Why We Do What We Do
So aging is a subject that that became very dear to me in the early mid nineteen nineties and I'm just going to share a little short video with you in a moment that will in my own words explain you know why I did it and but you know what it what it embodies for me is this desire to engage with the world and to seek knowledge not not just to share with you but also I I drive my teenage kids crazy because I'm the one who's always asking, you know? So what does that mean and why did you this and all that and that's just who I am and I really have come to feel that if you want to do this kind of work, you have to have it at least a little bit if not a lot of that in you that that curiosity of a kid really you know, always asking like why and what does that mean because it will lead you to make better photographs it will lead you to be a better journalist so I'd like to share with you the short a piece that I did that and, you know, aging for me is now something that I've been involved in f...
or almost twenty years no, what does it mean when a society grows old? My work on aging was predicated on that idea after spending almost a decade working abroad they decided to turn my camera on my own society. What I didn't anticipate was how much of a personal journey this would become for may I began this project in the mid nineteen nineties and I spent the next eight years on trying to create a unique and timeless body of work my project look att the healthy and the vital to those deteriorating and at the end of their lives I wanted to show how people were using the extra time they had to live a fuller life whether it was competing in the senior olympics or to be a model in manhattan or to be a burlesque dancer in southern california where a couple in their eighties getting married but also looking at the more serious and in my eyes more important aspects of aging the greater need for caring for people weii saw the spectrum of caregiving from those left alone those who are warehoused in facilities and it re committed us to making sure that herbie my father in law are one surviving parent would not experience that. So in two thousand four we uprooted our family and moved from san francisco to new jersey to take care of my father in law when her be moved in, we were scrambling to figure out what to do. We're not prepared to take care of an elderly person particularly one who was beginning to lose his mind and his physical abilities the same time, we're taking care of two young children, but herbie was an amazing presence in our home way learned so much from caring for him what it means to you, I have a life well lived. This is something we would not have done our at least I wouldn't have done if I hadn't had the experiences from the project on ageing, even though her be passed away on january fifth, two thousand eight he hasn't left us and neither has my commitment to documenting world of aging ducks looked pretty when they're all in a room. No man, that I'm getting old, I just kissed him. What a sound like everyone else is talking about the way that things should be a section we're talking about, why we do it well, I've shown this video maybe hundreds of times now, and I still I still get emotional over it, and it makes me, you know, for for years doing this work on aging, we even to this day, we continue to get e mails and letters from people because we had the privilege to touch on a subject that has a universal nerve, regardless of nationality, culture, religion, gender, everything really and it's privileged when you get to do that because it doesn't happen that often but you know why do we do it? Well this is a reason and another aspect of this and I'm sure ron feels the same way and where he's going to share with us some work he's done on panama in panama when he got started is that you know this work sticks with you forever for this you know, a lot of work we do a lot of the assignments we do they come and go they don't stick to you but so much of the personal work in particular really sticks with you and that is also a great privilege benefit thanks I think for myself trying talking about inspiration and talking about you know how do you get to that point and so I'm gonna kind actually bring you back twenty now twenty six years ago when when I just graduated from university I decided my last year I was starting to be a writer and all someone said oh maybe I should take pictures I taught myself photography had never really had no interest in photography and really didn't have that much interest in writing it was more interested in just like I wanted a job where I don't have to sit in an office and something that I could travel so journalist that sounds cool to meet let me do that with no real understanding whatsoever what you know what that actually meant and one of the great things about being young is you kind of go out and do things that maybe somebody with more experience to say that we can't do that that's not possible, but you're like, oh, I don't know what the right way the wrong way is and so so for myself I like I got out this big book yellow pages now an app on your iphone, but at the time it was a big book like got all the names and numbers of all the newspapers and and, uh, news agencies in new york started with the letter a I called up the associated press, the big international wire service and I said, can I speak to the director of photography and I kind of got bounced around some some guy with a new york accent picks up the phone and says, yeah, what do you want my name's ron have even I'm a photographer, I just graduated from university and you should hire me as a photographer and what time should come in from the