How We Do What We Do
Now we're gonna shift over to how do we do it? How do we do this? How does how does one make this sort of stuff happen? This this this visual storytelling, whether it's about news and conflict and where it's about long term projects and I'm gonna hand it over to you again? Excellent. So well we were referenced this in conversation it's but it's about obviously there's the northern ireland route where you spend lots and lots of money and you hope to be able to recoup it and then there is partnering with somebody like I am si er and hopefully getting infrastructure getting funding and be able to get to get the work out there and you know, this is this is a really key part of how do you do this is like like you come up with the idea and then you have to try to figure out how to fund this, how to be able to get it published who's going to see it. How are you going to survive? How are you going to be able to do it? And so I'm going to show you a piece from door for indoor forages part of su...
dan and in two thousand three a civil war started there which is continuing to this day twelve, twelve years later in the course of that time, many world bodies have called what's happening in door for genocide and a couple of years into the conflict where appeared to me that it wasn't going to stop, I thought it was incredibly important to be able to look at similar towards I just said about the syrian generation was to look at the children of darfur because if the war wasn't in to stop, it was going to basically extend itself because there's these kids I grew up as survivors award, they were going to pick up weapons and continue it it's exactly what's happening. So I went teo to unison. I said himself, would you support this project? I was interested in photographing unicef, handing out books or pencils, which is totally fine, but I was interested in raising awareness about what was going on with the children, and unicef said that sounds like a really great project. So one of the great things about working with the u n organization place like sudan, which is incredibly difficult logistically, is that all of a sudden you have infrastructure vehicles, translators. I had to some degree, some freedom of movement because I was working under the auspices of the u n and so I was able to go toe all different parts of door for, and I was able to sort of to tell this story. And when it came back, I was able to have an exhibition I was a bit of a website I was able to contribute to u n reports and kind of raise raise awareness about what was going on raise money for, uh for the people that I saw in the camps and so I'll just show you this this piece that I create, I say that from that attack they were different villages, villages this way village is this way on several people were killed, we tried to run away, but we couldn't he case me and he shouted that if he catch me he killed me they say kill what you wantto kill loot what you want to look around. I'm a photographer who went to dar for to photograph and document the life of children it's incredibly important to understand what's happening on the ground today in order to truly understand what the possibilities are for the future of dar for one of things about living in dar for is that children grow up very quickly from being innocent children to becoming unwilling participants in this car they killed my grandfather my older brother was shot as well as my uncle and then after that arab comeback on burn our house but me and my mother escaped wait one thing you didn't have kids cut their tunnels on dh, then the kids slashed you're the one saying this again so it's about that by the government, although there is something from the government but that's the why it became believe if someone have a gun, there is no gun market in the sudan, unless you have a license from the government thie sudanese liberation army, also known as the have in the last two years, taking large portions of the country under their control of relatively few fighters. The government ignored this area's no services, no proper, no potable water, no food education fighting for our rights said he saw the things that is the reason for holding a gun against the government. People are frozen in place, they're creating permanent homes in the camps. Everybody starting to run out of food not only the farmers, but also the arab diplomats, and you have all of these sort of intricate relationships that are breaking apart. There is not any value tables for the normal on there is not enough milk for them, they are not able to move us. They used b before there is no grazing land available for the animals. They keep the medal for the animals rather than children, arabs and africans that were once friends, classmates, neighbors no longer trust each other, even if the people find problems between that, their fortunes on the arab groups will never they never get back because the people in the camp on the lost their farm in they can't get back even if they you comes the government you know, when daniel will come no one with women and young girls in their daily search for fireworks are often attacked and raped. You have children now growing up in this very precarious and uncertain situation, you can watch this generation right in front of you. Losing their way is incredibly important for the international community to understand that there's a generation growing up that's been greatly affected by this conflict. I believe in a love problem white people coming from outside way do not trust the government when