Bullen Chol does not just see himself as a photographer, rather as a young man fulfilling a calling to serve his country and the rest of the world. The 27-year-old South Sudanese journalist is a 2015 UNESCO award-winning photographer, the same year in which he earned a diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication from South Sudan Christian University.
Chol says that due to the conflict, he is sometimes forced to abandon his work to save his life despite the harsh economic challenges facing his country:
#Sudan | #SouthSudan | #Population 5/ #Work: The torture of being idle – “I won’t give up,” says photographer Bullen...Posted by theniles.org on Thursday, 22 December 2016
Why did you choose photography?
Actually, I started out as a news writer in different newspapers such as Business Focus and then I worked as a radio reporter and then a videographer. In 2013, National Geographic came to South Sudan to train us on how to tell stories through pictures. That’s when I became a full-time photographer and discovered it is what suited me best. It was a chance to tell a story, which is my passion.
What do you like most about your job?
I like telling stories and sharing ideas that I see through the lens of the camera, although I face a lot of challenges. But this is my life. I can tell the world what is happening in a particular area. The world may never know what is happening here unless they see and feel what I am expressing through images.
What kinds of challenges do you face?
When I take out my camera and somebody sees it, he thinks: “What is that!” People are very suspicious about what you might want to do with their photos and may sometimes run away from you or at times threaten you. Sometimes you will be harassed or people will run away. Some people mistake journalists for spies when actually we are also trying to shape our country.
Can you tell us one of your most memorable working moments?
There was a time when UNESCO held the ‘Sports for Peace Competition’ and asked photographers to send in pictures that tell how sports can bring about peace and unite the youth. I knew there were many photographers including my former trainers but I decided to send in my favourite picture. I was excited when my photo entry was among the selected pictures. I was awarded ‘Best Photographer’ and received a Canon camera – that motivated me even more.
Have you ever felt unsafe in your work?
Of course, this happens to almost everyone in this line of work. Once in 2013 and again in 2016, I had to stop taking photographs for a while and I could no longer carry around my camera for fear of being seen as someone who wants to harm the nation. The current situation has also forced me to temporarily put down my camera until I see the environment as conducive for working and being safe.
How did those incidents affect your work?
They have negatively affected my work but I won’t give up. I am hopeful, like any other South Sudanese citizen, that things will get better again and I will be able to do my job freely.
How are you able to cope with the fluctuating prices?
The economy is getting worse each day. Before the crisis, one could afford a meal at a cost of less than USD 1, but now this is impossible. Although I do not have a stable income, I manage to cope – I actually feel sorry for those who earn less than me.
What do you expect in the future?
One thing that would make me happy is to see South Sudan benefit from the fruits of my work. I will do this by documenting the main events in my country and I will start from the moment I started my photography until the time I die. When the next generation comes, they will get the stories of the nation documented with photography.
Watch Chol’s portray of a kickboxing teacher in Juba: