THE PAVILIONS PHUKET BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, PHUKET
THE PAVILIONS PHUKET BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, PHUKET Kata Rocks
The Phuket News Novosti Phuket Khao Phuket

Login | Create Account | Search


Behind the lens: Life through the eyes of a news agency photojournalist

Behind the lens: Life through the eyes of a news agency photojournalist

I can spot a Mladen Antonov photograph a mile off. Whether it’s a cat in sunglasses at a pet expo in Bangkok or figure skaters at the Winter Olym­pics in Pyeongchang, before I hover my cursor over the caption, I know the man behind the lens. There’s just something about his work.

Art
By Amy Bryant

Sunday 20 October 2019, 10:00AM


Mladen has worked as a photojournalist for Agence France-Presse (AFP), the world’s old­est news agency, for almost 30 years. The agency, renowned for bringing global stories to life through world-class photo and videojournalism, publishes up to 3,000 images a day thanks to its global network of 500 photographers. Its archive of 36 million shots dates back to the very beginning of photography. Yet, amongst all of this, Mladen’s work always stands out to me. So when I saw he was in town to cover the Veg­etarian Festival, an interview was a must.

We meet at The Memory at On On Hotel in Phuket Town, just moments away from the colourful chaos of the festival’s street processions. My inter­est in him comes as something of a surprise, but he’s warm and gracious throughout, despite ringing ears and a sore rib from a rogue firecracker.

Mladen tells me that he’s been fortunate enough to be posted all over the world: to the Balkans dur­ing the Yugoslav Wars; to Paris, where AFP is head­quartered; to Washington DC; to Moscow; and, most recently, to Bangkok where he takes on the role of chief photographer for Southeast Asia.

Nowadays, photographers looking to land an international posting like this, which typically lasts between two and six years, are up against a world of competition. But when Mladen was hired back in the ’90s, times were different. And there was another force at play.

“Chance. Most of the things in my life came by chance. Really,” says Mladen. “It was after the col­lapse of Communism in [my home country of] Bul­garia, and they were burning the headquarters of the Communists. I was on the street and a reporter came to me and said, ‘Did you photograph that?’ and I said, ‘Yes’ and he said, ‘Come with me.’ He was a Reuters journalist. The next morning, my photo was in The Guardian! I wasn’t even a photographer then. I was studying cinema.”

There’s an element of chance in the way Mladen works, too. Unlike many of his peers, Mladen isn’t weighed down by kit to cover all bases for the perfect capture. For the Vegetarian Festival, he’s carrying only his trusted Nikon D5 and Z6. No extra lenses, no spare battery packs or memory cards. And he doesn’t check a shot the moment he’s taken it either. Often, the first time he sees the fruits of his labour is after the event.

This confidence comes, of course, from years of practice, but also from his time shooting using limited rolls of film, manual focus and no motor drive – precision was key and there was little room for error.

“I still make mistakes because of how I shoot. Big mistakes. Underexposed, shaky, out of focus. But that’s how I work,” explains Mladen. “Younger photographers are often unsure of what shots to take so they shoot a lot and then can’t choose after because they have so many photos. They waste a lot of time editing.”

Case in point: I meet Mladen a mere half an hour after the procession has passed through town, and his images are already uploaded, edited, captioned and with his editor.

Thai Residential

Mladen’s often unorthodox approach is the key to his creativity, too. During his time in Paris, he made a change that sent ripples through AFP and the wider industry. He scrapped the second sentence. Perhaps this needs some context. As standard at the time, AFP captions described the photograph in the first sentence – “A model takes to the catwalk at London Fashion Week” – and the wider context in the second – “The event has come under scrutiny for its use of fur and for promoting fast fashion”.

But this process was stifling creativity. Editors were killing beautiful images just because they didn’t fit into a wider story, and photo­journalists were bending over backwards to find mean­ing in every image. Mladen saw his role as reporting the world as it is; using photography to create news rather than using news to create photography.

“That second sentence put chains on agency photographers. When we scrapped it, it changed the perspective of AFP and how we looked at the world. It broke the chains.”explains Mladen. “The fish photo [above] would have been difficult to pass back then,” he says, leaving a heavy pause as he think of a pos­sible context for the photo. “Nope, I genuinely don’t know how I would have sold it!” he laughs.

Now, that same photo has been shared far and wide online and inspired an entire column about sur­realism in American magazine Wired. Photography creating news.

But I’m still at a loss as to exactly what it is that makes his work stand out. Is it that, by chance, he’s always in the right place at the right time when he shoots? Is it nearly three decades of experience? Is it the magic of the single-sentence caption? Well, I have the man in front of me and so I ask him directly.

“If tomorrow I’m fired, I will stop taking photos. I don’t have an internal need or urge to take photos I’m using the camera as a tool as you use your pen to write a story. Maybe this frees me to do whatever I like, to be more strange. I’m not framed by the clichés or principles of photography.”

If it’s strange that Mladen’s looking for, he’s certainly been posted to the right place, and I for one can’t wait to see how he captures the quirks of this corner of the world.

 

Comment on this story

* Please login to comment. If you do not have an account please register below by simply entering a username, password and email address. You can still leave your comment below at the same time.

CAPTCHA

Be the first to comment.

Have a news tip-off? Click here

 

Phuket community
AoT gives B42bn Suvarnabhumi airport expansion green light

Well, it seems 'the sky is the limit'. But thai tourist numbers are already over the hill. ...(Read More)


Five-metre python caught in Wichit, residents worry over missing cats

Is it really a good idea to release all these pythons in the 'jungle' on Phuket? Perhaps a g...(Read More)


Thanathorn disqualified as MP

After reading this article, the thought popped up to make a nice tv thai opera show of the whole hap...(Read More)


Patong gets B11mn ‘smart CCTV’ surveillance system

All connected to a network, that is proven to be poorly maintained. I hope it works, but history sho...(Read More)


Patong gets B11mn ‘smart CCTV’ surveillance system

Why do I think this is just an exercise to give people a false sense of security. No real mention of...(Read More)


Patong gets B11mn ‘smart CCTV’ surveillance system

Great...so now you can go back and watch people drown...but make sure the cameras don't home in ...(Read More)


Patong gets B11mn ‘smart CCTV’ surveillance system

Ha, Ha- how many cameras have we seen announced and 'installed' over the years'? Funny ...(Read More)


Power outage to affect Cherng Talay

Nice sat pic of the formerly salt water lagoon before Laguna filled in the beach. ...(Read More)


Patong gets B11mn ‘smart CCTV’ surveillance system

Well, this costly CCTV system is at least good for one thing, and that is to monitor the beach life ...(Read More)


Chinese tourists rescued from Phuket surf die in hospital

Gerry,,, I fully understand that, but you seem to quick to belittle me, and in the process completel...(Read More)