How We Do What We Do Part 2
you know, obviously we're all paying attention to what's going on in the world, especially in terms of journalists and journalism. Danger is becoming more and more difficult to do this kind of work for a lot of different challenges. We talked about some of it already with infrastructure, but there are also the more internal challenges the difficulty to go back to these places over and over again, coming in as a stranger. And how do you reconcile your life with life that's on the ground? And how do you deal with the intensity of what you see? And so and we both had very some very intense experiences and edged on an amazing amount of work in the *** Delta. He's done a book, and he's had some pretty intense experiences, including being detained. And maybe you could share a little bit of that with us now. Yeah. Um, yeah, but I haven't been under fire the way you have. Um, well, it's not a competition. I know. I know that, um but you know, when I'm often asked this question about well, this...
event, this specific situation I was detained for four days in the *** Delta by the Nigerian military. But, you know, I always especially with what's happened to many of our colleagues in the last few years, you know, always sort of have to be very clear that I am incredibly fortunate because I am okay. And I'm here because our many of our colleagues have been killed or had been terribly maimed. It's a very different world were working in now than it was even five years ago, let alone 10 years ago. Um, but in 2006 I was working on a actually. At that point, I was working on National Geographic Story related to my *** Delta project, which again I spent three years on. Three years seems to be a magic number for me in terms of length of work, on a subject and dumb. It was a classic case where, you know, we asked the local boatman, you know, I wanted to photograph this flow station in the middle of the Delta. It's actually called the Obama Flow Station, and and, uh, flow station is sort of a constant sense of Central Point like to feed or all the oil wells in the area come into it and So they're these flares. And then from there on one pipeline, it goes to either, you know, a facility work it should put on the ships and so forth. Remember, Nigeria is one of the 10th largest producers of oil and gas in the world. You know, it's a major major, you know, it's something like 80 or 90% of their GDP and so forth. And so therefore, the oil companies, the government and the military do not want journalists around these facilities. I knew that. And so but there was this one facility they had photographed a couple of years earlier. Actually, I was on a government boat that time. So in this case, I was on my own. We had we hired like a local boatman, and we said, Is their military there? Of course they lied because they wanted to make their extra $20 for this $25 in this boat, right? So we're there and we're on the boat and I'm waiting for boat traffic. You know, when this little river and there the flares and it's, you know, the jungle. It's pretty dramatic. All of a sudden, these two boatloads of military men comes screaming at us, guns drawn. And it was one of those, Like in 15 seconds, I was absolved of any thought that I was going to try my way out of this. Sometimes you can do that. In this case, it was like these guys were dead serious. And then the next thing I know, we're being interrogated. All my stuff is taken away, and we had to take This was so said earlier in the day, we had picked up this brother and sister in a little village fishing village to, but we said, You know, it will be an hour to we won't work. And then we were taken back to the city. And so now all of a sudden there caught up in this. Anyway, in the end of the night, they released everybody but me and my fixer. But the one thing they didn't do is they didn't take out my cell phone away. Or before they did. I made a call out to Montclair, New Jersey, where I lived to my studio, and thankfully, there was cell service there, and that's really what made the difference. Instead of it being a 10 or 20 or 30 day detention. It was just a four day detention, and it was pretty much the worst experience I've ever had in my life, even though I was not mistreated, but with because I got that call out. You know, within hours my wife was on it. National Geographic was on it. They were amazing. The head council was talking, you know. So within a couple of days, I had the I was fortunate to have the full force of the these major institutions and the U. S. Government of that point and my wife helping and actually, my wife told me when I got back, it was like I was actually one of those people were the second day I went out to get the newspaper and there was a reporter and photographer in the Newark Star Ledger there waiting for me. It was like I can't believe this is my life. You know, you always see this on TV. Every or well, I guess we've done a little bit of that. Not much of it, but anyway, so thankfully, I was able to get out of that unscathed. Although psychologically it was it was it was very difficult. And, you know, I think this is something that comes with doing this work in certain situations, and I guess the point I want to make it the beginning is that I don't like to glamorize it. There's nothing glamorous about it. There's nothing cool about it. It pretty much sucks. It's really bad, and I and I got off easy, so I don't like to make more of it than it is. We're often asked these kinds of questions. I'm sure you're asked these kinds of questions because you've covered a lot of very intense. I've done a little bit of conflict. You've been in serious conflict situations and there's nothing cool about it. It's really tough. And I wonder because I know I'm asked this a lot, and I'm sure you are. But how do you deal with the emotional toll of seeing this like these pictures? These amazing pieces you made after in Haiti after the earthquake er covering it, you know, the Libyan revolution of from a few years ago? Now I know in that one situation in Libya you were going up the stairwell and the Libyan soldier of the now he was a soldier rattle the rebel right in front of you was shot dead. Yeah. How do you How do you deal with absorbing this? This this pain and this this this very intense things. We see it z difficult without without question. I mean, first of all, to put it completing perspective, it's no what we experience is nothing to what the people were photographing, right? So that without