Stephen Penney

My love for photography started at the age of 14 years when my father handed me his camera and I took a few photographs on his Ricoh film camera using black and white film. To my surprise the photographs were great and were even used in the local newspaper, Grocott's Mail, where my father was the sports editor.

Needless to say I have not let go of the camera (although the camera has changed over the years) since.

I have been fortunate enough to have my hobby as my full time job, although the photography side has been combined with sports writing over the last few years. And while photography may seem to be an easy career to follow, don't be fooled.

My years of enjoyment through photography have also seen me face some of the worst experiences. From photographing at accident scenes around bodies to receiving threats as well as being arrested have been some of the less fortunate moments.

While still in senior school at Graeme College, I was the school photographer for most of my senior years and was a freelance photographer for Grocott's Mail. After school I continued photographing for Grocott's Mail, as well as photographing many functions for Foto First, including Rhodes University Graduation.

I attended the Creative Escapes: Autumn Spectacular photography course over a period of three days, have been a media photographer at the Two Oceans Marathon and Comrades Marathon for many years. I have freelanced for the Daily Dispatch during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

I have been a professional wedding photographer and undertake odd private photography jobs for newspapers, businesses, organisations and individuals.

I attended the 3rd year photojourn course at Rhodes Photojourn department, have attended a photoshop and photography course with Rhodes photojourn lecturer Harold Gess.

In 2005 I won the Sanlam National Community Press Photographer of the Year award (judges called the portfolio nearly flawless) as well as 3rd in the features and 3rd in the news categories.

In the same year I was awarded a merit award for service to the community from the Rotary Club of Grahamstown Sunset, as well as rewarded by the Graeme College Old Boys Union for outstanding achievements.

The following year I finished third in the Sanlam Community Press Photographer of the Year award and 5th in the sports writing category.

But with all the proud moments you come across an idiot that has to "pig up" everything for everyone.

In November 2007 I was arrested by a copper while taking photographs at a fatal accident scene for Grocott's Mail, as I have done for the past 15 years. The case was thrown out of court weeks later. I then sued the Minister of Safety and Security for wrongful arrest. After a number of postponements due to the others looking for witnesses and working on their 'kak praat'. In 2009 the case eventually got to court, I gave my evidence and the others tried to give theirs. However, with their lies came more lies, contradictions and my lawyer having a laugh at stages with the utterly bizarre and obvious lies these three idiots were coming up with. I realised these three knew nothing about photography and never realised what a zoom lens was. IDIOTS.

Judgment was granted in my favour in July 2009. The magistrate called my evidence clear, precise and detailed.

I have since attended many more crime scenes and the coppers seem quite sheepish when I arrive to do my job.

Johnny Anger (Jonathan Ancer)

Arrested development


The mayhem started at 7am last week Wednesday when a bakkie with eight people loaded on the back overturned. It ended 12 hours later with a crash that saw four women — one of whom was pregnant — killed. In between the crashes, there was an armed cash heist. This all took place in what is often described as the “sleepy town of Grahamstown”.

On the Wednesday morning, Grocott’s Mail photographer Stephen Penney reported in our daily diary meeting that he had just returned from the first accident scene. There were no deaths, but a number of people had been taken to hospital. We decided to put a photograph of the accident scene on our front page to serve as a warning for residents to be careful on the roads as the festive season — which has become synonymous with “road carnage” — approaches.

We felt that the message would be especially timely because Rhodes students, who are finishing exams, are climbing into their cars and leaving town. Last November, three students died in an accident shortly after they had written their final exams.

We can write many articles imploring residents to drive carefully, but words just don’t have the same impact as a single photograph of a mangled wreck. We thought this photo might shock our readers and remind them about the consequences of being careless behind the wheel; to remind them that when they drive like maniacs they are not only endangering their own life, they are also playing Russian roulette with the lives of other people.