the national community makes it safe, we will go back to my village when asking children who value education very highly if you have the opportunity to pick up a gun or to go to school, which one would you choose? And more than half the children said they would go back and fight to take revenge for what happened to them and their fans don't cry the beloved country, our country house, we returned to our country? No. So you know, as ad mentioning, I think hopefully is coming across a lot of these stories whether their door for where syria or life in america they're very touching on very universal human emotions, human situations and so in terms of like working and getting into places the same thing that same struggles that we would have in darfur four can have in a place like like los angeles. So a few years ago I got an assignment from the new york times magazine to do gangs in los angeles, and for some reason they chose me and the writer peter landesman is actually a movie director now but said to jewish guys from brooklyn to the heart of the heart of l, a tio hangout with gang members and it was it was so much that had nothing to do with photographs. He was getting people to trust you, getting them to say that you understand wanting to understand their story that you wanted to tell their story about what was happening and it was incredibly difficult. We spent months and months trying to be friend people both on the police side also then trust us as well as well as the gang members and just like one little anecdote from that just a show like you think that everything is going really well. But the photograph you just saw a moment ago of of the guy in the shadows is a gang member from the crips gang, very tough gang, and he started talking with a smooth landing in conversation. He started to tell us about all these people that he had killed very sort of matter of fact we were just listening I was taking photographs writer peter was taking notes and we said great we come back and see you again like everything was like not very tense and totally fine and we went in a couple days later we get a call from the district attorney in los angeles and they said by the way don't go back to this neighborhood because we just arrested a guy and the guy is trying to make a deal with us and he said he'd been hired to kill you when you went back to this neighborhood because all of a sudden his gang member realized he just confessed to murder to two journalists and thought the way to handle it was also to kill us so sometimes your access religious takes your ability to kind of move around doesn't exactly work the way you wanted to so we don't really go back to his neighborhood again but we continued we continue with the story and of course a very important story about what's happening not only in los angeles but other other places in the inner city and it's kind of like it's this idea of like how do we move around were often were not from that place we look different and even if we look the same we're carrying cameras were asking questions people think we're spies people think we're from the government and we have this constant sort of barrier that you have to jump over to, like, befriend people and make them trust you sometimes it has to be done in minutes or seconds because you said like with your situation the two guys turned away turned around and walked away maybe today that wouldn't happen because you would know how to like present yourself or find a way to bond with them to be able to get their trust I think I mean, I find that what we need is we always need a liaison we need we call them fixers the folks who we hire especially when we're in a place where we don't speak the language but more than just a cz an interpreter they act is our logistician they act is our liaison into the community and I always say like, the the greatest fixer is someone who can either get me into like the port the home of of a villager or the prime minister's of residents office you know that it's rare that you get someone who can do all that. But, you know, that's kind of what we're looking for that like magical mister or missus fix it who can you know? Hey, I need to do this and they they get it, they figure out how to do it and but in terms of what you're talking about with this sort of these have security or trust gaining trust and gaining entree into a community, which sometimes is ron said, we have to do very quickly, we don't have days or weeks or months to nuance are way into people's lives, just like we have maybe hours or days to do that and and it's critically important that we get that that right person to do it, if I may tell you an anecdote of because I've had some terrible experiences with pictures, but, um, I know you want to ask me about aging, I want to tell you so so I had this project that I proposed to the national geographic a few years ago on marseilles, I wanted to do something on, you know, the city in europe of the largest muslim population, and I thought, well, I need to get an arab speaker, you know, and so dumb because the reality is everybody speaks french, you know? And so I I heard this tunisian guy who hated america, I think he hated me, he hated national geographic, and it was a nightmare. Every time we would go some place, everything would go bad and access would be stopped or they wouldn't even let us in, and I just sensed something was wrong, but his english was terrible, so I didn't really understand what's going on so of course I stuck with him way too long we had a horrible fight like it was like a