Legacy documentary for social change – Continuing the tradition – Marcus Bleasdale

Moving swiftly on to the next exercise…looking at the work of Marcus Bleasdale. I need to read the interview in Eight magazine (V4N3, Dec 2005) and in particular look at his work in the Congo and his publication One Hundred Years of Darkness, 2002. I had issues with the rest of the instructions as the Guardian Magazine 16 January 2010 was nowhere to be found, and the link for the tear sheets of his work, on the agency VII, also came up blank…I’ve emailed the OCA who hopefully will amend the coursework pages or tell me what I am doing wrong! In the absence of those links I’ll just do my own thing 🙂

If you go to Marcus’ website and click on the ‘about’ page he is definitely keeping up the traditions of the concerned socially committed photographers’ ideals of wanting to influence the world, as it states:



and a huge chunk of lazy copy paste…

Over the past fifteen years spent documenting some of the world’s most brutal wars Marcus has focused on campaigning against human rights abuses. He has been documenting these issues for Human Rights Watch and he is a contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine.

Using his background in business and economics, he researches the sources of financing driving the conflicts, which usually leads to the mines, and the armed networks linked to them. Marcus covered the wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, Chad and Darfur, Kashmir and Georgia.

Since 2000 Marcus has worked extensively in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo documenting a war funded by the extraction of the minerals used in every day electronic products. Marcus has partnered with international advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and the Enough Project to engage US and European politicians and multinational companies to change government policy and working practices.

Over the past three years Marcus has been working in the Central African Republic documenting the conflict in the region. The work from Central African Republic won the Amnesty International Award for Media in 2014 and the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club of America in 2015.

Marcus has published three books “One Hundred Years of Darkness” (2002) documenting life along the Congo River after the overthrow of Mboutu”The Rape of a Nation” (2009) documenting the exploitation of natural resources in Eastern Congo and most recently “The Unravelling” (2015) documenting the brutal conflict in the Central African Republic.

Marcus is currently studying for an MSt in International Relations at Cambridge University whilst still documenting human rights issues around the world.

He lives in Oslo with his wife Karin Beate.

He has also won a tremendous amount of awards:

2015 Overseas Press Club of America The Robert Capa Gold Medal
2015 FotoEvidence Award
2015 Amnesty International Award
2014 Soc. of Environmental Journalists Award
2014 Overseas Press Club of America The Photography Prize
2013 World Press Photo Contemporary Issues
2013 The Photographer Society The Hood Medal
2011 USA Webby Award
2010 Picture of the Year USA Book of the Year Award
2010 Hansel Meith Award
2010 Anthopographia Award Human Rights and Photography
2009 Days Japan Readers Award
2009 Picture of the Year USA
2008 American Photography Award
2007 Freedom of Expression Foundation
2006 Overseas Press Club of America Olivier Rebbot Award
2006 World Press Photo Daily Life Singles
2005 Open Society Institute
2005 Alexia Foundation for World Peace Award
2005 Picture of the Year USA Magazine Photographer of the Year Award
2004 UNICEF Photographer of the Year
2004 Picture of the Year USA Magazine Award
2004 NPPA Magazine News Story Award
2003 Picture of the Year USA News Award
2002 Picture of the Year USA Magazine Award
2000 Sunday Times Nikon Ian Parry Award

On looking through his other bodies of work Bleasdale does not shy away from showing the world exactly what is happening within the areas he embeds himself. The images are shocking and disturbing, and they have to be in order for the international community, and the people who are supposedly in a position to do so, to affect change! Sadly, this does not always happen – as outlined in the interview he gave back in 2005.

And even if laws are passed it does not always have the desired results.

I also found some superb YouTube videos, which I have only skipped through at this moment in time, but fully intend to watch in their entirety once blogging is caught up with.

