In Focus: Can We Be Objective Observers?
all right, So now we are going to have Deanne Fitzmorris, who's going to talk with you about whether we can be objective observers as photojournalists as documentary photographers. Dan is a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalists as well as commercial editorial photography. She has covers of Sports Illustrated works with Nat Geo as well as ESPN. So many folks all over the globe. She is also the co founder of Think Tank Photo, of which I own many bags personally myself. And I couldn't be more proud to introduce my dear friend Deanne Fitzmorris. Thank you cannot for that great introduction. Hi, everyone. It's great to be here. And I know a lot of you are trying to figure out which direction you want to go to in photography after speaking with a few of you and I want to talk about photojournalism and it's really about storytelling. So s photojournalists. Do we engage with the people that we photograph, or do we just observe? I've always been taught to be an observer, don't engage, don't i...
nfluence the situation, and it makes sense. It's all about credibility, and our photographs need to be believable. And that's why there is a code of ethics. National press photographers in their code of ethics number five, while photographing subjects do not intentionally influence or alter events. So this is what I learned. And this is how I began my photography career as a photojournalist about being objective. Is it possible? Can we be objective? I know we're supposed to as photojournalists, but when I go to a story, I bring everything I am to that story. How do I turn it off? Leave everything I know and everything I feel at the door. It's hard to dio and where I point the camera, you know, it's everything I know and I choose where I'm going to point the camera. So objective observation is, uh, is something that, as photojournalists, we all trying to navigate. We try to be as honest and truthful to the story as we can bay and about compassion and empathy were supposed to turn it off right? Not feel anything. Don't engage the objective. That's really hard to dio. And I feel like when I have compassion and when I have empathy, my stories have so much more impact. So I started my career as a staff photographer at the San Francisco Chronicle, and my early work was really quiet. I wasn't engaging with people. I was standing back and observing. I wasn't getting close, and I really felt like I'm not supposed to talk to people. I'm not supposed to engage at all. Just stand back and observe and document moments. So I got an assignment to go toe Arizona and photographed Barry Bonds, and this assignment changed the way I work from that moment. Forward Barry Bonds. Everybody knows his reputation, you know. He was one of the greatest baseball players. He was breaking all the records. I'm setting all these milestones. But he also had a reputation of not liking to be photographed, had a really distance with the media and people were intimidated by him. A lot of the press, the media, you know, really didn't know how to engage with him. He put up a while around himself and kept people at a distance. So here's an example of him saying to May, no pictures. And so, you know, you have to figure out OK, how do I navigate my way through this? My editors are saying Dion Barry's showing up at spring training We need you to get some pictures on him for this story. And it's the big story, you know. It's the start of the baseball season. Everyone's excited. And so I knew it was gonna be a challenge. So I see him arrive and he comes walking across the field and, like, unlike the other players, he didn't just start running around the field. He sat down and I found him. Okay, that's unusual. But I was standing there with a long lands on a mono pod, and I swung my lens to photograph him, and he glared at me and I was intimidated. And I thought, Now what? Dough? I dio my editors are waiting for pictures. He's glaring at me. How am I gonna work through this? You know, what could he possibly be thinking? Um, So I I thought for a minute, and I said Okay, what do I do now? And somehow I walked up to him. I took this long walk from where I was on the side of the field, up to where he waas. And I gotta tell you, I was nervous. My heart was pounding. I was sweating and I didn't know what I was going to say to him. But I felt like we all have to be adults here. You know what's going on. I need to do my job. And I was curious to know why he was glaring at May. So I walked up to him, get into his personal space. I was standing over him carrying my long lens, and I said, Barry, do you have a problem with me photographing you? I hadn't really thought this out, but I said, Do you have a problem? And are there some boundaries that I should know about? And he stopped for a minute and thought about it, and he said, No, I don't have a problem. Who were you shooting for? And what's your name? I said, The Chronicle. Deanne goes Okay, I'll call you D. So from that moment forward, things had changed. I had broken through this wall that he put up around him, and so I was able to talk to him, and so I was ableto photograph him. It was comfortable I was able to get the photographs I needed to fulfill my assignment, and I would have small talk with him, you know, before a game