Journalists make great MCs (So hire us for your event!)

Journalists are good interviewers for events, too

If you have an event for which you need a good “master of ceremonies” – someone who can give a good introduction to a topic and then follow up by initiating and maintaining a provocative conversation – you can’t go wrong by hiring a journalist as your emcee.

Drew Leifheit interviews photographers Antoine d’Agata and Matt Black in Budapest

As a journalist/communications specialist one of my main objectives when I interview someone as an event host is not only to ask questions but to listen to, and engage in a real conversation with, my subject. This really makes for the best live presentation possible and, ultimately, a compelling, interactive event.

So when an old colleague of mine recommended me as the MC for a program at the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center, I was honored to take on the assignment. The job comprised writing an introduction for two very distinguished photographers, Frenchman Antoine D’Agata and American Matt Black, who had held 5-day intensive workshops with two groups of international students in Budapest. After introducing them, basically I was hired to host a live talk show in front of an audience of about 100 people.

Good interviews take preparation

It did involve quite a bit of preparation, as I was not familiar with the photographers or their work, so I read up on them and pored through their online portfolios. Their photographs inspired me to jot down some of my impressions of their work, some descriptions which ended up forming the basis of how I introduced these two shutterbugs to the audience.

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My speech went like this:

“Good evening and a very warm welcome to you from the Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center here in Budapest and from Magnum Photos, the artist collective that was formed over 7o years ago by four distinguished photographers, Robert Capa among them.

Drew, master of ceremonies

Today, Magnum Photos continues to facilitate the craft and art of photography via the 45 members of the group who capture aspects of our world in unique, outstanding images.

As part of its celebration of the 70 years since its founding, Magnum has helped to bring two of those members, Frenchman Antoine d’Agata and American Matt Black, two distinguished photographers who truly see things through vastly different lenses.

Just gazing at a couple of the images they’ve captured makes that apparent.

Matt black’s photo entitled ‘Fencepost’ is a case in point.

Matt Black’s “Fencepost”

At first glance, one might think that the claw resting on a wooden fencepost belongs to a predatory bird. But it’s actually the dark-skinned, mottled hand of a human being whose palm hangs off of the end of the post facing up towards a cloudy sky. The soiled and weathered workshirt, barbed wire fence and dessicated landscape in the background give away the fact that this is no romantic, wild-west film, but a place where people struggle to live off of the land.

Perhaps the photo epitomises Matt Black’s work. He’s from an agricultural area in California and in his work explores the connections between migration, poverty, agriculture and the environment. He has taken on numerous such projects and won several prestigious awards for his efforts. Matt, it seems, is crazy about what he does as one of his projects, called The Geography of Poverty, had him travel 48,000 miles across America to highlight the gap between the rich and the poor.

Then, let’s take a snapshot look at some of Antoine d’Agata’s work, which oftentimes makes some of the seedier aspects of life into dreamy, sometimes even nightmarish, images of human beings.

Antoine d’Agata’s “Japan”

One photo entitled ‘Japan’ shows a blurred black and white vision of a bare Asian woman with closed eyes and puckered lips, her neck elongated and head pushed up and back towards the ceiling. Her hair flows behind her like a sea anemone.

Another of Antoine’s pieces called ‘Hamburg’ portrays two elderly people – perhaps a couple – keeled over at a table with their mussed up hair covering almost every aspect which would reveal that they are human beings. They could be dead, dead tired or department store mannequins leaning against the table in the sparsely furnished room. The scene makes one wonder, what’s their story? Are they drunk, alive or dead?

Originally from Marseille, Antoine has travelled the world to document the underbelly of various people in various cultures. He has published books featuring sex workers, drug addicts, the homeless and people whose lives have been destroyed by war. He has continued to publish books of his work, won prestigious photography prizes and even exhibited in Paris.

Two distinguished photographers with very different visions of the world, yet something has brought them together. Matt and Antoine have come here to Budapest to help two groups of budding photographers figure out how they see the world through the own viewfinders.

In fact, the two have just guided a group of over two dozen students through a five-day photography masterclass, which I’m sure included a lot of shooting, evaluation, discussion, maybe even a bit of crying, but hopefully a lot of laughing, too.

Having spent the last five days with their charges, developing visual language, photographic identity, practical, technical and conceptual skills, today was the end. As the locals say here in Hungary, “Jo pihenest!” We wish you a good rest.

But first, we’d like to ask that the two of you give us a quick recap of what happened in the photography course, and then I’d like to invite you to our couch so that I  can ask you a few questions about what your approaches as photographers.”

Time for the Q&A session

My short speech was done. Then Matt and Antoine each spoke a bit about their mentoring process and showed a montage of the budding photographers’ work from the week that they’d spent together with them.

Among my questions, I asked the two distinguished photographers about the amount of observation/interaction (instructions, staging?) that goes into how they take their photos, the cumulative effect upon them (and their photography) of photographing the downtrodden, forlorn, and thoughts on photography and everyday people, and what they think about the selfie.

While the audience was a bit subdued, they did ask a few good questions. Overall, and I think those in attendance would agree, there was a good vibe at the event and I was proud to be able to introduce the two photographic artists and facilitate an understanding of how, and why, they do what they do.

Event moderation services in Hungary and beyond

Drew Leifheit is a native English speaker who has been living and working in Hungary for almost three decades. He is a freelance journalist, radio producer and communications consultant who is able to do live interviewing or act as a master of ceremonies at a wide variety of Budapest events and has even led a Q&A in the European Parliament. His next gig as an event host will be at the Budapest LNG Summit, where he will moderate a panel discussion entitled “Challenges for Visegrad 4 country policymakers.”

Check out one of Drew’s stories on Public Radio International’s environmental show, Living on Earth.

Contact Sounds Serious Communications to host your English-language event in Budapest.