This award-winning French photojournalist is bringing the #Dysturb guerrilla art campaign to Stanford

Benjamin Petit looks to develop the innovative photography project within the Bay Area this year.

(Image courtesy of Benjamin Petit)

These are interesting times for photojournalism.

In the age of Instagram, photography is as popular and prevalent as ever, and yet the skill and savvy storytelling of photojournalists can often get lost within the haste of a relentless news cycle or drowned out amid a daily deluge of images.

Enter French photojournalist Ben Petit, who addressed this ever-evolving landscape by co-founding the #Dysturb campaign, which sought to give extended life to the work of photojournalists by posting (and pasting) them into the public space before repopulating them through social media. What began a few years ago as an innovative effort to air under-reported stories has since expanded to include numerous photographers and new partnerships, with the likes of the United Nations, the Magnum Foundation and Instagram.

Petit is now in the Bay Area poised to evolve the campaign during his time as a John S. Knight Fellow in Journalism Innovation at Stanford University. This weekend he will be part of a panel at the Palo Alto Photo Forum exploring the ideas behind #Dysturbed and its opportunities in the (very near) future, such as Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit happening in San Francisco next week (Sept. 12–14).

The Six Fifty caught up with Petit to ask him him a few questions ahead of his arrival to the Peninsula.

(Image via www.dysturb.com)

What are the ideas behind #Dysturb and how did it lead to the Reframe Climate Change campaign?

So, what we do as #Dysturb, we are photojournalists and at some point we decided to place our own photographs (and others) in the public space as a way to inform the widest audience.

The Reframe Climate Change campaign is an initiative that we —#Dysturb— started with the Magnum Foundation. Its first iteration was in Paris during the COP 21 [Conference of the Parties 21st meeting] during the big summit which had more than 100 presidents and government chiefs within Paris in 2015. We pasted 25 images from renowned photojournalists (and some less renowned) in the streets of Paris for this specific campaign about climate change, finding new ways to visualize and represent the effects of climate change.

And what kind of reactions have you been getting to the work that you post?

The results have been very diverse depending on the people that we meet in the street or the feedback we got on social media, it comes from either activists of climate change that are very supportive … to people who are ripping down the photos we put up. So you have a wide range of reaction to what we do. For ourselves, we don’t consider ourselves activists. We are journalists, so we are telling these stories from a wide range of journalists from around the world that are showing what they have seen. We are here to show what is happening around the world, in this case with climate change. In a way, the photographers are the messenger bringing the stories to the audience.

(Image courtesy of Benjamin Petit)

The campaign has this sort of guerrilla art component to it in an era that is hyper media-oriented. How do you match up the logistics of the campaign with its goals?

What we try to achieve is to inform the widest population, and our main presence is through social media, mostly on Instagram (@dysturb) as well as Facebook and Twitter. And we promote the photographers that we are featuring and their stories. We do interviews with them and sometimes with other researchers in the field who provide us facts and context that we paste next to the images in order to provide more context for people who see our images and want to read more about what is happening.

Photography has always been this powerful medium to show the reality of things like war and human rights violations, so on the topic of photography in the era of Instagram, do you think that the medium has become stronger or do you think its popularity has diluted its impact?

I think it has evolved for sure, but I don’t know if it is stronger or weaker. In my mind, I would say maybe stronger in the sense that it has become a way to dialogue. Before it was something that was more just one way — you would see images in a magazine. Whereas today you communicate with photography, so the usage has changed a lot.

But thanks to that it has also visually educated people way more, people are a lot more sophisticated to the language of photography and visual information than before. So now, it is a two way street where we can post the stories and people can respond. So it is a much better space to dialogue. And in that sense, I think we have way more possibilities today.

(Image via www.dysturb.com)

You are about to start as a Knight Fellow with Stanford’s Journalism program, will you be working on the this project there as well?

Yes, it is to work on the ideas behind #Dysturb. In a way when we started it, it was kind of known that photojournalism and the media industry is struggling and photojournalists are mostly freelancers, and at the very back of the industry. So coming back from conflict zones and different kinds of regions we’ve been covering, we were frustrated by the fast news cycle within the industry, where our stories are in a magazine one week or in a newspaper one day, and then you go on to the next story. Sometimes we risk our lives to report on these stories, so we want to give them another life. That’s when we started to think about posting our photos in the streets of Paris; it was a way to transcend the fast news cycle and transcend the idea that the media is the enemy…we wanted to take ownership of our work and find a way to directly address it to our audience. And in a way, that is what I am going to be exploring with the Knight Foundation to try to develop alternative ways to reach the audience.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Palo Alto Photo Forum will host Benjamin Petit with #Dysturb collaborator Pierre Terdjman and Magnum Foundation Communications Manager Simone Salvo on Saturday, September 9 at 5.30pm at the Palo
Alto Art Center (1313 Newell Rd., Palo Alto).

For more information and other upcoming events: PaloAltoPhotoForum.org

#Dysturb brings their #Reframeclimate campaign to the Bay Area for Governor Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit on September 12–14. Follow on Instagram @Dysturb

See more of Benjamin Petit’s work on Instagram at @BendoPhoto and on his website—www.BenjaminPetit.com

(Image courtesy of Benjamin Petit)

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More photography articles from The Six Fifty:

National Geographic’s Cristina Mittermeier on how imagery can spark activism

Feral Photography: amazing animal imagery from Silicon Valley trail cams

These photos envision the forgotten history of the American West

Wading into the reality of climate change — one portrait at a time

Charles Russo

Award-winning writer and photographer with extensive experience across mediums, including videography, investigative reporting, editing, advanced research, and a wide range of photography.

Author of Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America; represented by Levine Greenberg Rostan Agency.

Freelance clients include Google, VICE and Stanford University.

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