interview and kind of hold like it was like reading off of a script like this whole spiel and probably after about thirty or forty seconds of talking and realized that the guy was not like saying anything on the other end, then all the sudden I stopped talking silence, click dial tone but you know when you're young persevere call it the daily news got some guy with a super rough brooklyn accent whole spiel again silence again this time though heard a lot of laughing in the background and then I heard a clicking a dial tone and I kept I kept going and I kept going and I finally found like this very small newspaper doesn't exist anymore and actually somebody said yeah come on in I'll be happy to talk to you went in with my five pictures I'd shot some crazy stupid little story and they went and showed it to the guy and that was like super nice happened actually be the director of photography the plate place was so small and he flips through it and I gave it a good thirty seconds you looked at the work and he's talking like why do you want to do this? I'm trying to like think on my feet like actually like starting to think about for the first time like what am I doing? What why am I actually even here? And while he's talking to me kind of keeps looking behind me and I finally turn and look to see what he was looking at he's looking at a mop and a bucket and he said, look, I've no interest in working to use a photographer but if you want to learn about the business of photography and work in a newspaper you start by using that mop and using that bucket and we have a beautiful position is an intern and you can work here for free and it took me about thirty seconds and I said great, I'll do it and I started mopping and so on and of course this is like pre digital, so I learned how to develop film. I learned how to print and I started to learn a little bit about the business and eventually, like many of you, you have that one moment where you get that chance the kind of your career is going to go in a different direction and so for me there was this time where there's a big press conference that mayor's office new york city and they said nobody's here so we need you to go an hour later I'm crawling around the floor of the mayor's office the next day at my first picture published in thought probably about four points in the newspaper that probably ten people saw but I could show it's my parents and say, look, I can do this and they were very happy even though I had no idea how ridiculous it was, but I was like, made them happy that way and I started to get more assignments and then what started happen was I started to work on the streets of new york I started to work with the journalists and photographers from the new york times from ap from the new york post and other places and I started to enter this amazing world of photojournalism, and it was it was incredible and it's something that I think still holds true today is one of the reasons why we created seven. One of the reasons why and I are vory conscious about education, is that people are very helpful in the photo journal security to help each other. And so, as I started tow work the's, more experienced photographers would say, this is where you stand for a protest is what you do for press. Let me introduce you to an editor's he can actually get paid for some work, and I started to get work, and it started to become part of this community, and while there was absolutely competition, there was also this idea that whatever we're photographing, this story is bigger. Then then what we do and that's the most important thing. And then one day I was covering the gay pride parade on fifth avenue, and I saw this photographer walking, walking down the street and the guy looks like he's stepped off of a movie about photographers, super good looking guy, long blonde hair, lots of press credentials around his neck, the requisite photojournalism scarf very important. Uh and so I was like oh let me go over and talk to this guy and I walked over and talked to him and introduced myself and his name was chris morris and he had just come back from the philippines and he was you know, he looked like an interesting guy so so so where you going next chris's oh I'm going I'm going to panama next so what that's amazing I'm also going to panama I know where panama was and it was happening in panama but I figured this cool guy was going to panama that's where photojournalists were supposed to go now again so long ago I couldn't take out my iphone to figure out what the hell was going on in panama so go home and research it and so on to make a long story short panama was run by a dictator named general manuel noriega and panama was important to america because the canal and because you had a huge military base there and already he was going to hold an election to say that he was loved by his people and wasn't really a dictator noriega also had really bad skin and so the new york post which is a tabloid paper in new york I started freelancing for it they love noriega and there's a column pineapple face so whatever you would do something crazy the headline would be pineapple face does is and pineapple face does that so I said to the new york post hey would you give me assignment to go cover the election and they said sure chris cup more times I told him I was going so great I'll see there and then probably about a week or so before I was about to get my ticket and get ready to go the new york post fires their editor and all travels canceled my plane trip is over it's finished I don't have enough money to go because at the same time I'm also a bike messenger and selling ice cream out of a truck so I can't really afford to pay for the