The first video echoes a lot of questions and responses within the interview, which I shall bullet point below:

  • Enjoying photography as a serious hobby Bleasdale took some evening classes in B&W printing – obviously due to financial constraints etc – have posed the same question to Marcus as I did to Nick Danziger re shooting in B&W versus colour. Be interesting to see if I get a response :)*
  • disillusioned with banking and spurred on by the lack of compassion shown by colleagues, Bleasdale set out to pursue his passion in photography and record what was happening in the Balkans.
  • Earning money as a photo-journalist can be very difficult.
  • Photo-journalism does not always have to be about conflict – he cites Eugene Smith and the country Doctor as an example.
  • He thinks carefully about how he is going to try to create his images and refers back to other photographers work all the time.
  • He takes inspiration from other Ats as well – citing  Heart of Darkness as his road-map for his journey through the Congo.
  • Politics plays a huge part in whether conflicts or atrocities are reported and how they are reported – links to the FSA and the Government want to promote the reforms they wanted to push through – would they have funded this project otherwise?
  • The media has a moral responsibility to focus on important issues and raise awareness and help implement change.
  • He works with NGO’s to put pressure on the UN, Governments, banks, commodity traders and directly responsible companies.
  • Hopefully this pressure and communication will not only raise awareness but also enforce responsibility.
  • He believes that the general public are quite capable of ‘reading’ single images or a series of pictures.
  • He cites Tom Stoddart – shoots in B&W, Don McCullin – shoots in B&W, and Eugene Richards – shoots in B&W and colour, as photographers who have had a huge impact on the world and having the ability to touch people.
  • He feels it is possible to record events yet still treat people with dignity and, that as a human being, it is most important that you don’t forget that first and foremost a photo-journalist is a human first and a photographer second. – a sentiment echoed by Dorothea Lange, as highlighted in the video on a previous research post. 
  • When working with NGO’s he shoots what he wants to, then edits for the brief later.
  • Another photographer he mentions is Heidi Bradnor – shoots in B&W and colour- and her work in Chechnya – both she and Bleasdale have stuck with the same topics for a long period of time.
  • Winning awards is not only nice, but also financially rewarding, and allows for his work to continue as even years later it is still difficult to sell work that is a political hot potato.

I can quite understand why Bleasdale is included within this section of the coursework as he is truly committed towards raising awareness of the atrocities happening across the globe, and uses his images to petition for this change. Although he does shoot in both colour and B&W, the work we are asked to look at follows the tradition of hard-hitting B&W documentary photographs.

In interviews given, and in the videos he makes, he mentions the use of multi media and cross platforms to put his argument across, emphasising how, as photographers and humans, we need to make sure we are media savvy and target people of different generations, companies, governments and consumers to ensure the constant pressure for change to occur.

There is much to be gleaned from this interview and the videos, for example: on his approach, how he may defuse a tense situation by offering cigarettes to start a dialogue, his use of other photographers and writers as inspiration, how NGO’s may support your work where publications may not.


I think it is brilliant when busy, famous people take time out to reply 🙂

Hi Marcus,

I hope you don’t mind me emailing to ask you a question? I work in a grammar school helping out in the Art and Photography dept as well as currently undertaking a Photography degree with the OCA.

Currently I am doing research into the tradition of B&W photography with the Documentary genre and as one of our exercises we have to read your interview with Eight magazine and look closely at work body of work One Hundred Years of Darkness. I note that on your own website you also use colour photography. Could you tell me if you would prefer to always shoot in B&W and are the colour images at the request of the NGO/Agencies that you work for?

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thanking you in anticipation,


Jan Fairburn

Hi Jan.

I use the medium the situation demands, more recently I shoot more colour. It is me who determines that not the client. But that said, I wouldn’t sell so much to national geographic in Back and white as they rarely publish in that medium

I hope that helps



About (no date) Available at: http://www.marcusbleasdale.com/about/ (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Houghton, M. (2005) ‘Interview with Marcus Bleasdale’, Eight Magazine, December, pp. 68–70.

Parra, D. and theguardian.com (2010) My best shot: Marcus Bleasdale. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/video/2010/sep/08/my-best-shot-marcus-bleasdale (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

Raghavan, S. (2014) Obama’s conflict minerals law has destroyed everything, say Congo miners. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/02/conflict-minerals-law-congo-poverty (Accessed: 22 December 2016).