As print journalism is slowly disappearing, Poul, who is a Danish photojournalist, felt it was time to take advantage of what technology and the internet now offer and begin a new kind of photojournalism instead of mourning the loss of paper. As a result, Poul started the Bombay Flying company with another Danish photojournalist, Henrik Kastenskov, and a Canadian visual journalist Brent Foster. They produce multimedia projects for their own stories as well as for companies, photographers, NGOs and agencies. The company has already taken off. BFC has done work for the likes of Time, the New York Times, Red Cross and the Globe and Mail.
The use of multimedia is very effective in creating memorable and informative pieces for readers. For instance, Wasteland, a feature published in the Globe and Mail and the NYT is a mixture of photographs, video and narration. Their work is as artistic as it is visually informative. The Wasteland done is in black and white to emphasize the dangerous effects of a nearby coal mine and each photo is powerful in its own right. For a project done on the Aftermath of the Tsunami for Dan Church Aid, BFC made an interactive map. The reader clicks on an area and an explanation pops up with an option to see a narrated slideshow with sound effects as though you were there yourself hearing the noises of the village. Another project on Danish involvement in the Afghan war is divided into chapters like a book, which allows the viewer to appreciate the journey of the soldiers.
Q. How did you get into photography?
A. I got into photography by coincidence back in 2002. My brother was studying at the Danish School of Journalism and I met some of his friends who were photojournalists. At that time I was really unsure about what I wanted to do in my life so I bought an old camera and traveled to Indonesia for a month. I came back with a bunch of not-so-great images and decided that I wanted to become much better at shooting stills. Eventually I passed a big test and was accepted in to the Danish School of Journalism. It’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, I love being a photojournalist and I absolutely crave for storytelling and producing stories that can make a change for people.
Q. Why did you pick the name Bombay Flying Club? How did the three of you decide to collaborate?
A. During my time at the school of journalism I took a 6 month internship in India. I was a photographer with the Indian Express in Mumbai and I happened to live right opposite the real Bombay Flying Club with a bunch of good friends who were studying to become journalists. I did my first film documentary in India on a Danish travel grant with some of these friends and when I got back to Denmark again I decided to form a group of multimedia enthusiasts. We took the name Bombay Flying Club as a nostalgic reminder of a dear and memorable time in India – an amazing country that is very close to my heart. Actually I started BFC with Danish radio journalist Frederik Hoelge but after some time he got a job abroad and I decided to look for other members to join. Danish photographer Henrik Kastenskov was already a good friend of mine and he had a genuine interest in Flash programming and online storytelling so I decided to hook up with him. After a few years of doing BFC stuff in between daily assignments (we were staff photographers at two competing papers in Denmark) we asked Brent to join us. It only felt natural for us to have a new member who was based in India. Brent is an awesome guy and a very good friend. He works consistently and he has a genuine passion for visual journalism.
Q. How did you get together to found this new company and new type of photojournalism?
A. We had been experimenting with narrative web documentaries for a few years because we saw a potential for a new way of photojournalism and online storytelling. This was before web-tv and multimedia was used by the media. We were influenced by a Danish journalist called Bjarke Myrthu (former executive editor of Magnum-in-Motion) and by American medias who seemed to be the only ones in the world—at that time—who did bigger multimedia projects. Since then things have really been taking off for us and it’s has been – and is still – very exciting to navigate through this ever changing world of visual journalism. Software and broadband connections allow us to do stuff today that could not have been made only 5 years ago. It’s amazing!
Q. When you receive a request for a new project who undertakes the various tasks? How do you include your network?
A. No stories are similar and no budgets are alike. I prefer to work with either Brent or Henrik on bigger projects because we’re used to working together and because we all feel comfortable shooting video, stills, record audio and do post production. When we do bigger projects abroad we usually hire local journalists and fixers because they have unique knowledge. Sometimes we work on very small budgets and then we try to get by with what we have. It’s a lot of hard work to do this stuff independently but most papers cannot afford to hire us so we usually do bigger projects for NGOs or we simply do stories that feel must be told and these are therefore self financed. Right now Henrik and I are working on a big story – probably our most ambitious story so far – and everything is self financed. We do this because we feel that we need to tell these stories to an audience. Last year we did a story in India and we were working closely together with Danish journalist Line Wolf Nielsen who was based in Delhi. She was awesome – she had a huge network and she knew how to plan and arrange practical things for us. We only had four days to shoot the piece and everything ran smoothly because of her. We really try to help each other.
Q. Each of your projects has a different look and format. Are these your decisions or are they heavily influenced by the organization you are working for?
