By Kemiso Wessie

In recent years, the landscape of photojournalism in Africa has experienced significant transformations, propelled by technological advancements, shifts in media paradigms, and evolving social dynamics. Nevertheless, photojournalism still stands out as a powerful tool, capable of capturing the essence of a moment in a single frame.

AJENda spoke with Leon Sadiki, mentor in photography at the Wits Centre for Journalism (WCJ), about the importance of photojournalism in an age of AI and other digital advancements and about shaping the next generation of visual storytellers in Africa.

“It means different things to different people. [However, at its core] the purpose of photojournalism is to communicate stories as simply as possible.” He emphasises that the beauty of photography lies in its universality; an image can transcend language barriers, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage with the narrative it portrays.

Beyond that, photojournalism serves a deeper function – that of providing context and preserving history. “The impact that images have created [have] changed the course of history,” Sadiki explains using Sam Nzima’s photograph of Hector Pietersen during the 1976 Soweto uprising as an example. He adds that the image made the international community aware of the injustices in South Africa.

Like journalism at its core, ethics forms a stable foundation of responsible photojournalism, particularly in an era marked by digital advancements. “We live in a more digitised time where people then push the boundaries, where they want to manipulate the stories,” Sadiki noted. Where technology has made images susceptible to manipulation, photojournalists are tasked with upholding the integrity of their narratives. “We need to give a true representation of the stories that we are attempting to tell,” Sadiki asserted.

Sadiki advises that while being cognisant of the digital space and the change in how readers want their news, more challenges rest on the shoulders of the newsroom in terms of ethics and fact-checking. He says that he encourages his mentees to be passionate about what they do because, as he says, “If you’re not passionate, there’s a chance of manipulation.”

Sadiki acknowledged the intersection of creativity and authenticity in storytelling all within the confines of journalistic integrity. “There’s a difference between a mere person with a camera and a trained photojournalist,” he remarks. As custodians of visual narratives, photojournalists must harness their creative faculties to capture the essence of a story faithfully.

Beyond technical proficiency, photojournalism demands a discerning eye for composition, lighting, and the subtle nuances that breathe life into an image. In essence, the mark of a good photojournalist lies in balancing technical mastery with a profound understanding of human experience.

With ongoing conflicts, wars and injustice in Palestine and the Democratic Republic of Congo where many media colleagues have lost their lives, Sadiki says that there needs to be greater focus on training students to navigate those spaces in terms of safety and managing stress. “We’ve seen a lot of our colleagues falling by the wayside because of things that they’ve seen,” he states. He highlights the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) and the Market Photo Workshop for their work in advocacy, education and sharing information.

On better preparing future journalists, Sadiki also acknowledges the importance of newsrooms encouraging journalists to understand and partake in photography and photojournalism to diversify their craft to avoid the possibility of layoffs and also to make way for more freelance opportunities.

At the WCJ, Sadiki guides aspiring journalists in honing their craft. Unlike subjects such as mathematics, where formulas can be taught and replicated, photojournalism is deeply intertwined with the individual’s keenness for storytelling. “[When people] tell you about their lives, you need to find a creative way to communicate that. And I think it comes with how passionate you are about your subjects [and] how you want to communicate that particular story so my job is just basically trying to assist them to find the most creative ways to tell those stories,” he says.

Sadiki’s approach to mentorship is rooted in the belief that storytelling is an art form fueled by authenticity and empathy. Through personalised guidance and encouragement, Sadiki empowers his mentees to uncover their unique narrative voices and translate their visions into compelling visual stories.