictures. Throughout the day, young boys had been dutifully coming over to offer me water or bring me a chair. This time, a boy, about 10 years old, approached me and asked, "Miss, can I see pictures of my brother?"
"Who's your brother?" I asked.
"The shaheed (martyr)," he answered.

That gutted me. His using the word "martyr" crushed something in me. That he had experienced this loss at that age, that something in his thinking had already, inevitably shifted as a result. I wanted to hug him, but as I apologized, he was already leaving.

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Travel + Letting go of Things

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In 10 days I'll be en route to Malaysia to meet up with my husband for vacation - I realized our 10 days there is the most consecutive time we've spent together all year, and probably our last real vacation for a couple of years, as I'll probably be using all my vacation time for school in the future. Which is a little depressing. It's also weird but somehow comforting to be thinking in three-year chunks of time, as opposed to what will happen three months from now. I'm sure life will still manage to throw us surprises though.

But for now, I'm excited. Excited to eat all the food, excited to leave my laptop at home, excited to just travel with a backpack and a point-and-shoot camera for once. I have a fair bit of editing to wrap up before I leave, and I've scheduled my last video interview hours before I head to the airport.

Behold, the lightest I've ever traveled. Or something close to this anyway. We'll have a couple days of sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur, followed by four days of jungle trekking with a friend, a day amidst tea plantations, and three days of beach time.

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You know that feeling when you arrive in a new place with a neatly packed suitcase of your basic necessities, no clutter to clean, a comfortable pair of shoes, and you're ready to go out and explore and enjoy the day? I noticed that last year when we went to Puerto Rico, and earlier this summer when I went to visit my mother. That feeling has made me want to make some changes at home. I want less stuff. I want the things I do have to be good quality or bring back good memories when I see them. So yesterday I cleared out six bags of clothing from my closet. I still have an embarrassing amount of sweaters, but I've come to the conclusion that if I'm happier and more comfortable wearing a pair of black trousers and some sort of neutral top, why do I have all these flowy, colorful things in my closet?

I plan to continue this onslaught in the rest of my house, digitizing papers I've been holding onto, throwing out and organizing junk. And then this needs to happen with my digital life and photo gear, where I am anything but a minimalist. I had already shed a lot of stuff when we moved from a 3-bedroom apartment to a 1-bedroom with a tiny kitchenette (in that area, my kitchen actually does look like it belongs in the house of a hardcore Japanese minimalist), but it's still shocking how much stuff we managed to accumulate. In my photo gear cabinet, I have a lot of stuff I can't bring myself to part with, but I also for some reason have a broken Nikon-mounted lens (I shoot with Canon) that took up residence about a year ago, ancient 1 gb memory cards, camera straps I hate, and God knows what else. (For what it's worth, my husband is the one who tells me to keep these camera straps ("it's a nice color and you never know") and he has way more clothes than I do.)

For me, the onset of autumn (we're still a couple months away from cool weather, but in my mind it should happen tomorrow) feels more like a new year than January. Maybe it's because Eid al-Adha is coming up, or because of traveling, or because 20+ years of going back to school in the fall has drilled it into me, but this is when I prefer to hit the reset button and make changes. Like sleeping at a decent hour, feeding myself regularly, running and doing yoga, reading books - all that stuff I like to do in theory.

Cheers to working smarter, learning more, and making more time for the people and things we love.

Staying Organized on Long-Term Video Projects

This year was the first time I had video projects that spanned more than one or two field visits - in one case, there were several field visits, interviews in multiple languages, different locations, spread out over several months. How do you stay organized (and not have panic attacks every time you have to dive back into editing)? This is an ongoing learning process for me, but here's what's worked well so far.

1. Rename and keyword on import
I started using Prelude for this - which is mostly useful if you're then going to edit in Premiere, but even if you're working with FCP or Davinci Resolve (which I love love love for color correcting), it helps to get your files named something more useful than MVI_4658.mov - and do it ASAP after the shoot, before you have time to forget anything or confuse your notes. So, each shoot gets its own folder organized by date/location (and sometimes subfolders if I want to break up a lot of b-roll or interviews) and gets named something like closeup_sewing_mariam.mov or hadeel_interview_003.mov. You'll waste hours scrolling through hundreds of tiny thumbnails of footage if you don't do this from the start.
If you really have terabytes and terabytes on multiple hard drives to keep organized, you might try a program like NeoFinder.