trip by myself they're two different versions of the story from here I'll tell you chris's version is probably more fair chris said he saw me walking on the street we happen to live close by to each other I was crying hysterically pounding my fist on the ground couldn't believe it my life was over and chris said look calm down calm down he said look I'm on assignment for time magazine and I usually travel with my wife she's not coming with me on this trip the airline has a buy one get one free ticket so you can have this plane ticket and since I'm on assignment all the expenses recovered since a free seat my car and there's a free free bed in my room he said would you like to go with me so faster than I said yes, the mop in the bucket I said yes to chris. And so this is what happened on that trip and I just stood there and I took photographs and still there were bullets flying around and it didn't mean anything to marry just so intent on taking the photographs. The photographs were immediately transmitted and were published all over the world. The following week I had the cover of all three us magazines and newsweek time and us news something I think it's only been done a few times of same photographers had all same covers. It was also my first experience and realizing truly the power of the press when george bush announced the invasion of panama, he used those photographs as a justification for or one of the justifications for the actual invasion. You remember those horrible pictures of newly elected vice president ford covered head to toe with blood beaten mercilessly by so called dignity battalions. A couple of things happen in the first was the pictures were published. I got the covers of the magazines. I was twenty three years old. My career was all sun on fire, who's his kid such sector is all about me. I'm going to win all these prizes super exciting, you're going to travel the world photojournalism. Not that hard you go somewhere you take some pictures it covers of magazines this is a great easy job to do I'm totally psyched but six months later after the photographs were taken when the united states actually invaded panama and I heard the speech from the president then off something's changed and this is really where the true inspiration came the true realization of what I do what ned does with seven times the idea that well we can go out be your eyes see the world beyond your door and bring it back to you and have that work become part of a conversation let's say the invasion was not done just because of the photographs but it was part of the conversation it wasn't whether I agreed when the invasion or not it was his idea that I was part of helping people understand what was going on and I was like you know what this is what I want to do with my life and that's what I've been doing for last twenty six years can I just chime in ron and and say that we have anna vasquez who is panamanian who's watching of course we have people watching from all over the world who says panamanian here this photo means a lot to us it showed a reality that not everyone was aware existed and that's exactly why you do what you do so I just wanted to let you know we have people watching from all over the world thanks thank you and I don't think thank you for telling us well, that was such a cool story I've known you for a long time. I've never heard that I've never heard that part. I tell that to every day really listened and married no, no, but I didn't know that you also wanted to be a writer cause that was I wanted to be around I'm like basically a failed writers so um that was great on but that those air also pictures I remember seeing as a civilian before I knew ron and it's true it's incredible the power of the still image, you know? So I want to share some work with you ah big project that I've worked on for since nineteen, ninety one on the kurds, the kurdish people and in a slightly different approach even though ron does this is well, you know, my my approach to photography really from the beginning has always been looking at long term in death projects. I've not really done much news I'm probably not very good at it either. I would not have gotten those pictures probably, you know, because I work in a saying different but just in my own way, which is more deliberate and I prefer to go deeper, deep and in depth and so the kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a nation when I learned that I was living in san francisco I was about thirty two years old I was like I was drawn in hook, line and sinker again why why do we do it? Because that journalist in me was just was just grabbed by that I was hooked by that idea and so I rhoda I started to book my tickets to turkey I was going to the back then you didn't have the internet on google so I was going to the library and I was doing all this research and learning about the kurds and I decided I was going to go and pursue them the kurds are based are are mostly in turkey, iraq iran in syria which even then wasn't the friendliest part of the world but much, much easier to work in than today. And um I decided I would write a proposal to national geographic I had never yet worked for them and so I had a friend who is a writer hey actually is the writer he writes speeches for the u n general secretary now so I picked a good friend to do that and he wrote a one page proposal for me and thankfully the national geographic said yes and that really sort of I think you could say it was sort of ah a point in my career in my life where I could have gone one way but I was able to go another way and all of a sudden instead of spending my own money and looking at you know, going into tremendous debt but pursuing my