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Nino Film Blog | June 12, 2024

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Dan Chung’s Tsunami Aftermath HDSLR video challenges people’s expectations about news coverage

Dan Chung’s Tsunami Aftermath HDSLR video challenges people’s expectations about news coverage

We have all been following the unfolding tragedy that has hit Japan about a week ago – first an earthquake of unprecedented power, followed by a devastating tsunami that left much of Japan’s shores absolutely destroyed, thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. And if that wasn’t enough, the danger of a nuclear catastrophe looms as the Fukushima power plant – positioned directly at the shore – was destroyed, exposing radiating fuel rods to the atmosphere. That country has been beaten hard from all sides within only a couple of days.

Rescue workers carry a bodybag through a devastated neighbourhood - Dan Chung for The Guardian

Philip Bloom has started a fundraiser on his blog to help victims of the Japanese earthquake – I beg and urge you to take part and chip in a little money. As a by-product of being super-awesome by helping people, you can win great prices (for example equipment from Kessler Crane worth $2.000!) – so there’s really no reason not to take part, every little donation counts.

In such times of crisis, the UK newspaper The Guardian often seems to fall back on one particular member of their photo journalists, Dan Chung, and send him right in the middle of it all. For example, they sent him right there after the Arizona shootings a while back, he also went to North Korea when Kim Jong Il introduced his son during a military parade, and so on – he practically seems to be the fire brigade of the DSLR journalist world.

DSLR pioneer Dan Chung

He is also a pioneer as a video shooter, because he was one of the first people in the news crowd to use DSLRs in news-type environments, which is a particularly hard thing to do. His blog is a great resource that I look at regularly, be sure to check it out too. I am about to finish my review on his great tutorial “Dan Chung – Video on Assignment” that he did with the F-Stop Academy, where I will talk much more about his way of working. (Exclusive to my readers: Get 43% off any product from the F-Stop Academy using promo code “nino43”.)

Anyway, he was sent to Japan by The Guardian the day after it was hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and as usual, he was assigned to shoot both stills and video of the area. The video and photos he shot for the newspaper were posted on their website, check out the video right here:

As you can see, still quite unusual for news footage, he used a slider to add depth to the shots of the completely wrecked landscape.

However, he also used his little spare time to do a more personal edit, adding music to the shots – then he posted this version on Vimeo:

Reactions to the video were numerous and quite controversial. By adding both music and slider shots to the video, it seemed to many that he somehow romanticized a tragedy that was (and still is) unfolding, where people are still dying and suffering. I think it is respectfully shot, but I also understand the argument that it really challenges what people have become used to regarding news footage presentation.

Check out the comment thread on the video’s Vimeo page to understand what I am talking about.

Here is a screenshot of my comments on Vimeo:

Interestingly – as Angeline Gragasin pointed out to me on Twitter – Laurence Topham, the editor/producer at who re-cut Dan’s original version for the Guardian, posted a comment on Dan’s “private edit” too and also adds that adding music was “too much, too soon”:

UPDATE – Dan Chung video podcast

Angeline thankfully also pointed out in the comments that there is now a lengthy audio podcast with Dan Chung on David Campbell’s blog, where he goes into great detail about the whole assignment to shoot in the disaster zone.

In an effort to offer something different, Dan produced a piece of ‘cinematic journalism’ he felt embodied the experience of being in the disaster zone. He discusses his intentions at length in the podcast (from 20:55 to 30:00). This film, which took less than two hours to make, has generated a lot of controversy online, as the comments on Vimeo demonstrate.

Check out the full audio podcast and even more backstory on David Campbell’s blog.

Personally, I’m torn on this entire matter, I can understand either side but I’m not sure if either of which is “right”. It’s really all a matter of perspective, but maybe it indeed is too much, too soon.

What’s your position on this?

UPDATE: Video: Khalid Mohtaseb & Philip Bloom discussing cinematic news shooting

Watch this interesting discussion between Khalid Mohtaseb and Philip Bloom discuss the issues around the use of cinematic techniques in news shooting. Jon Bryant sent it to me after he read this article, and I think it is worth sharing on the matter. It was ironically also shot by Dan Chung, but the two of them cover many of the issues currently being discussed around Dan Chung’s tsunami aftermath video.