break up we got divorced, but through him I met this lovely, you know, french woman a single mom and her thirties who spoke beautiful english obviously great french and it was like this project when from absolutely depressing and dark to just full of light and life and then we went back subsequently to certain subjects and valerie was her name. She said to me, yeah, you know those they just told me that the first time they saw you, the guy that you came with was I was telling them what a bad guy you were and I had no idea this was all going on all I knew is like things weren't going right so it's so critically important tohave like, in the case of the gangs, you theory theoretically you obviously can't go on with the police maybe you could go in with the community worker, but that was our act was community workers and people that were working with the gang? Yep, yep, so, so important, but I think also while the the fixer, the connection is very important without question its soul is going to come down to you is the photographer for your ability to bond with the people that you're photographing because you're the one that they're going trust and so these are just straight people skills that have nothing to do with the camera so much of the work that we have to do, the cameras like in the back and it's conversations it's learning its research it's about understanding like what's happening around you and making sure the people that you were photographing understand like the position you're coming from so it's not about always like one person is going to open every door in the end it's still going to really depend on the way that you handle yourself? Ask a question, could you tell us a little bit more about the sort of the research and development of the projects and how you actually do do that? Thank you. I was just about to talk about it before I do I just want to add one thing what ron is saying, which is that and I and I didn't understand this when I was younger, but is that to be humble to carry yourself with humility? I've come to understand that yes, there are times where I have to have my chest puffed out and beast be, you know, sort of strong but that's generally to sort of avoid a bad situation or or pushed back something, but in general I conduct myself with humility and I find that if and this of course goes with anything in life, right that, you know, if you if you present yourself, is like a good or decent person, and you're it's, not about you and all that, then people, but but if you've done your research and I and I can come into your community and I could even maybe tell you things you don't even know about your community or they're obscure, I can't tell you many times people will go. Wow, I didn't know that so amazing that you know that about our political situation or about this particular issue on the environment or whatever it may be, and all of a sudden they opened up and it got its expansion on the principal, like when you go to a foreign country and you try to speak just a little bit of their language and how dramatically that changes the relationship that you're trying to show respect and trying to do something, things change, and then when you add, like what? It's talking about the expanded even more on a much higher level, it's really, really can affect people, uh, in a good way. Yeah, I sometimes liken it to dating, but I I'm going to get into dangerous territory, but it's like it's, like watching, but it's that idea of, like, if you want to get to know someone better probably the worst thing you could do is just talk about yourself, but if I can ask if I have, like, a zillion questions to ask you about you, then you're more likely to open up and then when I you know, because ultimately I need something from you I mean, that's, the sort of crappy part of this that I get I've gotten tired in a way of, like, I feel like every in all my work, I'm always asking people for things would you let me photograph this? Would you let me come into your home? Would you let me watch your father dying? Would you let me, you know, and it's like and some of it is, like, ridiculous? Like who the heck do we think we are? That we can get access he's incredibly intimate moments where people are in a compromise vulnerable situation? So when I was younger, it was all about the pursuit of it. Now, thankfully, I've matured and come down, and I think a lot of it because I have kids for me, I think it's a lot of it, so it's sort of expanded my my, my empathetic range, if you like, you know, I realized that that that I am the smallest part of all this so in terms of research, you know, and I want to talk about the aging project because of shared some of that with you now, you know, that was a grand example of research where we're over a period of years and it was just when the internet well, the interweb was kicking in and camera, there was some there's, some it's, a website it doesn't exist anymore, but like every day I'd wake up and I type in aging in america and that's where we first found the burlesque dancers in california that's where we found, you know, the rural, huh, this care in west virginia, you know, so the the, you know, senior pro rodeo tour, the senior olympics, all of these things that otherwise I never would have known about and I wouldn't pay attention to either because they're not things that are on my radar normally, and they're not things that are covered by the media either you know, the general media if you're reading mainstream stuff, and so it was through this very digging deep, deep