ST photojournalists share experiences of covering Covid-19 in ST webinar

Residents in S11 Dormitory at Punggol, on April 21, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE
Workers queueing up to collect their food and drinks at S11 Dormitory@Punggol, on April 6, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The sight of 30 pairs of frustrated eyes peering out of their rooms to greet him as he entered the S11 dormitory in Punggol is one image Mr Mark Cheong will carry with him from his work covering the pandemic as a photojournalist for The Straits Times.

The migrant workers had been in lockdown in their rooms for about a month at that point, and Mr Cheong was one of the first from the media to set foot in the dorms to try and give the public a sense of what was happening there.

Mr Cheong spoke about this and other experiences covering the coronavirus situation in Singapore at a Straits Times webinar titled Covering Covid-19 - Documenting A New Normal Amid The Pandemic on Wednesday (Jan 27), along with his colleagues, Mr Benjamin Seetor, Ms Neo Xiaobin and Mr Kevin Lim. The panel was moderated by ST's Mr Dylan Ang.

The four veteran photojournalists, who have a combined 45 years of experience shooting for Singapore Press Holdings, shared their challenges and experiences covering the pandemic on the ground.

The webinar was held in conjunction with Through The Lens, a photography exhibition by ST and World Press Photo (WPP).

The exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore will run until Feb 7. It features ST photojournalists' coverage of the pandemic in Singapore, as well as photos submitted for the 2020 WPP competition. The international contest, which began in 1955, is run by the World Press Photo Foundation, a non-profit organisation headquartered in Amsterdam.

Mr Cheong and his colleagues spoke about the challenges they faced in gaining institutional access to cover the sensitive subject.

"One of the problems we faced was that the pandemic became another reason institutions used to deny us access - saying the need for safe distancing meant that we could not go and see for ourselves," said Mr Lim.

"Unlike reporters who can always find other ways to do things like Web or phone calls, as photojournalists, we have to be on the scene to do our work," he added.

Ms Neo, who was in the Covid-19 hospital wards to cover the efforts of front-line workers, said: "We also had to think about being responsible to our families and friends, and how to keep them safe while going out to infection zones."

The photojournalists also answered questions from the audience.

"You shouldn't just go out there and try to cover everything. Instead, focus on one topic or story that you're interested in or passionate about and chase that," said Mr Cheong, answering a question from an ST reader on how to get started as a photojournalist.

"The technical expertise about cameras and other stuff will come along the way," he added.

Remote video URL
Photo exhibition Through The Lens features ST photojournalists' coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in Singapore, as well as photos submitted for the 2020 World Press Photo competition. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

When asked what photograph or situation was the most emotionally difficult, Ms Neo had a surprising answer.

"The most poignant experience of this pandemic - which is that of grief - hasn't been covered yet," she said.

"We are still knocking on doors."

The webinar is available for free on ST's YouTube channel.

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