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Egyptian protests captured by photojournalist Athanasiadis

International photojournalist Iason Athanasiadis

Alison O'Leary Murray
February 11, 2011

Students in the audience gasped when a photo projected on the screen before them showed anti-government demonstrators scattering under a hail of rocks in Cairo, Egypt.

Perhaps they reacted because it seemed the rocks were flying right at them, or perhaps it was because the photographer responsible for collecting the violent images was standing in front of them, narrating events that grabbed worldwide headlines just days before.

International photojournalist Iason Athanasiadis, who covered the uprising in Egypt just days before his scheduled appearance at the Bright Family Screening Room on February 9, was invited to Emerson by the School of the Arts’ Associate Dean Shujen Wang.

Political Communication major Sheriffa Osman ’13, a native of Sudan and Cairo, was transfixed by the images. “I have friends who were in the protest; I have three friends in jail in Khartoum,” she said. “I was extremely shocked when I found out [Athanasiadis] was coming to Emerson, but I’m very happy, too.”

Another photo was of crowds standing on burned-out military vehicles, the scene backlit by both streetlights and by fires on the ground. “This just doesn’t do it justice,” Athanasaidis said of the photo. “You don’t have the sounds, the flying rocks, the Molotov cocktails crashing down, the fires raging. This crowd was a seething mass; it was overwhelming for the senses.”

There were times the photographer felt imperiled, he said. He had been in Tehran, Iran following that country’s disputed 2009 national elections and was jailed for 20 days. He explained that Iran may have arrested him because he is a freelancer, not staff of a major news organization. He was a consultant on the Emmy-winning PBS Frontline documentary about a young woman killed during the post-election protests in Iran.

While he likes the freedom that freelancing allows, including pursuing the stories and using the media of his choosing, it also means scrambling for Internet access from friends of friends so his photos may be distributed by the Corbis agency, he said.

While Athanasiadis provided a timeline of the events he witnessed and described finding men beating and interrogating others in a travel agency office near Tahrir Square, students were interested in ethical decisions he made about his coverage.

“I didn’t ask permission to photograph them,” he said in response to a student’s question. “They were kind of drunk on the revolution” and might have a different view of being photographed if embattled President Hosni Mubarak isn’t ousted, because photos may then be used to identify and repress anti-government activists. “Asking permission is complicated. I don’t have a clear-cut answer,” he admitted.

The presentation was particularly interesting to VMA major Conrad Radzik ’15, a budding photojournalist who has been to Haiti several times to document conditions there. “It was funny that he mentioned a lot of things I have experienced myself,” said Radzik, who noted that getting arrested in a foreign country was one of them. “Sometimes it felt wrong after taking photos of people, but it was something I had to get over.”

Immersion Journalism

Emerson Journalism students Spencer Neustadt, MA ’12, and Megan Gregg, MA ’11, traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kobe, Japan through a grant from the Japan Foundation. Assistant Professor Paul Niwa said the project's aim was to further understanding of Japan and Asia among future leaders of the American news media.

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