  1. dimitris tsironis

    I understand that both sides are equally rational but I think it’s not the perfect timing to whine about the sound on a documentary. It’s just wrong. It seems like we see the story only from the technical point of view (if you get me)

    • Yes – but his approach changes the way that story is perceived, I think that’s the core of the issue – i.e. it changes the meaning of the content, or at least it does according to some people.

      • dimitris tsironis

        Well! This is true in some way. But I think (as you are a blogger too you know) that a common problem is to create something that would last in time. This is viewed pleasantly today and will be also be viewed more pleasantly in a few months (in retrospective).

        But I would like that the beauty in this video is the unexpected sound. It’s original piece of art

  2. For me it’s about context.

    The quality of the work is beyond doubt, the gear as we all know is in good hands and to be on the scene is an achievement in itself.

    People who are saying that the piano track is ‘wrong’, well I don’t agree. It is neither right or wrong, it depends entirely on what context the video is being viewed under, by whom and where.

    That is why Laurence is right that in the context of news, the piano track is not a good fit. But in context of a documentary or a retrospective a few months after the event the music fits well.

    So that’s my view… not black & white, not right & wrong. It’s not that simple.

    • I agree with you, Andrew – it’s very much also about the WHEN. This is why many people have a problem with it. It’s always a matter about perspective and context.

  3. Ryan

    Dan’s an artist.

    Art will always be seen through different lenses dispite if it’s in the news or not.

    Art is meant to comfort the troubled and trouble the comforted… Sounds like it’s doing just that. At least he got up and made something instead of just arguing about making something.

    I loved it.

    • Agreed! He made something that clearly moves people – it proves that it has an impact.

  4. Podcast in which Dan Chung talks about “the aesthetic, logistical and reporting challenges he faced working in the disaster zone.”


    • Thanks Angeline – updated the blog post with a link to the podcast.

  5. roger armstrong

    Dan Cheung was wrong to make this video, making a piece of ‘art’ was not the right thing to do in the circumstances, but maybe that is the point. Given the fear mongering, biased agenda of the BBC and Sky News coverage, Cheung’s film crucially does not add an alternative view (unsurprising given he works for The Guardian) and therefore adds nothing of value to the overall coverage. To do that there should at the very least be some personal bias or interest. There isn’t, so it’s simply some guy with a camera shooting video for his own means (in this case getting paid), he just doesn’t need to be there. The fact he’s using a DSLR is totally irrelevant in this case.

    Also I’m not convinced including a promo code in a blog on such a sensitive, controversial subject matter is the way to go. The seeming commercialisation of a tragedy is further demonstrated when clicking on the link to Philip Bloom’s site and being confronted by banners for various products. Maybe I’m old school, and for you new kids on the block this is ok, but personally I don’t think it’s appropriate.

    • How is a tragedy being commercialized when the whole intent of Philip’s blog post is funding relief efforts in Japan?? That really pisses me off.

      What are you doing to support people hit by the unbelievable catastrophe??

      Your comments ALWAYS show an extremely negative attitude and you seem to be tangled up with conspiracy theories in your head all the time. Get some fresh air!!

      • roger armstrong

        I was genuinely interested in what Philip Bloom was doing after the ham fisted way I criticised you and him before christmas. However when I went to that page the first thing I saw was an advert for something, and personally I thought that was inappropriate and it just confirmed my original point.

        You can try and dismiss my views as negative or conspiratorial, they’re not, they’re just radical, extreme and honest.

        Since you ask I’m not doing anything to help the victims of the Japanese earthquake, but neither am I so misguided to be attempting to profit from it, or raise my profile or assuage my ego. Since we’re on that question what exactly are you doing that’s so worthy?

        If you don’t like me or my comments block me from posting, but do not get all pious and high and mighty, it’s not an argument you can ever win with discount codes to your affiliate sponsors.

      • Yawn, Roger. I am so tired of your half-assed putting-in-perspective.