But 10 hours later, Stephen got a call about the accident in which the four women were killed. Amazingly, in the scope of his duty to record what is happening in Grahamstown for its residents, Stephen was arrested. He spent a few hours in the cells and police are now investigating a charge of “hindering the police”. But Stephen was just doing his job — gathering information to share with Grocott’s Mail readers.

His arrest is an assault on press freedom.

While the police were booking Stephen, the armed cash-heist robbers were on the loose.


Saving our journos from jail

GUY BERGER Feb 20 2008 (Mail & Guardian)

As a rookie reporter in the Seventies, I snapped some shots of pollution billowing out of the Modderfontein dynamite factory. A security guard gave me a blast and whipped me off to HQ where my film was confiscated.

Invited soon after to a "watch your step, son" lunch, AECI management told me: "We've developed your pictures -- they weren't very good anyway."

And so went one story that wasn't going to see the light of day.

That experience -- and worse -- is all too common. Just last week, the Sowetan's Mhlaba Memela was dragged off to police cells for taking pictures of looting. The police reportedly claimed he had obstructed the course of justice, failed to comply with their instructions, incited a crowd and resisted arrest.

A magistrate soon after threw the case out, but couldn't reverse the history of Memela having suffered an intimidating and wholly unnecessary ordeal.

A similar misfortune last year befell Stephen Penney, photojournalist for Grahamstown's Grocott's Mail. He was unceremoniously locked up after he took pictures of a traffic accident.

It's not just the unpleasantness for the journo that is the problem when such things happen, but also the denial of the public's right to know. The story becomes at best what happened to the press, not what the journalist was trying to report.

No one knows if the removal of the correspondent in these cases served to enable the police to engage in unprofessional conduct out of public gaze.

Discussing these issues recently, a member of the South African National Editors' Forum volunteered that he had seen official police guidelines issued to members of the force instructing them on how to deal with the press.

One principle outlined in these was that cops were not entitled to confiscate photographers' film. Unfortunately, said the editor, it did not seem that such points had been well communicated within the force.

The irony, he added, was that he was not allowed to obtain a copy of the guidelines.

What is clearly needed is an explicit deal between the media and police that sets out detailed protocols for their relationship in the field.

We could profitably draw on experience from the United States. There, in 1999, a bevy of New York newspapers drafted a civic action against then mayor Rudolf Giuliani and his police commissioner. They accused the authorities of overseeing illegitimate denial of access to crime, fire and accident scenes, and of interfering with journalists' ability to report the news.

They recalled earlier police guidelines that explicitly stated their objective as being "to cooperate with media representatives by not interfering or allowing others to interfere with media personnel acting in their news-gathering capacity".

The guidelines also cautioned members of the police that "intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or harassing the photographer constitutes censorship". Another aspect was that the media should be given access as close to the action as possible with a clear line of sight.

The New York media cited numerous cases where these provisions had been violated.

In response to the pressure, the New York city chiefs agreed to reaffirm their adherence to the guidelines, and to educate members of the police. They also provided 24-hour contact details for complaints to be reported.

There was even a commitment for police to stop others from interfering with journalists, and for disciplinary proceedings to be instituted against wayward officers.

The case stands as a fine example of what can be done, with good will on each side.

If police respect the right of journalists to do their job, and if journalists accept that there are occasions when access can be curtailed, the two sides can meet each other's -- and the public's -- varied interests.

Journalists need to avoid obstructing police actions or disturbing the integrity of evidence. They should stay out of the way of rescue personnel and be sensitive about privacy issues.

On their side, police should acknowledge that journalists meet the public's right to know what's happening -- which includes knowledge whether members of the force are behaving in a professional and accountable manner.

South Africa needs a protocol like that in New York -- with just one updated proviso. Journalistic rights and responsibilities at incidents should also be extended to bloggers and citizen journalists, especially when it is them, and not the professional reporters, who happen to be on the spot.

That dispensation would give us a recipe for maximum transparency and a free flow of information -- and a way to avoid run-ins with officials and journalists ending up in jail.

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