dive research I we started to find all these great stories for the aging project, but the other thing that's really important, no matter what you're working on, is to go to multiple sources of information, you know, you can't just watch one news outlet or read one newspaper or look att one magazine and it's not so much because you might get a slanted view it's that what I want to do is triangulate my information so if I listened to npr and I read the new york times or I watch fox news right or I read the economist or on and on and on and then you start to see, you know, five different sources say you know, the courage of the largest ethnic group in the world without a nation and it's like, okay, I can feel confident that that's a fact to work on, you know are you know, with aging that you know, where we're in ten years and now we're going to hit a point for the first time in human history whether the mohr people over the age of sixty five then there are under the age of eighteen you know which which which solidifies the point that we are in an aging society so you know so much of photojournalism, photo journalism or documentary work or visual storytelling involves context. So no matter how amazing your photographs are, no matter how much your photograph say with no words the magic of this of this medium to me is that we do use words and once you find out maybe it might be a simple is you'll baghdad two thousand three mean that for me conjures up a lot but, you know, what's going on here know these air sugarcane workers working in nicaragua and, you know, then you find out that they're dying sixty five percent of them are dying from kidney disease, you know? And then all of a sudden you look at these pictures and they have greater meaning, they have greater depth, so the so research is so critical not only to facilitating access, getting deeper access to your subject, but also it means you have a greater understanding of what you're looking at, you know, that's the that's what that's, what distinguishes us from citizen journalists? It is not only what you're looking at, but it's also, what do you want to say with your work? Yes, bracelets the end, the end result, and again, as I'd said, like his photo journal, the journalist part is so important, so many of our colleagues, I think, don't remember that part, it's not just about amazing images, but we're telling stories, and you have to do the research. You have to understand what you're saying, who you're representing. What, what captions those few sentences that come after a photograph are incredibly important that they're part of it together, and now when we have a cz you've seen now our presentations we have additional we have audio, we have video we have stills were like you were using all of these different visual mediums to tell stories and each one of them has a great responsibility to the story that you're trying to tell and so it's really incredibly important when you think about what you want to do is photographer how you want to say it is how are these different elements coming together? What are they going to say and how you going to say so is there a project or a story that you worked on that you felt was almost impossible to do adequate research on? I think I think you know, but I think I think now it's, that's, it's almost impossible now because we're living in this a world of information at our fingertips so I say to my students, even if you're going to like you get a call, you need to go, you got to go to germany tomorrow, cover the refugees like by the time you get there, you should really understand what these people have gone through, why they're refugees, what they're what they're encountering, what the using that information is there it means on your phone you can do it on the way to the airport it is unforgivable for any photographer visual storyteller tow walk into a situation and not have not just a basic understanding like a riel understanding what's going on why? Because it's going to make your photography on your approach so much better and so much deeper and one of the most important things is that the audience that we're showing this work too is becoming so sophisticated in what draws their attention what they need, what they want to see from us so well if we don't raise our bar and they're raising their bar like if our work is down here they're not even gonna pay attention to it and that's again also like why citizen journalism is good to a certain point but to really be able to like making impact then you know our work has really behind yeah, you know and then another aspect also of research and preparation is understanding the culture you're working in and that can be in america it doesn't you don't even need to leave leave america and I know I found their things I needed to be really cognizant of and understand in this place I was going, you know, otherwise I was going to put my foot in it or I was gonna upset people or lose access, right? We're working on multiple levels, you know, on the one it's you know, on the one hand I'm trying to get access into your life so there's something a little manipulative about it you know, I'm not trying to be your friend, but I want you to show me something incredibly intimate but you know at least you could know with me I'm going to do it in a sensitive way I want to maintain your dignity, but I also want to make sure I don't do anything that upsets you or gets me into trouble you know, like I can't tell you how many times you know because it's in my nature I'm a hugger where I'll meet