John Moore is a finalist for Nicest Guy On the Planet competition. O.K., there is no such thing but seriously, what a super guy. Mike worked with John at the Albuquerque Tribune (The Trib’s last day of publication was Saturday, February 23, 2008) close to 20 years ago and saw then that he was one talented, sincere, considerate person who made pictures that reflected these and other endearing aspects of his personality. And so it has been as John has trotted the globe since then.
We catch up with him in Pakistan, days after World Press recognized his photographs of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. And he just won First Place: News Picture Story and an Award of Excellence in the Pictures of the Year International competition currently being judged in Columbia at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Update 2.27.2008 Congratulations to John for winning Magazine Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition!
[RT] John, share with us a bit about your background:
Moore: I guess I started out with photography in high school in Irving, Texas. I took a Photography 1 class, mostly because I thought it would be fun and easy. Turned out that it was, so I continued with it, although anymore it is not always easy. I went to college at the University of Texas at Austin and during the summers interned at various newspapers, starting with The Idaho Statesman, then The Pittsburgh Press, The Sacramento Bee and the Albuquerque Tribune. Some months after graduating from college I was offered a post in Nicaragua by the Associated Press. I didn’t earn much there, but it was a great way to start my international career. Subsequently, I was posted for the AP (Associated Press) in India, South Africa, Mexico and Egypt, totaling almost 14 years with the company. I left the AP in 2005 to join Getty Images and have been based in Islamabad ever since, working around the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.
[RT] You’ve been in Pakistan for a little over 2 years. How has that compared to the other counties you’ve worked in?
Moore: We actually came here because my wife had a job offer as bureau chief for ABC News, based in Islamabad, which is probably the cleanest and most user friendly capital in South Asia. This was a nice change for me, as my previous postings (then for the AP), were in Cairo, Mexico City and New Delhi, which are all huge, chaotic and indescribably polluted cities.
[RT] The elections in Pakistan were such a dynamic situation. How do you figure out what to cover? Do you have a day to day plan that fits into an overall one?
Moore: I covered this election with two other Getty photographers, and yes, it was difficult to know where the pictures would be on this one. One of our photographers, Paula Bronstein, covered Peshawar out near the Afghan border. As a woman, she was able to really work well in that area, which is very conservative and where men are not generally allowed to photograph women. Plus it is a very colorful area, very wild, and that made for strong photography. I had another photographer in Lahore, which a major city important to the opposition party. I left myself open and ultimately covered the American observers watching the elections. We expected some violence following the vote, but were happily surprised at how smooth the election went. It was a rare good day for Pakistan.
[RT] You were in close proximity to Benazir Bhutto when she was killed, and you’ve talked about that day on other sites. Have there been other experiences that rivaled that one during your career?
Moore: There have been close calls in different countries. In January of last year I almost stepped on a “pressure plate” IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Ramadi while out on a night mission with the Marines. While covering the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006 I was standing right next to an Israeli humvee that a Hezbollah RPG blew up. Of course there are probably many close calls one never knows about. Fortunately I have never been seriously injured.
[RT] Congratulations on the World Press award and your awards (so far) in POYi… do you think there’s a different aesthetic appreciation in Europe than the United States – and in Latin and Asian countries for that matter?
Moore: The judging, of course, is different every year, as there are always new judging panels for each contest. That said, I think that World Press tends to lean more towards the artistic and esoteric side of photojournalism and POYi might lean slightly towards the journalistic side. Both leanings are completely valid and the differences in outcomes for each contest reveal different tastes. I think this is good. It would be so boring if all the competitions had the same winners.
[RT] How do you and your family juggle the pressures of wide ranging coverages you attend to?
Moore: Living in the developing world, we have a lot of domestic help, including a wonderful nanny who helps with our two young girls. Without this sort of assistance, two fulltime jobs in this chaotic environment wouldn’t be possible, especially with my frequent travels.
[RT] Last year Memorial Day, you made a beautiful and sad image of a young woman lying beside her fiance’s grave… many people connected with that image and wrote to you. What makes an image go beyond simply recording to elicit an emotion?