dream and my passion I suddenly had the full power and and support of national geographic magazine so I ended up goingto eight countries and I this was a different time when the national geographic the contracts were twenty six weeks of field time now for a story well they wouldn't even do a story like this and if they would it's probably eight weeks six weeks still healthy amount of time but twenty six weeks and I went to you know, iran iraq, turkey, syria I went I spent three weeks in berlin in germany just doing the diaspora because it's a huge kurdish jasper even back then in europe and I learned so much at that point it was by far the hardest thing I had ever worked on it challenged me in so many ways you know I remember making like scratchy phone calls too you know, into iran to like these kurdish guys and I'm sure they must have thought who is this guy because I'm some young kid and I'm like hi hi we're financed geographic you know I'm coming to iran next week and of course nobody showed up there was one situation where I met some kurdish operatives in damascus in syria, and I swear within thirty seconds, they just turned around and walked away from me because they must have thought this guy's, cia and this guy's god knows what you know. So the learning curve for me on this project was astronomical. And then in two thousand five, I returned and proposed another story to national geographic, looking at the kurds in northern iraq. And at that point, I already gone to iraq six times on my own to cover the invasion and the post invasion situation there. And I decided, well decided, I realized that in northern iraq, even though the rest of iraq was so bloody, it was actually doing pretty well. And I have this again. I when I talked about aging that you grow these affinities, you grow these relationships with your subject, with your subject matter, with themes, with places, with issues, and and if you're unfortunate, they stick with you for a long time, maybe they stick with you until the day you die, until the day you stopped working. And the kurds deaf are definitely a subject for me that it's something I hope I will always go back to. So I went back to northern iraq in two thousand five and looked at how the kurdish population there was was securing and rebuilding finally being able to rebuild in one place on this earth and you know again for me this project reinforced the passion and the engagement that drives me and I know drives ron and all of our colleagues were working at this level in this manner you know, it's not that there's much easier ways to make a living there's much safer ways to make a living, especially in today's world so you need to be almost maniacal and your passion for this and it goes with anything in life, anything in life really I really feel that whatever it is you want to do, you have to have that that commitment, that dedication if you really wantto not only succeed the great so in the course of a project like this, you know again, when we talk about about why we're doing it it's also to learn about culture you know and it's to learn about so it's learned about politics learned about culture, you know, to learn about history. This was a great moment where we were driving this was in the city of the hook in northern iraq and and I see these school kids on these tanks thes these iraqi tanks and I didn't know what was going on I stopped the car asked my fixer what's going on and he's like oh that's a memorial to a famous battle that you know, saddam's forces were defeated by the kurdish peshmerga, which of the girl of force of the kurds so I, like, jumped out of the car, almost got hit running across the street, and thankfully, he got this moment, and this ended up being a cover image for the magazine. So, you know, there are many reasons why we do certain things in life and to pursue something this kind of work it's also important to do your homework, it's also important to be prepared, you know, we'll get into that maurine the how we section of this course, but but again, I can't emphasize that enough and for me, that's another reason I love doing this work is I get to learn I get to be kind of a mini expert about a subject this is incur cook these of the oil fields in iraq, some of the largest or off fields in the world, and they're in a disputed part of iraq because it's, in a part where the kurds, the arabs and also the turkoman all want a piece of that land. So in the course of the work I did in two thousand five on the kurds in iraq, I I created this thing called the iraqi kurdistan flip book, and it was something I did not intend to do when I was shooting it, but one of the reasons I want to share this with you, it reflects the way my practice changed with the adoption of the digital camera, so instead of pecking around with a like a and color slide film, I now have these cameras that not only were auto y nder winding, but I could shoot thousands of frames, so I put together a fifteen minute film. This is just a four minute excerpt that I'd like to share with you. No, wait, wait, wait. So when I talk about sort of ah long term commitment to projects there's also the aspect of the craft and indulging in the craft and reveling in it, really, you know, I'm still like a little kid when I make pictures. Even after almost forty years of doing this, I truly, truly am more excited than ever before. I think it's, partly because I hope I've mastered it to some degree and there's a level of confidence. But it's also just I truly love making photographs and it could be about anything really, and now, instead of going to the darkroom, it's going into photo shop or snap seat or whatever it may be and then sharing it with people