he would stop. And hey, you know what's going on? You know, I'm seen any good movies lately. I would say, How's your family? So just small talk. But we were building a relationship, and that was something I had never done before because I didn't think I was supposed to. So I said to him, Barry, you're breaking all these records and all these milestones. I would like to photograph you behind the scenes off the field. People know who you are on the field, but they really want to know who you are as a person. I'd like to photograph you at home with your family and he thought about it. He says, Okay, so this Waas mind boggling because nobody had ever photographed him off the field before I knew the pictures didn't exist because he didn't let anyone in. Next thing I know, I'm in the locker room with him now. It was legendary that he had a big leather recliner and a whole row of lockers. The whole wing and the other players had one locker in a little white folding chair. So just little moments that maybe shed a little bit of light on who? Various as a person. And as I got to know him as I broke through this wall, I saw this thats side of him that was warm and generous. There he is with his family, and so I go to the gym with him. He's working out and he says, Hey, D, I want you to meet my workout partners So the little moments that humanize him and I'm almost looking for the unpredictable. Of course, when I'm going to the gym with him, I'm thinking, OK, I'll get a picture of him lifting weights. That's the obvious picture. But what I'm looking for those surprises, the unpredictable pictures. And I realized I was starting to get some depth in my storytelling. If I hadn't gone up and spoken to him that day on the field, what would my picture be? It would be him on the field. But now, since I broke through, that started to build a relationship, Um, gaining some depth in this story and maybe showing who he is by me becoming more human, saying what? I thought he became more human and I realized the power of making a connection with the people I was photographing and it changed the way I worked. My pictures became more intimate and more revealing. So so much of my work now is about relationships. It's about building relationships with the people I photograph, but also building relationships with the people around the edges. In this case, this is Barry's last game as a San Francisco giant, and you can see where all the photographers are, and that's where I'm supposed to be. However, do I want the same picture that everybody else has? No. So I wanted to hang back, and I wanted to get more of a storytelling picture. You know, the magazine coming in, all the all the photographers lined up because it tells a story and it's layered, layered with information, which is what I always try to dio, now the security guard here in the dugout. His name was Carlos, and he he let me hang back for an extra minute to get this picture, and it's because I built a relationship with him. Before each game. I would call him by name and ask him how he was doing. Hey, what's going on? I mean, I know about his family. I know who he is as a person. So I think it's important how we carry ourselves as photographers in this world how we respect people and gain trust and tell more meaningful stories. After I finish this story, you know, as a staff photographer at The Chronicle, I got a call from Sports Illustrated and they said, GM, we've never seen pictures like this of sports of we've never seen pictures like this of Barry Bonds. We would love for you to come photograph him for us during your you know, his next record or mouth Stone. And it was really difficult, but I had to say no to them because I was on staff. But later, when I went freelance, I started doing a lot of work for Sports Illustrated, which I do now. I would not to do another story about Buddhist nuns, and a lot of it is curiosity. I found out that there was a monastery in Silicon Valley and there were little nuns living there thes nine year old girls, and I thought it was fascinating and I wanted to get access, and it was so difficult to get access. What I ended up doing. I went and I spoke to some of the monks in the community and tried to tried to build a relationship. I wanted to get in. I wanted to understand the story of these little nuns. And so it took so long. It took about a year for me to gain access to this story. So perseverance is so important following your instinct and your gut, um, I ended up. They said, OK, we need you. We need you to read these Buddhist books, you know, went to understand this and I said, Sure, I want understand you two. I started reading the Buddhist books. Then you need to come to our services. We have services on Sunday. So I started doing that, but I was interested, so I was just learning about the story. And finally I get in and was able to, um, to do a little bit of work with this story, but using the same principles, building relationships, connecting with people on building trust. So I was on another story and I was I was on my way through Nevada and, um, driving along, you know, it's a hot Nevada day, and in the middle of the desert And I see this sign and it says, Girls, girls, girls. So I'm thinking, What the heck is this? And then I think, Ah ha Prostitution is legal in Nevada. This is a brothel, I