Photojournalist Kim Ludbrook

"As a photojournalist I am a mirror to society"

Interview: Nezih Tavlas / September 29, 2021

(Courtesy of Kim Ludbrook)

(All images © Courtesy of Kim Ludbrook)

Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?

Kim Ludbrook: Simple by construction but powerful by message encapsulating an amazing moment that makes the viewer want to look twice. It needs to resonate with a wide audience and to have a timeless quality that means it can be viewed years in the future and still have the same effect.

Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?

Kim Ludbrook: A good question and hard to answer to some degree. At the end of each year, the cream of the years images rise to the top; so and even though there are now so many more images produced and viewed each day than ever before; these few top images still hold space/attention and always elicit a reaction from the viewers. These images in photojournalism tend to be of the main news stories of the year but always have the same properties. Simple, powerful with impact.  In short: the still images are as powerful today as it ever was.

Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?

Kim Ludbrook: I am motivated by wanting to shoot my best body of work in the future as well as an insatiable urge to explore more of the world with my camera and in doing so add to the collective consciousness of viewers. Also like any 'art form' photography changes and so does mine so I also motivate myself by trying to find new ways to tell stories. Aside from the ego view, I am motivated to keep documenting the history and the vast changes in society that I live through and try to capture.

 On a lighter note though: I am blessed to have an amazing life as a photojournalist and never take this for granted.

Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?

Kim Ludbrook: Taking to many risks early on my career in many hostile environments without proper training/knowledge the outcoming being a hard learning curve on working in these spaces. NOTE: Get the proper training before going into hostile environments:)!

Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?

Kim Ludbrook: A year-long funded project documenting India from the perspective of its deep religious culture.

Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?

Kim Ludbrook: Humanity, courage, inquisitiveness, visual literacy, multimedia skills and a very supportive partner.

Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?

Kim Ludbrook: Within the context of photojournalism its in my mind totally unacceptable. The boundaries are being pushed continuously regarding post-production on RAW images but my view is that post-production should only involve what can be done to a print while hand printing in darkroom.

Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?

 Kim Ludbrook: It means everything. Without ethics is their photojournalism?.... My heart cries when I see with my own eyes, or read about, unethical behavior in our industry.

Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?

 Kim Ludbrook: I see it evolving into a more multimedia roll and also into more independent photojournalism; individual photojournalists producing stories via their own platforms. Lets hope it does not lose its importance!:( No I don't think it will but the industry needs to find new avenues for budgets and also newer viewpoints on the world.

 Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?

 Kim Ludbrook: Make sure you go into your new career with integrity, passion and wanting to see the world through YOUR eyes. Not someones else's. Don't shoot to win awards and always make sure you take care of your health and wellbeing. Its one of the most taxing professions in the world so take care of yourself from day one. Most importantly: you don't have to go to a war zone to 'make your name'...Often documenting the world right under your nose is a great place to start your career.

Kim Ludbrook

Kim is a Senior Visual Correspondent for an international news photo agency, EPA Photos, based in South Africa. The 30 year career photojournalist has travelled to 51 countries and documented the human condition covering 2 civil wars, the occupation of Iraq, a tsunami, a pandemic, political upheavals, a coup de tat, South Africa's transition, Mandela funeral and countless other assignments.
On the sports front, he has covered the Tour de France races, FIFA World Cup, Rugby World Cup, Summer/Winter Olympics, World Cup Swimming, MotoGP, President’s Cup golf etc. He has been widely exhibited and given lectures to various audiences about his career while having been published in numerous books, magazines and online formats. His images have been published in Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, National Geographic, Stern, The Guardian, The Times etc. His passion still remains walking down an unknown street with a camera trying to makes sense of the world around him."

Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?

 Kim Ludbrook: I was brought up in Zimbabwe in the 1970's and my father was a game ranger so living in the bush the only thing I had to read as a young boy was National Geographic. I remember reading NG and the images revealing these amazing far-off countries with such fascinating cultures. That was the first seed born in my journey to becoming a photojournalist. That combined with taking my brother's camera when I was 16 to start shooting images was the beginning of my life journey with a camera. Then while studying photography in the UK; combining studio, fashion, landscape photojournalism; I soon realized that my natural habitat was photojournalism. 30 years later the passion is still alive:)

 Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?

 Kim Ludbrook: News news/features gear are 2 Canon 5D Mark4, Canon 40mm pancake, Canon 35mm 1.8 and Canon 28mm 2.8. For sport I use 2v Canon Eos1dx, 400mm 2.8, 100-400, 16.35mm. My personal travel/back-up camera is a Canon  M6 mark2 and the 35mm F2.  Fav camera:) Canon R5 and the 28-70mm F2..... Still dreaming if having one

 Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?

 Kim Ludbrook:

Web page

 Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?

 Kim Ludbrook: For features and soft news, I keep things really simple gear-wise. Because I virtually never do pressers and political-related work I use my prime lenses on the 2 Canon 5D and have a small waist pouch with cards, batteries, sunscreen, water, food etc.

 For hard news, I take the same gear but add a Helmet, bulletproof vest, gas mask, medical kit.

 Obviously, its all in a small camera bag for carrying on and as I have a small 13inch Dell laptop all my gear fits into a small bag.

 If its a local assignment in Johannesburg/South Africa I always travel on my BMW 1200 gs motorbike and even if its a foreign assignment (Becoming less and less due to budgets); I always take my yoga matt to keep the stress levels under control:)

 Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?

 Kim Ludbrook: 'Style"...:) I shoot a simple, classic image that stems from my early years of shooting on chrome. Using 35/28 mm lenses gives my images an observer/documentary feel but above all I try to use the light as best possible remembering how  I learned to do on chrome and with a light meter many years ago. Ultimately I feel that as a photojournalist I am a mirror to society; for society; so I hope in some small way my images will allow those who can not be where my camera is an opportunity to 'live in that moment; even if its for a split second' and in doing so to gain a better perspective of the world around them.

 Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?

 Kim Ludbrook: Not a lot:) I like to keep my photography simple and part of that means that I don't 'overshoot' on news and features work. I shoot sparingly and deliberately especially after moving to shooting RAW files. Sport obviously is a different 'kettle of fish' as it's part of the nature of the beast to have to shoot a lot during sporting events.

 Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?

 Kim Ludbrook: I covered a 'diamond rush' in rural South Africa. Pity they were not real diamonds the thousands of people were digging up because I could have retired selling a couple of them:)

 Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?

 Kim Ludbrook: I am completing my long-term project entitled 'Faith Rising' on South Africa's deeply religious and spiritual communities at the moment. This will entail some local assignments plus doing the final edit and then looking to exhibit the work or publish a book.

Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favorite? What makes them so special to you?

 Kim Ludbrook: Wow-what a hard question to answer:) 30 years of work is a lot to try to factor into this question. It terms of a body of work that is very close to my heart; 'Faith rising' resonates with me because it seemed from my own journey to yoga after returning from Libya in 2011 with PTSD. After photographing local yoga communities I took the project across the country and covered a brought range of religious and spiritual communities.  As for a single image:)

Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?

 Kim Ludbrook: In my work, I strive to visualize the duality in humanity. One minute I can be covering violence and the next an incredibly uplifting moment. I hope to in the long run convey this to the viewer as I am ultimately documenting the human condition and this in of itself is duality.