        No point in further replying to any of your accusations or finger-pointing.


    • Ollie Dale

      I completely agree with Nino – and there is no “Maybe” in that last sentence, Roger.

    • Thomas

      I think you are seeing this a little out of perspective. Would it be inappropriate to place Banner ads to intentionally profit from an article on a tragedy like this? Absolutely. I would completely agree with that.

      But that is not really the case here. The ads are on Philip Bloom’s site all the time. It doesn’t matter if he writes about DSLRs, little sweet kittens or a tragedy like this one. So yes, he did ‘commercialize’ his own website (Which, considering all the valuable information he is sharing seems just fair) but you can’t really charge him with commercializing the tragedy. He doesn’t have more ads on his website than he usually does.

      Taking “The Guardian” for instance (Or any other online edition newspaper that is available for free). They have banner ads on their site and it doesn’t matter if you are reading the sports section or the an article about Japan. So do they commercialize the tragedy? Or my local radio station by not removing their usual ads?

      Maybe it is a little ‘unfortunate’ that the first thing you see going to the site are the three banner ads. Maybe. But would I expect him to reprogram his website or even condemn and charge him with commercializing the tragedy? No, not at all.

      He is putting the reach of his name to use to help the people and I think it is great and I hope he continues doing it in the future.

  6. Personally, I liked it and also feel that it’s also too soon.
    But that just means I care.
    Care about the people who’s lives were ruined by this disaster.
    I would be more troubled if I didn’t have any feeling over it. That would mean that I’d been desensitized by all the bad things that happen in this world today.
    So for the people who felt troubled by it, I’m glad you care. I’m glad that not everyone out there is joking about it like that awful duck-voiced fellow or that boob job from ucla…

    Months from now people with footage from the area will no doubt add music to their edits and we will watch it and have feelings about the tragedy.

    Be glad that people still care.

  7. Jeremy

    I think Thomas has it right. They’re not trying to ‘commercialize’ the tragedy, it’s just the nature of sites like Phil’s that use wordpress (I assume), that it’s probably quite difficult, if not impossible, to turn off ads for one specific post. Or at the very least, would require an IT type. This is however, coming from me who knows very little about wordpress & its customizations 😉

  8. eco_bach

    I agree that the music and tracking were inappropriate fro the subject matter given the timing. Perhaps in a few years, but not for news reportage. Just my 2 cents.

  9. Jeff Hanley

    First, the criticism of Phillip for having ads on his site at the same time he rallies a fundraising effort is nonsensical. When CNN covers the earthquake they also have commercial breaks. When a theater chain screens Schindler’s List, they also screen trailers for other movies. When a record label sells the music from the Tribute To Heroes concert, they put it on the shelf next to other product.

    Good intentions don’t have to be quarantined from the culture and the context in which they live. They should be judged by their authenticity, their content and the results they achieve.

    Dan Chung’s video is not “news.” It may be journalism, but it is editorial journalism, like the subjective reporting of ER Murrow from the rooftops of London during the blitz or Cronkite’s reporting from Vietnam. In the face of extreme tragedy, there is no “objectivity.” Only eyes and ears that are there when we can’t be. Music track or no music track, it’s one person’s view of a story. As far as I can tell, he makes no claim to be clinically stating facts, only telling the story as he sees it. Compelling, and in the same spirit as all the Pulitzer winners who reported back from the scenes they were witnessing on our behalf.

  10. Very much a non-issue, imho.

    When I saw the videos, I was into them because of the subject matter. The dramatic conventions used (slider+music) felt to me as an invitation to consider the material in a much more abstract way than the news material I’ve been consuming elsewhere about the subject. I accepted the invitation, as cliched, melodramatic or technically gimmicky as it may or may not be, and used my experience watching it to wonder what the people are going through, the forces of nature and how I fit in the scheme of things. I commiserated with the people there a little, my imagination painting an emotional meaning on the sparse approach offered by Dan’s work.

    There’s so much media out there in the world, that to question the moral appropriateness, while important, can most often be dealt with a bit of mild neglect, and if one feels so inclined, one as a creative force can bring in ones’ own vision, join the conversation, if you will, and provide a different perspective to the world by making our own artistic statement or expression. Anyone is welcome to make their own video however they see fit.

