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Interviews

Ed Ou: shooting Somalia and the
Arab Spring

© Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images
December 2011

Canadian photographer Ed Ou (Reportage by Getty Images) has been a photojournalist since he was a teenager and has worked for Reuters, the Associated Press and Reportage by Getty Images. Still aged only 25 he has shot stories in the Middle East, Africa and Europe and in 2011 won first prize in the Contemporary Issues Stories category of the World Press Photo Contest. In a CPN video interview Ed Ou discusses his career, reveals the stories behind some of his best-known images, talks about his recent work in Somalia, and explains how he covered the ‘Arab Spring’ earlier in 2011.

Ed Ou began his career as a photojournalist as a teenager when he covered the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the fall of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu, Somalia; all whilst he was still completing his studies in the Middle East.

© Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images

Egyptian youths: (from left to right) Mustafa El-Kashef, 16, Hanin Tarek, 18, Ziad Tarek, 19 (holding laptop) and Amor Eletrebi (with cigarette) use laptops, posting video they shot earlier in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, on 7 February 2011. A group of Egyptian youths collected testimonies and voices of the protesters in Tahrir Square, and published them on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Ou initially worked for Reuters and the Associated Press out of Jerusalem, covering a wide range of news stories in the region, and he was also an intern for The New York Times. After completing his university studies he moved to Kazakhstan to document the tragic consequences of Soviet nuclear weapons testing at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in North East Kazakhstan.

His work from Kazakhstan was recognised with a ‘highly commended’ in the 2009 Ian Parry Scholarship and, at the time, Ou explained to CPN: “Generations of Kazakh people have been, and will continue to be affected by unprecedentedly high levels of radiation for years to come – but very few people in the West are aware of what has happened.”

As well as the aforementioned recognition from the Ian Parry Scholarship Ed Ou has been a recipient of a Global Vision Award from POYi, and has had other recognition from the Overseas Press Club, Best of Photojournalism, PDN Photo Annual and UNICEF, among others.

He was selected for a Getty Images Editorial Grant and chosen by Photo District News (PDN) for the PDN ‘30 Under 30’ that selects the world’s best emerging photographic talents. Ou took part in the World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass in 2010 and is also a contributor to The New York Times’ Lens Blog website.

In Somalia in early 2010 Ed Ou documented refugees as they fled the country and made the perilous journey on smuggler boats across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. This story – ‘Escape from Somalia’ – secured Ou first prize in the Contemporary Issues Stories category of the 2011 World Press Photo Contest.

In 2010, he spotted child soldiers manning a checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia, and this led to his investigative report about child soldiers fighting for the Somali Transitional Government – it ran as a front page story in The New York Times newspaper. In the CPN video interview Ou reveals the story of how his images of Somalian child soldiers, after publication in The New York Times, served as evidence at a US congressional hearing that the US government was violating international law by supporting a government that uses child soldiers.

This story was then discussed at the United Nations Security Council and pressure was applied to the Somali government to stop the use of child soldiers. Ou revealed: “It was interesting to me to see how the immediacy of one single image, along with very thorough investigative reporting, could grab peoples’ attention so that people were forced to look at it, even if they wanted to or not.” The report on child soldiers in Somalia went on to win Ed Ou the City of Perpignan Young Reporter’s Award at the 2011 Visa pour l’Image international festival of photojournalism, and his images of child soldiers in Somalia featured in a major exhibition at Visa pour l’Image 2011.

In a wide-ranging CPN video interview Ed Ou discusses his work and how being a young photojournalist has sometimes helped him in assignments, such as covering the youth involvement in the uprising in Egypt earlier in 2011. Ou explained: “What I found is that a lot of the people who are driving these uprisings in the Middle East are youth. For me it’s fascinating to see what people my age are doing; my age has a lot to do with the fact that people accept me into their lives. As a photographer it’s very important to find stories that relate to your vantage point. It’s like looking back at yourself – what do I like to challenge? What do I find unfair about this world? What would I like to change?”

Ou also gives the benefit of his experience of carving out a career as a photojournalist and reveals what equipment he carries in his kitbag to enable shoots that are often carried out in extreme low light conditions. Just click on the video window in the banner above, or click the pop up link in the first paragraph of this article, to watch the full Ed Ou interview with CPN.

Biography: Ed Ou

Ed Ou

Photojournalist Ed Ou began his career covering the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the fall of the Islamic Courts in Mogadishu, Somalia. He worked for Reuters and the Associated Press out of Jerusalem and moved to Kazakhstan to document the consequences of Soviet nuclear weapons testing. In Somalia he followed refugees as they fled the country and, in 2010, his investigative report about child soldiers fighting for the Somali Transitional Government made the front page of The New York Times. Ou has won many awards, including first prize in the Contemporary Issues Stories category of the 2011 World Press Photo Contest and the City of Perpignan Young Reporter’s Award at the 2011 Visa pour l’Image international festival of photojournalism.



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