Vancouver at COP15: Q&A with Kris Krüg
Image by Flickr / Kris Krüg
In the aftermath of Copenhagen, Vancouver photog and citizen journalist Kris Krüg dishes on police clashes, the Fresh Air Centre and Vancouver's digital legacy
“If any a time there was a dire need for citizen journalists to be capturing and reporting news as it happened, COP15 was the place,” says Vancouver photographer and citizen journalist Kris Krüg, who travelled to Copenhagen in December to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15). (See his coverage for Granville magazine here.)
Police hold protesters during a
climate change rally on the streets
of Copenhagen. Photo by Kris Krüg.
The international photographer and open-source digital denizen is well known for his camera work—shooting everything from fashion runway shoes and portraits of politicians to Vancouver events and live concerts—as well as for his commitment to the cause of citizen journalism, having worked to get the 24-hour/day new media centre at the new Woodward’s building, W2 Culture + Media House, off the ground in time for non-accredited bloggers and journalists to share their perspectives on the 2010 Winter Games.
He also teaches about the Internet and its evolving landscape, including a stint last year speaking at TED x Shanghai about “open everything” (as in open media, open culture, open standards) and the spirit of openness that is fast becoming the prevailing culture of the digital world.
Kris jumped at the chance to cover the Copenhagen climate talks as part of the Fresh Air Centre, which acted as the central hub for media and NGOs during the conference.
“Being in Copenhagen during this world event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he says, “because there were so many different energies at play.”
Of those energies, the police and protesters were two in particular that clashed at the conference, and Kris was on the ground documenting their interactions.
Did you go to Copenhagen planning to cover the demonstrators?
Kris Krüg: I didn’t even know there were going to be demonstrations and police dogs… I went to Copenhagen to cover the events as they unfolded, to shoot heads of states as well as the more independent and alternative track—the people who fall outside of the legislative category. They were the good guys there, the scientists, the experts and the citizen activists.
While documenting what was going down on the streets of Copenhagen, you were caught in the middle of the big rally that saw 200 participants arrested. Tell us about that experience.
100,000 people were out, and most of them were in a celebratory mood. Families, clowns, people playing instruments, chanting and signing, carrying signs... etc, etc. The crowd was really diverse.
The particular group they cutoff from the rest of the protest were mostly a group of 200 young people dressed in all black with hoodies and scarves over their face. The “we-need-a-systems-change,” angry anarchists types. They were shouting things about “fuck the police” and “down with capitalism” but were not violent in any way that I could see. The worst “crime” I saw was someone spray painting a sign.
I was also involved in another action where thousands of people marched up to the front gates of the Bella Center and tried [a number of times] to push through. After the first push-through, the police started breaking out the pepper spray and dogs and batons… waiting for [the protest] to trickle off. Their strategy seemed to work because they were able to get the crowd to dissipate.
Did you feel law enforcement was acting out of just cause?
Just cause? Not sure. Overwhelming force. Definitely. We're talking barking dogs, riot gear, guys with tear gas, grenade guns, etc. The protest was legal… the organizers told the cops when and where and got a permit. I didn't see any reason for the cops to act as they did.
They apologized that night on TV to the many innocent people mistakenly arrested in this “preemptive” attack. It's hard for me to see it as justified in any way.
There was a lot of media coverage of the Copenhagen climate talks, much of it coming out of the Fresh Air Centre.
The FAC was cool because everyone was there trying to cover a different aspect of the conference. I was there to cover the people on the street and get the full picture, others were there to cover the delegates or to interview the experts, and there were lots of bloggers covering the full spectrum.
But at the end of the day, everyone would come back to the centre and get to work writing and editing and filing pieces; we’d share stories, or speakers—like Amy Goodman—would come by. There was happy hour every night.
Actually a great article to read is: Activism 2.0: Creating Casablanca in Copenhagen, The Fresh Air Center, which offers “10 Lessons Learned From TckTckTck's Fresh Air Center, Applying Activism 2.0.”
How did the centre work?
At any point at the FAC, there were photographers, Q&A sessions, interviews, press conferences and general media management going on. The FAC was the connecting point for the rest of the world to stay on top of the daily events of COP15.
I was using it as my home office for editing and uploading photos when I wasn't shooting the negotiations in the Bella Center or hitting the streets to photograph the protests.
There were several Vancouver people working at the Fresh Air Center. What kind of influence did Vancouver people have at the centre?
Jason Mogus, CEO of Vancouver web
strategy firm Communicopia, was
"the man" at the Fresh Air Center.
Photo by Kris Krüg.
Jason Mogus was kinda “the man” as far as I could tell. Jason did all the digital online strategy for TckTckTck; the website, videos, generating photography—all in order to influence strategic climate change goals. He put together the whole digital side of the TckTckTck campaign: email marketing, SEO, blogging teams. Jason was the centre-point from which it all flowed.
Steve Rio was in charge of content strategy for the TckTckTck live site, routing photos into the stream, giving assignments, editing and curating the stuff, as well as the digital infrastructure, making sure there was fast Internet, IT people, digital support, nuts and bolts stuff.
Does having three digital leaders (yourself, Jason and Steve) at the Fresh Air Centre speak for the strength of Vancouver’s digital industry?
There’s a strong innovative presence coming out of Vancouver. Flickr started here... From Northern Voice to Bar Camp, we have a lot of digital leaders here who are internationally known... Web designers, programmers, web developers and strategists.
Vancouver's Steve Rio ran the live.tcktcktck.org
site, streaming video, photos and stories from
COP15 as it happened. Photo by Kris Krüg.
Technology and the Internet has changed everything about the way news is told and distributed, and Vancouver had a lot of leaders [at FAC] in that space because they were specialists in all these areas.
We have an X-Men team of digital people in this city who well represent the change going on in news making and even the way that politics is done. Just look at our mayor who was tapping away on his Blackberry sending tweets even from Copenhagen.
While in Copenhagen, we could influence the conversation and show off. I’m proud of us really.
What did you learn about how other cities are handling open media that Vancouver can learn from?
It's all an experiment and we have a ton to learn. I saw a lot of good practices in play in Copenhagen at the Fresh Air. It was impressive. Drop in hours, fast bandwidth, open collaborative space, email, communications infrastructure… beer! :)
Kris's photojournalist accreditation got him
out of police custody when caught
during one of the street rallies at COP15.
Photo by Kris Krüg.
As a city, how would you compare Vancouver to Copenhagen?
I think there are a lot of similarities in some ways. Copenhagen, you are a lovely city, I think there could be dinner and wine in our future; I think it’s a good match!
The people [in Copenhagen] are totally beautiful and smart, cultured, interested in being outdoors. Nobody drives.
One curious thing about Danish people, though, is they’re so formulaic, always ready and prepared. They salt the roads before it even snows, and they arrest the protesters before they even protest…
What did you want to bring home with you?
Christiania. The bike culture. Several of the Danish girls I met.
VIDEO: A montage of Kris Krüg’s photos capturing the protests and arrests:
Created by Danielle Sipple.