A. Actually a lot of our previous stories were made entirely in Flash because we thought it was fun and challenging to do the programming and the graphics as well. At that time no papers in Denmark did stuff like that (and they still don’t) so we were having fun doing things that even the big and established medias didn’t know how to do. Now we have realized that it’s too difficult to master all these different types of software that are out there and bigger budgets allow us to hire professionals with core skills. Also we have realized that video files are much easier to sell and to distribute so right now we are actually doing all of our stories in Final Cut. If we have the money or time – we hire programmers to embed these stories in flash sites. The main reason for doing different types of stories is that we want to do unique projects every time and that we want to use interactivity and graphics to present information in a creative way for the audience. Plotting stories and planning soundscapes must be our specialty. And that is why we are currently approached with a lot of international workshop offers. We’re simply up against the audience and their impatience – everything is just one click away so it’s very easy to become distracted. That’s why we do full screen stories. We want the audience to focus on what we’re about to tell them.We would much rather experiment …and “die” experimenting than become mainstream. I see a lot of boring stuff on the web and we have never made a single story in Soundslides. We want to push the limits. As our resources grow and as we are becoming an international “brand” we will have more opportunities to this. But at the end of the day it’s all about funding and budgets. If we get the money we can do stuff that no media – especially in Europe – can do. Last year we did a huge project for the Dutch paper De Volkskrant and they were very happy with it. It was probably one of the most creative multimedia projects in Europe and now we have been hired to do an even bigger project for them. Needless to say a project like that could not have been made without a solid budget or a very talented and skilled Flash programmer.
Q. Which tools do you find most effective—cameras, editing etc?
A. I work in Final Cut and Photoshop and that’s pretty much it. Then we use sound editing software as well like Soundbooth and we still use a tiny bit of Flash. But Flash has really changed over the past few years and today you have to be a hardcore programmer in order to be able to work with its features. After having spent a few years experimenting away we’re now back to good old Photo-shopping and video editing. The HD-DSLRS are amazing tools and I am really surprised to see that very few still photographers seem to have interest in using their great features. We have been backed up by Canon for some time now and their cameras like the 5D Mark II are amazing!
Q. What are the main challenges you encounter in doing work like the Wasteland for instance?
A. Wasteland was a visual experiment – it’s obvious. It’s a short and non-traditional documentary that experiments with the use of stills and video. The biggest challenges were the limited time (4 days), logistics, tiny budget and heat. It was extremely hot while we were in Jharkhand to shoot the story, the air was filled with poisonous gas and the ground was unstable and burning. It was such crazy place…but it was even crazier to see people who were forced to live there. We could only shoot between 5am and 8 am and then again between 3.30pm and 8pm. Besides being a really polluted place Jharia and Jharkhand state suffer from Naxalite rebels, which also makes it a potentially dangerous place. But if you have a hotel, a place to stay where you can plug in your gear and take a rest every now and then – then you’re ok. It’s a big challenge to gather so much material in such a short amount of time. Thankfully Globe and Mail in Canada decided to publish the story and we had amazing feedback on it. It’s been one year now almost since we did that story and loads of still photographers have visited the place since then. I am convinced that our story has helped putting focus on a place that really needs some attention from the Indian government and from the international community.
Q. From your blog, I see that you are working on a project in Denmark. Can you explain a little bit more? Are you working on any other ones at the same time?
A. We are constantly working on 2-3-4 stories – on and off – and then we also do a lot of individual photographic assignments. We have workshops and loads of other things that we have to take care of all the time. At this moment I cannot tell you about the big story we are working on right now because we need to protect our sources. It’s a subject about a national matter but of international importance. It’s a story that Henrik and I are working on/off right now and I can’t say when it will be ready to show – it all depends on how things go over the next few months. Henrik is also doing post production on a story about Nollywood for NY based photographer Guy Calaf and I am busy finishing off an English version of a web documentary from Ethiopia that I shot with Brent in November 2009. Let’s just say that things are busy and hectic right now! But we enjoy it… and hopefully we will be doing a lot of exciting projects this year.
Q. What do you hope to achieve in 2010 and how do you feel Pelime might help facilitate this?
A. I hope that 2010 will be the year where BFC gets one more member and the year where we will be publishing a very important story for the public to see. Pelime seems like the right place to be for us – it’s a sphere of talented individuals who can collaborate and/or exchange ideas across multiple platforms. And I am very excited to see if this network of creative souls can lead to something. We can share ideas and who knows – we might even be able to use each other for various tasks and work.