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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Michel and Woods: Unconventionally Uncovering
Nicole D´Alessio, NYU ´17
La Pietra Dialogues
December 4, 2013

Serge Michel, a self-described ‘reporter-at-large’, began freelance travel reporting at the age of 18, and cites his most interesting years as those in which he worked with photographer Paolo Woods. The duo met in Afghanistan and immediately began packaging their photo and text collaborations and selling their stories freelance. Though working freelance had its advantages because Serge and Michel had more freedom, Michel and Woods understood that in order to compensate for the irregularity of freelance work, they would have to rely on the unique ability live collaboration allows to sell more detailed reports based on a synergy between the photographic images and text. Michel and Woods are unconventional in more than their freelance collaboration methods, though. Often the pair have opted for “slow” journalism—projects that last years in order to divulge a more complex story—instead of contemporary media’s seeming preference for “fast journalism”—news that is quickly available. Often these slow-stewed stories give brighter illumination to the humanistic aspects of scenarios, as displayed throughout their projects.

In the first project they undertook together, Oil/A Crude World, begun just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Michel and Woods wanted to investigate the various sources of the U.S. oil supply and what they saw as a neo-conservative hidden motivation for war: the need to guarantee oil supplies. They travelled to 12 countries reporting on America’s diversified crude oil sources. The amazing possibility to interview people from differing walks of life—for example, impoverished people living in oil fields in Papa New Guinea, to the CEO of Exxon Mobil in Texas. Their coverage of the French Riots in 2005, during which Serge Michel refused to remain for only two weeks, as proposed by the newspaper he was working for, was groundbreaking. Instead, they remained for 16 months, which allowed them to slowly, over months, understand the state of national emergency through citizens’ eyes. They sought to portray what countries are like immediately after invasion in American Chaos, following the same dangerous trail between Basra and Mosul, Iraq immediately after the American invasion and again two years after it. They saw the people of Afghanistan regain hope after the fall of the Taliban, returning two years later only to witness the Taliban’s second uprising. During this time they were able to investigate through picture and text what the mainstream press and media had not covered: on one occasion Woods reported a near-death experience while spending time with warlords, and Michel recounted one particular instance when UNICEF reported bringing books to a school in Afghanistan, only to find upon arrival no said building, only one child reading to the others in the street. Other feats include the investigation of the interesting relationship between Chinese entrepreneurs in Africa, whose presence grew from 2007-2008, and the native African population in the report Chinafrica, and the revealing book of Iranian portraits, Walk on My Eyes, which concentrates on conveying “some happy truths” about living in what Michel calls an often misinterpreted nation.

Though Woods and Michel have no current projects together —Michel took a position as deputy director at Le Monde and Woods is working on a project in Haiti, both delight in being able to make their works available to all sorts of people around the world and presenting accurate reflections of cultures to the world.

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