a muslim woman we're in you know, in islam you have a broad range, you know, there's women who are covered but they'll shake your hand and those others you can where I'll be like oh it's so great to meet you and I'm like and I'm just and I'm like, oh, sorry, you know? And then you feel like it a bit like a fool hopefully they'll be gracious understand you didn't mean any harm, but you know, but if you can know those things going into it, you'd like one step ahead sometimes three steps ahead, you know? And particularly I've done a lot of work in the muslim world a lot of working last twenty five years and it's something and it's a particularly you know, it can be challenging and tricky, but also you could be it could be full of like incredibles like beautiful surprises, you know if I may when I was working on the kurds and you know I was in turkey and in the small village and the camera wire in this village and was late at night and you know I was young and I really actually didn't know what the hell I was doing but but you know and there are all the women were in a room in the back and you know I was being told by my fixer don't go in there don't go in there and it's like I didn't go in there and then one of the women came out and they went like this and the next thing I knew I was sitting on ly guy most of group of women and they're all like chewing snuff and they're all giggly and I was like my head was spinning I didn't understand was going on and I don't even know if I made a great picture of that scene because that was a case where I was actually overwhelmed I was overwhelmed emotionally I was overwhelmed just because I wasn't sure it's like ok what do I do now I'm being told don't photograph the window you know and then basically one of the women spoke english and he said and basically she was saying you know a cz long as our men are not here you can do whatever you want you know there's a picture's so so that's the magic of this you know you can't plan on these like just magical serendipitous moments but okay can I ask a question a lot of people are wondering how you fund these types of projects and as part of how do you do this? Can you talk a little bit about that your your timing is uncanny because the next section I want to talk about related to sort of how we do our work is crowdfunding but we can talk about more than crowdfunding and also visual strategies I think we're going to get into funding a little later but we can certainly touch on it now I'll talk about crowd funding so I my current project that I'm working on now or personal project is about the epidemic of kidney disease among sugarcane workers in central america and actually in the next few months I'm hoping to expand it to india or sri lanka because there were finding the research is finding that there's a similar trend of agricultural workers in these incredibly hot environments that have a very, very high level and it's not it's not diabetes it's this is called ckd chronic kidney disease and so anyway I want to share a short a film that I made but I want to talk about visual strategies so the way I approached this project is I decided that I wanted to do two different kinds of still bodies of work one portrait's of workers who are sick or their family members that have been left behind and then report taj photo journalistic images of people working and you know, funerals in the sort of daily life, but I also wanted to make a film, so I made a fifteen minute film which I want to share things first four minute excerpt up but the reason my visual strategy to this project was taken in this way is that not only is ron alluded to weaken do these things now that I worked half of what I do now is video but it's that this way if I can create three great components like this, then I can disseminate the work and reach because this is advocacy work for me I can reach virtually everyone in print all over the world on the web, through print and also film so in turn and I also did crowdfunding for what made four trips down to central america to work on this project of the last three years and for one of the trips I did a crowdfunding campaign it's the first time I've ever done it, I I don't know if I'll ever do it again, but it was a fascinating experience in some ways I think you gave me money you sold me like a like a t shirt all right? But the creepy part of it is like all your friends who don't contribute is like why didn't john tribute? You know, I contributed to his, you know, so there's certainly some tricky psychological and also the whole idea of, like, asking for something. But when it's done well, and if it really requires preparation to be not just to be successful with crowdfunding, but it really requires preparation so that you get it right and you you don't come off in the wrong way, so I'd like to share this this short film with you, and we can get into sources of funding in the next second wait no, thank you. Wait, yeah, they are yeah, you get to america. Wait for me and wait, wait. Ah, teo, teo knows you're lying. It'll pass on you. We'll be in the morning. I can't take a see you later. Theo. Theo pelosi and the assistant for morale I think we're seeing alarming numbers of patients with chronic kidney disease, primarily and men working in the sugar cane fields. This is an epidemic that's affecting almost twenty thousand people. Let's not do the high blood pressure it's not to the diabetes it's, not due to any of the typical causes of kidney disease. We see. Really? I dont think so, teo teo well, how are you hey, thank you.