Moore: The image seems to have touched on a deep sadness many people in our country feel due to the human sacrifices made in these wars we are fighting. It is a photo about lost love, which is probably the most common, enduring and most powerful theme in cinema, theater, music.
[RT] Describe your workflow; including how images you file are selected. Do you work with a photo editor?
Moore: I am pretty much on my own out here. I am in contact with several Getty photo editors in London and New York, but that is more about coverage plans than anything else. On a daily basis I edit my own work, which is not always easy. For contest purposes, I worked on the edit with two editors in my New York office, all via the internet from my home here in Pakistan.
[RT] What is the market today and how has it changed in the last 5-10 years?
Moore: Of course the market today is interested in multi-media much more than before. I also shoot some video and sometimes record sound to go with online photo slide shows. That said, organizations like Getty are still trying to figure out how to make money at multimedia, as internet subscribers have now been conditioned to receive free content. Multimedia aside, the still image retains the power that it has always has had. Add some natural sound and perhaps a narrative to a strong slide show of stills and more likely than not, it is going to be a more powerful production than it would have been in video.
[RT] Much of your career has been in places of conflict. You were part of the AP team who won a pulitzer (2005) for coverage of the conflict in Iraq. What do you know about working in these environments no
w that would have been helpful early in your career?
Moore: Much of my early work was more on the feature side, concentrating on social issues. I also covered politics, natural disasters, etc. My first real experience in a really dangerous conflict zone was Somalia back in 92’, and I covered Bosnia in 95’, the Taliban in Afghanistan in 96’, Congo a few times. Still, I covered these conflicts only on an assignment basis, each for a month or so. It was not until after 9/11 that I began to specialize in conflict coverage. It is very rare for our country to be fighting two wars at once, and feel some sort of responsibility to cover Iraq and Afghanistan, for both personal and historical reasons. It is a little hard to explain.
|Iraq: Progress at a Price. John Moore/Getty Images||Pakistan on the Brink. John Moore/Getty Images|
[RT] A question about safety. What do you rely on?
Moore: In many instances the best protection in dangerous situations is simply to rely on one’s instincts. My instincts have been honed by a lot of experience, so I ignore them at my peril. Of course there are risks in this business, but I try to measure them as best as I can. While embedded with military forces, I wear a flack jacket and helmet, as well as ballistic eye protection. One of the worst fears is kidnapping, both in Iraq and Afghanistan and I almost always travel with the military in areas where that is an issue.
[RT] Being on the ground in conflict zones, what do we (Americans) not seem to understand? How do you get around your own filters?
Moore: I think that many Americans assume that what they perceive to be good for the United States should be good for the people in other countries. Take the case of President Musharraf here. The Bush administration and many Americans think that he is an important ally against global terrorism and that he should remain in power. Could you imagine if President Bush fired the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice and then later declared martial law in the United States so that he could jail most vocal Democrats in Congress, shut down all the television networks for five weeks, and then replace the entire Supreme Court with his supporters? Could you imagine all that so that he could remain in office for another term? Well, that is what Musharraf did and most Pakistanis were pretty upset by all of it.
[RT] What plans do you have for the rest of your career?
Moore: I wish I could say what my plans are, but we don’t have any immediate plans. This year 2008 is going to be a very interesting one here in Pakistan, although I hope much less violent than last year. I would like to continue covering this country, but by next year, it might be time for a change. We will have lived in the Islamic world for almost 6 years by then. Where next is uncertain, but I want to continue making pictures just as now. The world is full of great stories to tell.
For a first-person account of John’s experience of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, visit The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto on Getty Images’s blog.
Interviews on Deck: Vincent J. Musi, Rick Smolan. | Let us know who you would like us to chat with next. | Got a question about photography or editing photos? We’ll collect your queries and work on getting you answers. We’d love to hear from you. Submit a comment below. | Musings about photography by Mike Davis: Coming soon.