think. Wow, I've never been in a brothel. Wonder what it's like in there. So I was with a writer and we said, Let's just stop And so we pull in and outcomes the Madam and you know, she comes out and you know, she's wearing sweat pants, not looking to Brothel E. And And And we said, Hi, how you doing? I said, You know, I'm here working at The Chronicle. I would love to come in and see the brothel. Maybe photograph. Um, I'm curious and she goes, No, where There is no way you're coming in here. So I had to somehow turn that no into a yes, and it took time. It took honesty, the same thing I did with Barry Bonds. I just kind of spoke heart to heart my curiosity. And she said, You know what? I suppose it wouldn't do any harm if you just came in the doorway and had a look. So little by little, I was able to go in and able to start telling this story. And, um, I met some of the women who were working there and again it was about building trust. And the story ended up being about their relationship. And that led to another story. And this story was about sex trafficking, where I found out that there were some women in San Francisco. They were being held against their will. And we're thinking in San Francisco, Really This is happening at some of the massage parlors. So we looked into it, met some of the women, and this one woman who had just gotten out of it told us her story. Now, for a writer, it's a lot easier. The story is told you recount the facts, but for a photographer, how do you tell a story that's already happened? She told us the story of how she was brought from Korea through Mexico to San Francisco by L. A. And she was held against her way, her will. She was tricked. She was threatened and forced into prostitution. We're thinking I can't believe this is happening in San Francisco. So we wanted to tell this story, but very difficult to get access. But she agreed to tell us her story now photographically how was I going to do it? What we ended up doing is the writer, and I went back to Korea and we retraced the journey that she took and try to understand the sex trade. So in 2000 and eight, I was assigned to go photograph the presidential campaign. And here is Mike Huckabee, you know, campaigning for president and I heard he was going to be getting a haircut, and I'm thinking, great, Fantastic. I got an exclusive. So I thought I was going to be the only one there, photographing Mike Huckabee getting a haircut, but I wasn't, as you can see. But then I heard that Barack Obama was going to be speaking at another event the next day. So I go out there, it's in the community center and the place is packed and there's stage up front, and I know the picture that everybody is going to get is Barack Obama up on stage, and I was excited to photograph that and I got there. The place was packed wall to wall with people and Walter while with media. So all the photographers with their TV stations, writers. And so I walk in there when I think how am I going to get something different, something different than what everybody else has? So I look around the room and I see in the middle of the room a bride and a groom, and I'm thinking, Seriously, what are they doing here? So I made my way through the crowd. I went up to them and I said, What are you doing here? And they said, Well, you're not gonna believe it. Crazy thing is, we just got married and we're on our way to our reception and we just thought we'd stop here and see if we could catch a glimpse of of, um, Barack Obama speaking. So I said, She's This is incredible. I gotta make a picture of this somehow. So I'm standing next to them and next thing I know, one of the campaign aides comes walking out and he goes up any whispers to them and I over here, he said, Would you like to go backstage and meet Barack Obama? And they said we'd love to, so I follow right along behind them and I get to the backstage area. There's Secret Service there. They look at me. They said There's no way you're coming back here with those cameras The campaign aide looks at him and says, Oh, she's the wedding photographer. Yeah, he had my back. He was watching out for me. He wanted to help me get this picture. So I ended up with a picture that nobody else had. So it was It was really you know, it just taught me a lot about relationships because I have spoken with this campaign aide just a few days earlier and just human, right? Just a human connection. Another story I did Waas, Christie Cocktail the knife throwing target for throw Dini. I figured, how could I go wrong with this? You know, very visual. But I found out the story was so much deeper that her family had left when she was five years old, and she had always been searching for the family that she never had. And so the story gained some depth In 2000 and three, when I met Salah in his family, I was challenged to use everything I knew about trust, access, relationship and respect. The war on Iraq had just started. Salah, nine years old, and his older brother, Deah, 16 were walking home from school. Salah picked up what he thought was a ball, and it turned out to be a bomb. It exploded, killing DEA and severely injuring Salah. His father, Rahim, came to the scene, saw that one son had died and the other son was severely injured and he didn't know if he was going to survive. He picked him up, took