CLIENT Q & A
HOW TO LAND AN
© Laura Lombardi/Greenpeace
For the past three years, the World Press
Photo competition has awarded prizes
to news and nature stories shot for
Greenpeace. We spoke with John Novis,
head of photography at Greenpeace
International, about how the NGO uses
photography, what opportunities it offers to
photographers and what it expects from photographers
it sends on assignment. Interview by David Walker
© nick cobbinG/Greenpeace
This image of a meltwater channel on the floating ice shelf of Greenland’s Petermann glacier was
PDN: Are the recent World Press Photo awards a coincidence, or is your approach to
commissioned by Greenpeace, and won second place in the Nature Singles category at the 2010
World Press Photo competition.
JOHN NOVIS: We have always put a big budget in visuals. Everything we do, we film
or photograph. We hire good freelancers, go to remote places and do good stories.
Traditionally the thinking was: We’re not here to win prizes, we’re here to win [envi-ronmental PR] campaigns. But you can push campaigns through winning competitions the same way you can by getting headlines in newspapers.
PDN: So how has your approach to photography changed?
JN: It used to be basic direct action [coverage] on the hard news side. Now there’s
much more documentation and stories in response to environmental news events.
We try to be on the spot with events that are connected to our campaigns: nukes, oil,
toxic sludge, forests. In Fukushima, for instance, we did a lot of radiation testing. So
we did a big story about the evacuation and the lack of government information. Our
World Press Photo prizes are based more on that kind of photography than on our
campaign [direct action] work.
PDN: How do Greenpeace stories differ from journalism?
JN: It’s what I call photo activism, rather than journalism. It has a different destination.
PDN: How does that affect the assignment briefs you give to photographers?
JN: We don’t tell photographers to push the Greenpeace brand, or humiliate the
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