I use pen & paper because I can't type for sh*t in Arabic - and actually, I think I can write in Arabic faster than English - thank you, Semitic root system.

I use pen & paper because I can't type for sh*t in Arabic - and actually, I think I can write in Arabic faster than English - thank you, Semitic root system.

2. Transcribe & mark up interviews for subtitles
This is lots of fun to do in a language you're not fully fluent in. Obviously, this is something that might have to be subcontracted out, but if you're still going to be the one editing the footage, the interviews have to be marked in a way that you're going to be able to understand it, cut it and put together the main audio track without having an interpreter next to you all the time. For me, I break out a pen and paper - because I'm incredibly slow typing in Arabic - and alternately jot down as much as I can in Arabic, or just write down words I'm not sure about in Arabic, or jot down my rough English translation for reference. As I'm watching the video in Premiere/FCP/Resolve, I'm marking in and out points of interest that will go into my timecode sheet.
Then I open up Word (or a Google Doc) and make a timecode - a table with four columns and about a million rows. From left to right, I label my columns as "Time, File name, Arabic, English". Then each row is a ~10 second space of time in a particular file. I fill in the Arabic and what I think the subtitles should read in English. This makes it easier to copy/paste as you're filling in your subtitles. And from my experience, it makes sense to save the actual subtitling until the very last - if you make any edits to your video/audio tracks, you'll have to adjust the subtitles accordingly, and at least in Premiere, this is a lot of tedious work. At some point, I have a native speaker watch the video and read my translations and let me know if it all matches up right and makes sense to them. As with any kind of translation though, you'll have people insist that an expression should be translated a certain way that makes zero sense in English - and you'll have to find a compromise.

3. Organize by Themes & Numbers
If you have a lot of different interviews and know that you're going to have to take the good bits on certain topics and organize them into a sequence, you can make another kind of table document. So, for example, if your themes are Women's Employment (1), Agriculture technical info (2), Environment (3), you can make a chart with who said what under each category, listing the file name, what they said, and when they said it. Then all you have to do is go back and search this document for the person who said it, or the topic, or a few keywords you remember. Much easier than scrubbing back through dozens of clips if you can know the exact file and exactly when it was said.

4. Shoot and Edit for Sequences
When editing, I always like to get my main audio track (usually interviews) down before I start working on visuals. But if I know I have an interview that talks about helping kids get over trauma, and I have b-roll of kids playing or in class or with their parents, I can start putting little sequences together from that and then drop it in over the relevant audio. It helps me to break even a short video down into smaller chunks - then it's just putting together a few of these sequences, an intro, a closing, some transitions - boom, done.

5. Keep all relevant documents together
This isn't just your video files. This could be folders with still photos or logos you have to include, your transcripts and timecodes, libraries and project files, possibly even contracts, releases, and other paperwork. Assuming you have about a dozen external hard drives like me, this makes it a lot easier to share files or plug into a different computer and keep working.

When and Where I am

It's been a little over two and a half years since I moved back to the Middle East, and two years since I'd updated my portfolio in a major way. I discovered my Visura.co subscription was up this month, and with me embarking on new projects and a new job soon, I figured now was a good a time as any to change it up. Hello Squarespace! (No shade toward Visura at all - maybe I'll be back someday. Squarespace just seems like the right thing for me now).

A lot has changed since I left DC: I spent half a year in Turkey, finding my feet (personally and professionally), wound up back in Jordan, I got married, there were a couple times when I stood on three continents in one day, and there were months where I didn't unpack my suitcases.

But in more recent history, I've been taking on more and more video work for clients, and have discovered it's finally no longer something I feel like I have to force myself to do in order to stay relevant and competitive. I'm excited about finding where those "decisive moments" lay in moving pictures.

And in a few short months I'll be starting a master's program in this stuff - one that combines visual anthropology and documentary film. At some point, I'll have to shoot and produce a ~30 minute film, so I'm looking forward to being in a space with critique and mentorship again.

So anyway, this website is a leaner version of the previous one. No more old projects or repetitive galleries that don't look strong anymore. ("Killing your babies" as an old photojournalism professor would call it). So I have a few simple photo galleries, and video is front and center.

I pretty much tend to blog when I'm excited about something (which is the case right now) or when I'm bored and not doing enough work and want to feel productive. But I think I'll try to make this a place where I talk about (hopefully) useful editing/organizational techniques, talk about how projects develop over time, cultural experiences, sources of inspiration, etc.

Onward and upward.