Russell Boyce – photography on the frontline, media censorship and the choice between family and war

Africa – the second largest and second most populated continent on the planet. Home to the fastest growing economies, a wide variety of religious beliefs and 54 nations consisting of instability, corruption, war and famine. Reuters – the hub of journalistic photography. A rich 166 year history, with a backbone of a $31.4 million Canadian multimedia firm. Combine the two, and you have the job of Russell Boyce. A journey from a degree in Fine Art at the University of Hull to the Middle East and Africa Editor for Reuters doesn’t come without sacrifice; the years in between patched with desk-work and freelancing. Now, his job is critically important to several news outlets worldwide. 

Part of a team of photojournalists covering Africa for Reuters, Russell Boyce has encountered it all. Regardless of this, he debunks the myth that you must travel outside of your norm to capture high-level photography. “You don’t have to go to Nepal to shoot great pictures, just think, someone in Nepal would love to shoot pictures of someone drinking tea in a cafe here, it’s all about perspective.” Whilst biting the bullet and asking questions may be a skill required for a journalist, Boyce also talks about the need for situational logic. Taking pictures of sensitive subjects can be tricky, clarification may be needed on one hand, whilst on the other hand the picture may disappear if there is hesitation. Russell spent time in a morgue in Central Africa, where he said he became “immune” to the sight of a dead body, and shooting pictures of such became second nature. Photography on the frontline is something that requires more than photographic skill, and with experience, Russell Boyce has become an expert in his field.

During his lecture at London South Bank University, he demonstrates how modern technology can transport high quality images in seconds. When on the frontline, Russell sends every snap into a Reuters database, accessible only to Reuters’ photojournalists and editors. From here, chosen images are distributed to paying customers. It all sounds very simple. However, care must be taken to select the images distributed. Censorship has been an argument in and around the media for years, whilst we want a slice of reality, dead children and execution is maybe just a step too far.

The dangers of photojournalism are clear. What hit home the most was the impact felt by Russell’s partner on his career. Whilst covering Africa, it was an unwritten rule that Russell must stay in predominantly white areas to ensure his own safety. A Nigerian colleague of his, would stick to more predominantly black areas. His colleague, is now dead. Russell’s idea of covering the whole of Africa was halted by his now wife who said that being constantly immersed in war and famine would either send him insane, or end up loosing him his life. Whilst his days of covering Africa are far from over, his idea of risk vs reward photography has toned down indefinitely.