Pulitzer speaker shares stories and work with student journalists

Ellen Countryman

Photographer travels the world

Inagural Pulitzer speaker Sean Gallagher presented his work and spoke about social and environmental problems in China in Franklin Hall last night. Rachel Kilroy | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Sean Gallagher, British photographer and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s inaugural Pulitzer speaker, spoke yesterday in Franklin Hall about his travels and the messages behind his photographs.

Gallagher has lived and worked around the world, spending extended periods of time in places such as Japan, Brazil, New Zealand and recently China and North Korea. His work specializes on reporting social and environmental issues in Asia, with specific emphasis on China. He was the first recipient of the David Alan Harvey Fund for Emerging Photographers in 2008.

Gallagher received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to study the environmental issues facing China, where he focused on the desertification that covers almost 20 percent of the country’s land surface.

Gallagher said the Pulitzer Center provides the funding for journalists who want to report on issues they feel aren’t well covered in the media. He has spent the last three years living in China and traveling to its most devastated areas.

“China’s water problem is probably the most serious in the world, ” he said. “Mainly because of the rapid increase in the spread of the desertification.”

Gallagher said he does not intend to point fingers at China, but his goal is to create communication about the problem to the rest of the world.

“I just want to help create a dialogue so I can help people understand one another a little better,” he said.

Later, he spoke about his travels to North Korea where he and his partner posed as tourists. He said they could not look like professionals or they would not be allowed to take pictures or videos.

Gallagher said they used videos on an iPod to distract their guide while riding to the next approved tourist spot.

“He watched ‘American Pie’ while I sat in the back and took the pictures I wasn’t supposed to,” Gallagher said. “I could hear him giggling all the way in the back.”

He spoke about the anti-American sentiments that are still a part of North Korea, where he felt there was a constant feeling they were being watched.

“I was quizzed on the spot about British history by my guide,” Gallagher said. “I think they wanted to make sure I was actually British.”

He said they were constantly kept separate from the North Korean people and had to go on state-guided tours, only being allowed to photograph state monuments and museums.

“We weren’t given the opportunity to see many people,” Gallagher said. “There was just a sense of isolation and distance from everything.”

He talked about the large amounts of North Korean military. He said there were soldiers walking with guns everywhere.

“The general population is still whipped up into this frenzy,” Gallagher said. “They are told that the Americans could attack at any time.”

Stanley Wearden, dean of the College of Communication and Information, said Gallagher’s presentation was phenomenal.

“It’s great to have a photographer of his caliber here,” Wearden said.

Barbara Hipsman, associate professor for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, talked about her expectations for Gallagher’s presentation.

“We wanted him to focus on passion and how you can go anywhere and do what you want to do,” Hipsman said. “And that’s exactly what he did.”

Contact College of Communication and Information reporter Ellen Countryman at [email protected]