Skip to content

Behind the byline: freelancers give glimpses of their working lives across the world

Behind the byline: freelancers give glimpses of their working lives across the world

From eastern Ghouta to western Mexico, Malawi to Ukraine, RPT’s online platforms reflect a range of freelancers’ realities on the ground this week.

Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, the Trust has been sharing daily photo collections from freelance photographers and journalists across four continents. Through these photo-stories, we get a view into their daily lives, interests, thoughts – and impressive work.
First in the series was Syrian freelance photographer Msallam Abd Albaset, who sent photos from his workplace: eastern Ghouta. "A difficult day for me as a news photographer was 4th April 2017. An air raid targeted my neighbours’ house," he said of one photo [below].
Photo: Msallam Abd Albaset
Msallam continued: “In the very first moments of the bombing, I was completely unable to photograph anything ... In this picture, young Ala’a Khamis reaches out his hand for a second, watching his mother emerge from under the rubble."
The photographer wrote of the difficulties of losing his equipment in a bombing last November, which meant he couldn’t document bombardment and displacement in the months that followed. “I made a great effort and on some days I took photos on my mobile phone,” he said. 

Alongside shots of destruction, Msallam included a deeply moving photo of his mother and aunt making bread in their home, before they had to flee.

Photo: Msallam Abd Albaset

"Of all my photos, this particular one is closest to my heart. This was my home, where I lived for many years under the siege of Ghouta,” he said. “Now I’ve been forced far away from home, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to return in the future - to be able to go home and sit between the trees and stone."
Second in our series was freelance photographer César Rodríguez in Mexico, where 45 journalists have been killed since 1992. Three of the six journalists who were killed there last year were freelancers. Among the photos César shared was one of a home in his native state, Nayarit, blasted by a clash between armed civilians and the navy.

Photo: César Rodríguez

"At least five people died, and it’s believed that other armed civilians escaped,” César said. “I chose this image because when I see it, it reminds me of places where people are at war – "official" wars – and it reminds me that here in Mexico we have our own war as well.”
Another striking photo in César’s collection was a shot [below] that he took while on patrol with the army forces in Tamaulipas.

Photo: César Rodríguez

“Tamaulipas has become a lost state, a cartel-controlled state in Mexico", César said. "Working in this town made me realise how strong communities are, and how resilient they can be even in extreme situations.”
On Wednesday we featured freelance investigative journalist, Mabvuto Banda, who lives and works in Malawi. Though the country’s climate for journalists has improved over the last 15 years, Mabvuto has nonetheless been arrested on numerous occasions during his twenty-year career. In Malawi, a law still provides for the imprisonment of anyone who 'insults' the head of state.

Photo: Erick Msikiti

“Here we were working on a story about the growing calls within the ruling party to push the current President to stand down,” Mabvuto said of the photo above. “It is potentially explosive ... some senior members of his political party do not want him anymore. Professionally it’s a very difficult story to do; no one wants to speak on the record. When it comes out, it could get me in trouble, especially with the President’s supporters.”

Mabvuto also spoke of collaboration between freelancers while out reporting.

Photo: Feston Malekezo

“This photo captures a moment in which I was sharing notes with a freelance photojournalist, Anthony Fatchi, in Blantyre – Malawi’s centre of commerce," he explained. "We were covering a march against the current administration, where the protesters wanted the President to resign. I work with Anthony on such assignments. If we’re working together, we share material. In this case I was looking for specific pictures to accompany my words.”
Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we’re highlighting the working life of Ukrainian freelancer Alena Grom. Born in Donetsk, a city controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014, Alena fled with her family to live in Kyiv. Her work focuses on children living in conflict zones and refugees in her country.

Photo: Alena Grom

Alena took this photo [above] last spring in Marinka, a badly damaged city on the front-line of the armed conflict in Donbass. “The girl's name is Nastya,” Alena said. “She lives with her family, including her little sister, near military positions. Their whole home is littered with fragments from bombings. While I was shooting, I could hear automatic fire and explosions behind their garden. I was shocked: neither the children nor the parents reacted to the shelling."
The freelancer added: “I always feel fear when I come to the military zone. I'm afraid of shelling, I'm afraid to be taken into captivity or to fall into a mine. I go there despite this. That’s because children are there and I want to tell the world about them through their photos.”

Photo: Alena Grom 

Alena took this shot [above] in Trekhizbinka in December 2017, when volunteers gave a holiday to children living in front-line territories. “In the photo the children are all looking in different directions,” she said. “They have no experience of posing  their parents don't have camera-phones. This look is an inherent pattern in children of war.”

"The children know what to do when shelling begins. Yet many families can’t do simple things like warm their home, wash, or cook food," Alena said. "They live with a constant sense of danger.”

The freelancer added: “When I’m photographing children, I do not ask them to smile. I look in their eyes. Children living in war have adult eyes. After the shooting process, I always want to say something nice, something good, and to hug and somehow protect the children.”
Our World Press Freedom Day series closed with freelance journalist and photographer Sally Hayden from Ireland, who currently focuses on migration, conflict and humanitarian crises.

Photo: Sally Hayden

"I took this [above] in eastern Sudan, close to the border with Eritrea, where I met teenagers and children who had fled compulsory, indefinite military service," Sally said. "This was one of the few times I brought a fixer, as it's impossible to travel alone as a foreign woman in Sudan."

Last year, she visited regime-held Syria for ten days [below]. "As a freelancer one of the hardest things is not having people to speak about your stories with,” she said. “In Damascus, I met a refugee who returned home from Germany only to be arrested, tortured and sent to the front lines."

Photo: Sally Hayden

"That reporting was later a finalist for Amnesty and One World Media awards, and I was flown to Berlin to testify about it in a major legal challenge against the German government. I do all that, however, knowing my interviewee remains in huge danger."

Sally began her in-depth reporting on migration after going to Calais in August 2015, while still with VICE News. "I took this picture [below] there on one particularly horrible day around six months later. A group of Iranian men sewed their lips together in protest at their treatment."

Photo: Sally Hayden

"I don't know what happened to them but I've stayed in touch with many others I met in Calais. One Syrian, Ziad Ghandour, ended up collaborating with me on a project about reverse migration to Syria," Sally added. "We're also both now involved with the Refugee Journalism Project, which helps exiled journalists restart their careers in the UK."

Visit our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to read the freelancers' stories in full.

Main image: César Rodríguez

We use cookies to give you the best experience of using this website. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies. Please read our Cookie Policy for more information.