Reporters on the Job

Choose Your Subject Carefully: Staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman notes that taking photos in Burundi proved challenging during a recent trip. Traveling for the October 2006 series, " Africa After War: Paths to Forgiveness," Melanie had no problem with the subjects of particular stories. But taking other photos – unrelated to a specific article – was a different case.

That challenge played out sharply at a crowded outdoor market in the center of Bujumbura, Burundi's capital. "The place is like Wal-Mart, with clothing, food, kitchen goods, and lots of plastic – baskets, bins," says Melanie. But as she tried to take photos, some potential subjects balked. "People want you to pay for the photos – they are poor, and they see photos as a way to get a bit of money," she says. "In addition to the obvious reasons why you can't pay for photos, it would be dangerous as people would absolutely mob you the minute they saw what was going on."

Melanie says that she missed a number of good photographs as a result. But she did catch the eye of a willing egg vendor, who had some of his wares on his head ( see story). That tied in with other photos she had taken illustrating the remarkable ability of many Africans to carry large loads on their heads.

"People start at a young age doing this, so it becomes second nature," Melanie notes, adding that children are often sent to fetch water. "I've seen all shapes, sizes, weights – they're used to having it up there, and it does free up their hands," she says, adding that she once even saw someone carrying an umbrella – closed – on their pate. "If a load is huge, people might use their hand to steady it, but more often they don't."

In the market in Bujumbura, Melanie was grateful to meet the egg vendor. "This young man didn't seem to mind having his photo taken, so I was glad to find him."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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