FFR’s Nicole Tung receives an honorary mention for the Courage in Photojournalism Awards

Children play on the rubble of what was once a stadium in Qayyarah, Iraq, on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, as a constant cloud of smoke hangs over the sky. The stadium, which was used by ISIS to hide their weapons stockpiles was destroyed by coalition airstrikes over the summer and oil wells were set on fire as ISIS fighters retreated.

The Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award honors the life and work of Anja Niedringhaus, a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer for the AP news agency, who was killed in 2014 while covering Afghanistan. In its third year, the Award is given to women photojournalists to recognize the importance of visual journalism that inspires a call to action and gives a better understanding the world. Last week, this year’s judging panel gave an honorable mention to FFR member Nicole Tung.

The jury said of Nicole’s work: “Every image is strong and creates a visual harmony while evoking empathy for the visceral grief endured by innocents. Like Anja, Nicole provides balance and a moment of hope giving viewers a breath away from the intensity of war”.

Nicole on a break in eastern Mosul during the offensive to retake the city from ISIS, November 2016.

Nicole, who is based in Istanbul, started her career in conflict photography covering the Arab uprisings in North Africa. She had travelled to Egypt to cover the events that led to the toppling of President Mubarak, while protests erupted in neighboring Libya. She took a train from Cairo to Alexandria followed by a bus to the border where she had a chance meeting with Peter Bouckaert, Human Right Watch’s emergency director, who queried her decision to travel alone. On hearing her plan to attempt to reach Benghazi, Peter offered her a place in the car that he was sharing, insisting there would be safety in numbers.

“He was the first person I came across and he definitely took me under his wing,” says Nicole. “I was really helped along by other veteran journalists and was very lucky to have them. I shared rides with them and they were constantly looking out for me, giving me advice and trying to keep me safe as well. From this experience, I quickly learnt to take responsibility for my own safety and for those around me”.

Reflecting on her career, Nicole admits that she never set out to cover armed conflict but has always been interested in its complexities and most human aspects. “I think what draws me in is to document the most vulnerable of people who are, in a way, faced with a situation that they didn’t want to put themselves in in the first place.”

(LEFT) Tariq, left, Nisreen, and their five-year old daughter Roslyn, are seen on the day-long bus ride from Athens to the Greek-Macedonian border in the far north, as they continue their journey from Syria to Germany, on December 19, 2015. (RIGHT) A boat filled with refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, arrives on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on December 4, 2015.

Nicole’s work has been published widely in such prestigious publications as The New York Times, Le Monde, Vogue and Time Magazine. Her most recent project featured in Foreign Affairs examines violence against women in Turkey. Despite her experience and the international recognition of her work, Nicole still encounters the typical issues faced by many freelancers and FFR members.

“I think the challenge, and we have heard them all before, is that mainly a lot of publications and editors do not really understand what goes into an assignment. I know they are constrained by budget issues but, when you’re not paid properly for something or when your expenses are cut down, you’re more likely to cut corners, which in turn jeopardizes your safety. The issue of being paid on time is always a struggle. If I’m not paid on time, I can’t pay my own bills on time and I can’t book flight tickets for [next] assignments.”

Timeliness is not the only issue surrounding payments. There are substantial disparities between pay when it comes to working in hazardous places that threaten the safety and security of freelancers. “Last year, I was offered to go to Iraq, to actually near Mosul — and this was just before the offensive started — for $250 for a huge magazine. I thought this was insane [as] this is not really my standard rate — or any magazine’s standard rate for that matter — to go into dangerous places. I had to bargain to get paid fairly for $400 a day and no insurance was covered. Sometimes it’s up to the individual editors, you get some editors who are really not understanding or just ignore the problem.”

Soldiers with the Yazidi ‘Sun Ladies’ battalion relax during down time at their base near Sinjar, in Kurdistan, Iraq, on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.

But Nicole is a big advocate of the freedom that freelancing gives her to choose the stories she wants to cover. “You have issues that you are passionate about, so I think it’s a luxury to be able to do those stories and sometimes find funding for it,” she adds.

Fair and timely pay is an issue for which FFR advocates on behalf of its members as it directly affects the safety of freelancers working in dangerous environments. A fair fee not only reflects the real costs of reporting; it ensures that freelancers are not forced to cut corners when it comes to covering fees for essentials, from insurance to good transportation, protective equipment and reliable local fixers.