him to an Iraqi hospital. They said, We can't save him. Your only hope is to go to the Americans. So Rahim took Salah to this hospital. It was a American Air Force Base hospital, and the doctors took him in and stabilized him. But they said We can't save him. He has to go to America. We don't have what is needed. So, through an incredible series of circumstances, Salah was transported to America along with Rahim, went to Children's Hospital in Oakland, and that's where I picked up the story. His hand was blown off, fingers on his other hand, were blown off, his abdomen was ripped open and his eye was blown out. So this was a one day assignment for me. My editors at The Chronicle said, Deanne, we want you to go photograph. This boy just came in from Iraq to the hospital. We need it for tomorrow's paper. So I walked into this hospital room, was with a writer, and we were so taken aback at what we saw. We just really had toe collect ourselves now about relationship. The doctor standing there in the room. You know, there's Rahim, the dad, Saleh in the bad and the doctor. The doctor said to me, Do you and how are you? Turns out I had photographed him just a few weeks earlier. I had spent a couple days with him, and so he knew me. And welcome to me warmly, which I think really affected. Rahim Rahim saw that he trusted May. So the idea was, Salah was gonna be in America for about six weeks until he was stabilized until he was well enough to go back to Iraq. So the writer and I, we convinced our editors toe let us follow this story for six weeks. But Rahim was really worried about his family back in Iraq, his wife and the other Children were still there. Now I had to get access into the hospital and you know this really strict on patient confidentiality laws. But at the hospital, they said, If you can convince Rahim to let you follow this story, it's OK with us. So I had to build trust. I had to build relationship and it took time and we didn't speak the same language. So just little by little, whenever an interpreter was around, I would use that opportunity. And I spoke from my heart, and I told him that I thought it was important to tell the story of what happened to his son. And it was a story that we weren't seeing. It was a story about how the war was affecting an Iraqi family. At this point, Saliva didn't know that his older brother had died. Now I talked about compassion before. If you don't feel anything, I don't think you can capture it. So I think it's important to feel that compassion and empathy. You know, early on I had been taught, don't feel that be neutral, but of course I felt something, and but I have to tell the story, so I can't let it paralyze May. Some days I would just show up on ordinary day at the hospital, and on this day he was the first time he had drawn anything and he was drawing airplanes, dropping bombs. He wanted to be a photographer. I would always want to take my camera and photograph his favorite nurses. Now, at this point, the story changed, so LA was released from the hospital and insurgents had gone and ransacked the family home, and the mom and the other kids have to go on the run. So Rahim realized it was unsafe for them to return. So they got a place in Oakland and they settles there. And Salah was upset because he was thinking, I'm never going to see my mom and siblings again. And he went home crying from the grocery store when people were staring at him looking at him, and he just fell to his father's feet at this point, sobbing. Now, on a human level, you wanna console you want to. You do want to engage here. It's a very difficult situation. This was really hard to pick up my camera and shoot this picture, but it was so important to really tell the story of what happened to really tell the arc of the story, the ups and downs, what he was feeling. He went to school in here during story time. He's talking through an interpreter about what it was like living in Iraq. Rahim got a job at the local hospital as a custodian, and he was so worried about his family back home. And at this point, a big story had run. A lot of the photos that I had shot a big in depth story ran in The Chronicle, and a lot of resource is came forward for the family, a lot of emotional support, financial support. And Rakim was able to apply for asylum for he and select, and they were granted that. And they were also granted asylum for the family, the mom and the other kids to come over. So we said, we need to go to Iraq. We really want to photograph the journey of the mom coming back to be reunited with Salah after so long and to be there to see their re union. So I went to Iraq and I'm here they are at the border crossing the border into America. Or I'm sorry this was the border between Iraq and Jordan, and they're on their way to America. So they had to go into Jordan and Teoh, have passport photos taken, and this is the new baby who was born. In the meantime. It turns out the mom who idea was pregnant when the accident happened. So this is the baby that Rahim. Until I have not yet met. They went Teoh Immigration were able to get the papers and and here we are, back in San Francisco. When they were reunited, they went back to the family home to celebrate being together once again. And Hadiya was making Celeste favorite home cooked meals. And she was joking with