    But to feel offended, moralistic or judgmental about it is missing the point by a wider margin. It reminds me of a confucian saying I’m not afraid to misquote:

    One who is offended by an unintended insult is a fool. One offended by an intentional insult is twice the fool.

  11. Would this have been inappropriate if shot in black and white? Perhaps if Dan had shot it using a holga lens strapped to a Red One or a Scarlett body? Where is the line for repectful journalism?
    Draw it where you will, this is not an issue of taste, it is a fundamental question of what we percieve news to be, and that is what Dan is challenging in this film. I worked for a short time in London in 2001/2 in the same press packs as Dan and even then he was a pioneer whose images showed a unique view of the world around him.
    To say that it is inappropriate to use a slider is like objecting to using a flash, or say, a 50mm lens, or simply not liking f2.8. On that, let’s outlaw anything smaller than f8 – I don’t like seeing too much detail in one shot.
    Are we so blinded by convention that we may only – for ever and ever – shoot news in the same way as it has been shot since videotape took over from film? Or can we understand collectively that convention is usually a function of the available technology and that technology is one thing guaranteed to change.
    Let’s evolve and embrace the pioneers who are challenging the way we view news and therefore the world around us.

  12. Alex

    I don’t consider this ‘gratuitously sad’ music (as someone aptly named it) to have anything to do with art. I think it’s cliché. And annoying. I don’t have to be told by the music that what I’m looking at is sad, I can figure that out myself. So it’s over the top for use as a news item.
    I also find it annoying that the slider is used for every single shot. People talk about how skilfull Dan is but I find his choice to do so bad judgement. Too much of a good thing does not make it better, on the contrary. It becomes cliché, distracting, self-defeating.
    One could argue that the means justify the goal. Whatever works to help the people in Japan should be applauded and I certainly agree with that. All else is a matter of taste.

  13. Jared Campion

    I love this video, Living in Japan its being shocking to see the way the foreign press have covered the Earthquake/Tsunami and then the nuclear incident. This video shows the terrible devastation and also the amazing way the Japanese people are dealing with this tragedy…with out saying one word.

    • Thanks Jared. Great hearing the thoughts from somebody in the middle of it. Best of luck to you over there, I hope you and yours are safe!

  14. Anytime you put one image next to another, you create a story. This film is no different. The way the camera has been used is not in a journalistic sense, or genre. It’s more dynamic, fluid, cinematic. This is just a choice. As is the use of music. All the footage that has come out of Japan is telling a story of one sort or another. It’s just most use conventions we have become so accustomed to, we do not ever question it.

    I am sure some people will criticise this work. As some will hail it great work that challenges convention. Who is right?

    Getting into a debate is not the point.

    This is just the work of a film maker who is offering to share it with the world. It either touches you or it does not. Offends you or not. Challenges you or not. You either ‘get it’ or you don’t.

    For me it took me to a place that no news footage has taken me.

    I learned something new about the tragedy. I can’t explain what that ‘new’ thing that I learned is, but I know it’s there.

    I can only imagine the film maker also wrestled with inner demons too whilst filming. It can’t have been easy to shoot, edit and release.

    Well done Nino for sharing this.

    Chris Jones

  15. Wir berichten regelmäßig in der Tagesschau (ARD) über die Katastrophe. Der Film von Dan Chung mit der umstrittenen Musikunterlegung hat nichts mit seriösem Journalismus zu tun. Also in unserer Sendung. “no chance” Kurz ausgedrückt: Stylized-tragedy instead of serious Journalism

    • Thanks for your position on this. For English-speaking readers: ARD is Germany’s public service TV and – though I’m not sure this is an official position – they think Dan Chung’s film “has nothing to do with serious journalism.”

  16. P. Hainzl

    Personally I’m still uncertain about the music.

    On the other hand there are lot of very positive comments on Dan’s film. And these different thoughts are not a question of right or wrong. It shows there are different ways to deliver a message – which should be allowed as (independent) filmmaker…

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