Let’s get this out of the way first: Andrew Burton is a damn fine photographer.
He would have achieved his goal of becoming a photojournalist for a newswire service. He was well on his way after successful internships at The Oregonian and Getty Images.
But the events of February 2, 2011 launched his fledgling career into hyperdrive.
After speaking with veterans in the field, the 2010 Syracuse graduate realised that he needed to pay his own way on a couple trips to prove himself. So in early 2011, he took some money he saved up and bought a ticket to the year’s first big news story.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to make 2011 the year that I’m going to cover major events,'” he told The Wire Tuesday afternoon. “The first one to come up was Egypt and I headed over there without any assignments.”
Once he was on the ground, Bloomberg News hired him for a couple of days. One afternoon, he was back in his hotel room finishing up transmission of some images when he received word that there were clashes in Tahrir Square. He grabbed his camera and took off toward the protests. Unbeknownst to him, he approached from the pro-Mubarak side, and the then-president’s supporters didn’t appreciate the media’s portrayal of him.
We’ll let him tell what happened next:
“I got roughed up. The crowd saw me taking photos and they turned on me. I was very lucky that some of the anti-Mubarak protestors were kind enough to create a human shield or human wall around me. They tried to move me out of the crowd but it didn’t go so well, and I ended up against a tank. A few soldiers lifted me up and threw me into the tank. I spent a few hours inside there until things calmed down.”
How His Story Flew Around The Internet
The coverage helped get Burton noticed. This isn’t a statement to diminish his skill, but one of fact. Even the photographer himself will agree it helped.
“Absolutely. Photographers are a dime a dozen. There’s a lot of supply and not much demand. You do need unique images or unique stories to break through,” Burton said. “I think [the visibility because of what happened in Egypt] was a step in the right direction. It was foolish of me to put myself in that situation — I would never do that to advance my career — but it was serendipitous that it got so much coverage.”
Soon after, he left Egypt and returned to the United States. He continues trying to make it as a freelance photojournalist. Burton shot in Japan for USA Today (“That was devastating.”), dining reviews for The New York Times and The Oregonian, Fashion Week for the Associated Press, and more.
It hasn’t been easy, but he’s making it work.
The need to pursue big international news persists, however, so on Monday Burton is headed to Sudan for a month. He’s going without any concrete assignments, just planning to be there when South Sudan gains their independence on July 9.
“I’m sure something will work itself out,” he said.
It will. It always does. But this time it would be nice not to get thrown into a tank.
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