Rahim here, telling him that he got fat since he came to America. But Saleh's journey continued with more surgeries. He ended up having a total of about 30 surgeries. But you can see that when you spend a lot of time with someone you become invisible, like I was able to be there and capture moments like that because they were so familiar with me being there. So I really think spending time is important. That's a lab wasn't able to hold a fork or tie his shoes, and they tried to fit him with a prosthetic, but it he couldn't deal with it. He says, No, I'll just make do with what I have. This is just, you know, I'd rather not use it. Raheem started taking English classes, and he was concerned about his father's health. His father was in failing health back in Iraq, and he knew he wasn't gonna be able to go back there and see him. But Salah was fulfilled to have his family back together again, and I photographed them adjusting to life in America and Salon making do without his hands. And I've continued to follow this story, and here he is, 16 years old and they moved to a new apartment, and he's such a giving person. When I asked him about moving to this new apartment, I said, Salah, you excited? I thought he was going to say, Yeah, there's a basketball court there, But instead, he says, he says, I'm really excited because my mother has friends there, and that's what kind of person he is. And I think That's why he was saved. Here he is at 1/17 birthday. So in April of 2015 I went in, I photographed in playing basketball, and afterwards I said, Salah, do you want to go to lunch? He says, Yeah, I'd love to. That would be great. I said, Where do you want to go? He said in and out Burger. So I drive him to in and out burger. We sit down outside, just the two of us, and he's sitting there struggling toe open, his burger. You know the paper Often he was struggling and he couldn't get it. And so he said, You know, he just said, Slide, you need help And he said, Yes, I dio. So I helped him and people were looking at him and other tables and was like, you know, just like it was just horrible. So we get back in my car and he says, Dan, you know, I think I'm ready for prosthetics. I want hands and it was like, Wow, that He had always said he didn't want them, so I had to think about this. What do I do? His family doesn't have. The resource is they don't have the know how to make this happen. He's gone without hands for 12 years. Do I intervene? And this was a big ethical dilemma. I thought long and hard about this. I'm thinking, Is it right to engage? You know, maybe I could do something. Maybe I could do a Kickstarter, Um, And so, while I'm trying to figure this all out, I ended up at UCSF. I was on assignment at the Medical Center and the woman I was working with, she says, Hey, you know how that boy doing? How's the Iraqi boy doing? I said, Well, he's doing great, you know? He's like, 21 now, and, um, he wants hands and she thought about it for a minute. And she says, she's I don't think I know anybody here, but let me give it a little bit of thought. She calls me a week later and she said, Dan, you're not gonna believe it. I was in line here. I was getting a burrito, and it turns out the guy standing next to me here at the hospital cafeteria runs prosthetics. I told him about Salah, and he wants to help, So the process started. I didn't have to make that difficult decision, this ethical decision. But, you know, I know what I would have done. Okay? The question is, either Salah has hands every dozen, right? I know what my decision would have been, but it happened. And so now Sula has prosthetics, is taking a little while to get used to them. But he's doing really well with them, and it's giving him a lot more opportunity. So, um, the the last photo that I want to show you here I was in the doctor's office, and he gets his new prosthetics, and I'm standing back, just thinking maybe a moment will happen. And Raheen reached his hand out and they shook hands. So, you know, it's about being human, right? I've learned to bring humanness to my process To this whole ethical dilemma that we face. I think it's important to be a human first and a photojournalist. Second, I'm not sure if I'm an objective observer, but I'm an engaged in observer. Thank you. Thank you so much, Dan. It's always amazing to see your work and to hear of what drives you. We might have time for one question. If we have one here in the studio audience, that one in the front Thanks. I won't ask you about balance. Have you balanced the the fact that you need to be somewhat invisible, but at the same time, you're trying to engage with the people that you're with, so they trust you. So where what tips do you have for us? Toe balance? This? It's a great question. It's like, What do I do when I'm there in the room when I go walking into a room? My approach is, I want to connect with my subject. First of all, I'll put my camera down and just have a conversation with them. Heart to heart. Human conversation. I want to understand who they are. I want them to understand who I am. My motivation. My, um why am I here? Why am I doing this story? And I share that with them, and it really helps to get that human connection. Once I make that connection, I want to back off and watch for moments and capture moments that tell a story