Alexander Joe, a Zimbabwean-born photographer whose interest in photography began at the age of 19 when he was influenced by British fashion photographer David Bailey’s work. But, as the war to end white-minority rule in his home country escalated, Alexander’s interest turned from fashion photography towards documenting the political struggle of blacks in Rhodesia as Zimbabwe was then known. His first camera was an instamatic 126mm. From taking pictures of his two young daughters, he progressed to freelancing and tried to get a job as a trainee photographer with a daily paper, but was turned down due his color. Undaunted, he started doing freelance work for UPI and other international organizations. When the black townships became too dangerous for the white photographers on the local daily paper, he was offered a job as a staff photographer on the Rhodesia Herald. While this was a breakthrough, Alexander continued running into problems when he was covering white events. He worked for the Herald until Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980. He then headed for London to try his luck in Fleet Street where he worked for the Times of London, The Observer and The Daily Mail. He returned to Africa after being offered a job by the international – news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP). Based in Harare, Zimbabwe, he covered thirteen countries, documenting famine in Ethiopia, and wars in eight countries among other major news events. From 1991 to 2001 he was based in Nairobi, Kenya, from where he covered several stories, traveling to Swaziland and Uganda for the coronation of kings, and to South Africa for the release of Nelson Mandela from 27 years in jail. In 1994 and in 2001, Alexander was one of the members of the World Press Photo jury. Exhibitions of his work have been held in Zimbabwe, the UK, Kenya, Mali, and France. Alexander was based in South Africa until March 2014, he is now freelancing from his new home base in Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Q: What first inspired you to become a journalist?
A: I become a photojournalist during my countries war of independence from White Rhodesia rule recording what was happening in the townships. My first dream was to become a fashion photographer. I then found my true love documenting people and daily life.
Q: Would you still choose this career knowing what you know now?
A: I would still choose this career. I see myself as a historian recording history with my camera.
Q: What are the characteristics that make a successful journalist?
A: The characteristics that make a good journalists is loving what you do , been observant and listening to people .
Q: What interests you the most?
A: People interest me a lot, most of all children are amazing lovely to photograph, they are so natural.
Q: What do you love about your job?
A: The thing that love about my work is it has made me look at life in so many different ways from starving people in drought photographing Nelson Mandela walking out of prison to the coronation of the king of Switzerland.
Q: Did you get to choose where you’re posted?
A: I was lucky that I was always posted in Africa in Zimbabwe, Kenya and then South Africa.
Q: How do you decide on the approach to take on the subject you are pursuing?
A: In the early days of my career I used to have images in my head that I was going to make. I quickly realised you can only photograph what is there to tell a true story.
Q: What is the most outrageous story/assignment you had to cover?
A: Outrageous story or Assignment?, I think covering the miss world contest after covering wars and then having to deal with some very nice ladies and some divas.
Q: Have you ever been in any dangerous situation covering a story?
A: I have been in dangerous situation many time during my 30 years working as a photojournalist. Once in Burundi protesters want to kill me just because they did not know who I was, lucky for one on the protesters knew me and greet me so he saved my life with me knowing until later that day.
Q: Do you think journalists have a mission or a duty to promote diversity and better understanding?
A: Most journalists are there to cover the story but there are few that are on a mission.
Q: Do you think it is possible for a journalist covering a controversial situation to remain objective and neutral?
A: I think that a true journalists will cover a controversial situation in an objective way.
Q: Have you ever covered a story/assignment you felt strongly against and what did you do? If you refused, what was the consequence? Or if you did your job, how do you resolve the personal/moral/ethical/philosophical conflict?
A: Yes I have covered stories that I was against in my head without knowing the story . People have an option about things in life without getting to know and understand the situation or the person. I try not to have a preconceived idea of the story.
Q: How do you resolve the ethical dilemma of being a spectator covering a story when you could have helped out in a situation?
A: I never see myself as a spectator. Journalist are there to do a job. By covering the story you are helping to educate/ information the world on what is happening.
Q: What is the competition like competing against other journalist for a story?
A: There is aways competition between journalists to get the story or pictures first. It is a competitive business; your news paper, TV station and news agency want the story first.
Q: What are things you don’t like about current journalism practices that you wish can change?
A: The new social media way of covering news like fake news is given journalism a bad name. Most recently fox in the US covering the Canadian mosque shooting reported that the person that did the shooting was a Muslim . The Canadian government said it was a young White man. Fox did not stop reporting the wrong news until the Canadian government asked them, why they are giving wrong news.
Q: Do you feel like your reporting is making an impact?
A: I do think that reporting on stories does made an impact. Some days Good and bad. During the Mozambique war people fled to Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe government was said just a few displaced people . I went and covered the story and found thousands and called them refugees and after that UN and international organisation started to get the refugees. There has been many time media has made an impression on world government and people.
Q: What advise do you have for a journalist student wanting to get into the field
A: My advise to upcoming journalist follow your dreams there is a huge world out there to be covered and with the electronic age you can do it. When I started as a photographer it was in days of film so learning, film, developing and printing photos were expensive. Today the digital world is much cheaper.
Q: Your message for 2017?
A: My message for 2017. Go out and tell world about all the great things that Africa has food, fashion, culture and it’s people make this Africa year. Make Africa and the 3rd world the most important thing.
For more info on Alexander Joe,
Mobile: +261 341329916
Address: Antananarivo, Madagascar