question, I'm not trying. My experience is is never as bad as people that were there to document and tell their stories. But still, to understand the way that we work is journalists, photographers, you know, these are these are serious things that were going on. Their becoming even more so very serious is a huge conversation going on in the media today about how to handle freelance photographers had a work with journalists and photographers in conflict. One of the responsibilities and media companies. There's there's a group of which I'm part of that are organizing the safety principles, trying to push anywhere for the New York Times to CNN, to Reuters, to AP to be able to be more responsible for the photographers and journalists that working with and So we're you know, this is very, very difficult time. So there is that level of it. There's understanding how to protect yourself. There's the importance of taking what are known as hostile environment classes, where you're trained by ex military on how to survive in, whether it's a war zone or covering a refugee camp or even a natural disaster like an earthquake. There are serious lessons to to understand there are groups like Risk, which was formed after the death of Tim Heatherington and Chris Hondros, were two photographers that were killed in Libya. And there's a belief that if people had it better for acknowledge, another ring thing could have been saved. So they started this organization to teach first aid trauma to journalists so risk there is risk got or gets very worthwhile to go and look at what they're doing. They're giving classes all over the world on, so it Z that's one part of it, and the other parties like, how do you deal with it yourself and so for myself, to be honest with you, I was sort of from from Panama to Iraq to Yugoslavia, I was covering conflict almost immediately through my career. I had absolutely no idea had a process it, understand it and had a survive when I came back home and as many expert friends will attest to, I was not a particularly pleasant person when I came back, and it took a while for me to understand how toe acclimating back to normal life. And that was like a really key thing for me to understand that I need to be able to readjust to my life here that my normal life was not a state of war. And so, having worries like the cables out, or I have to pay this bill when you're in a life and death situation, you don't think about that. It's a relevant, but in reality that's really important. And so when your partner or your family needs you to be part of that life, you have to make a conscious decision to do that. And once I actually understood that, um, the acclamation coming back became much easier. And another thing that started to that was important to understand was because when you're in these situations and you're watching incredible moments of intimacy or or emotion or or war crimes Unfortunately, I documented three genocides in my career. So have been some really horrific moments. You have to understand, like, what's the purpose of me being They're not there to take pictures for yourself. You're there to get that work out there to tell these stories. And that's once you understand that you understand the role of what we're doing for me and everybody is different. But for me, once I started to understand that my work was having impact, that things were happening as a result of it or part of that conversation, then I was like, Okay, they make sense for me to be here and I was able to I'm able to, like, come back home and so far, not have nightmares and really like there's a reason to do it. I felt like if I felt like I was just there for myself, just for an indenture, I think I would be able to continue it, or I won't be able to psychologically handle it, then kind of going back again to like, kind of questions that were often ask the next question that I always asked, especially when you see the work that I have produced, you'll see some work from the former Yugoslavia. Is the questions like, What do you do when something's happening in front of you? Do you help or do you take a picture? And there is no right or wrong answer to this? Every photographer, every journalist is going to have their own answer. But I'll give you mine, and it's pretty simple. If I'm the only person there and I'm able to take something to the hospital, stop somebody from being killed something. If I'm able to intervene and not get killed myself, that's what I'm going to do of human being first, some photographer. Second, if there are other people there, or if I feel like there's absolutely no way that I can intervene without getting killed myself, that I'm going to try to do my best to at least document what's happening to tell the world what's going on but myself and my colleagues. At seven, we've we've taken people, the hospitals. I stop people from being killed and arrested. But there been times when people have been killed in front of me and the only thing I could try to do, and there were times I haven't been allowed to even take a documentation, but make my best effort to try to make sure that the world knows what's going on. And these are very hard situations because they're happening in split seconds and you have to live with that decision. And, um, you know, I only hope that I that I've made the right decisions. You know what, one? One thing that, uh, with many things I admire about you is your your tremendous preparation and intelligence and looking at, you know, like addressing what? Whatever project or whatever trip you're about to go on looking at all the possible contingencies, you know, What do you need to do to be prepared? You are so prepared. And, um, I love for you to share. Like what? What some of you know, examples of, like again, This is the how we do it. Um um you know, how do you prepare yourself? Well, I think the research part you're researching this story, but you're also obviously you're researching all the logistics, which are I mean, access and being in the right place. The right time is more than being able to also just take the great photograph and you have to be able to get in there and tried not to make mistakes or like not to be on that boat and look at this happened Ed. I've been a prisoner three times, and each one of those times was because I did something wrong. I made the wrong. I drove straight and seven making left. I didn't do the right research. I talked to the wrong people. I wanted having twice to get the U. S. Government how to get me out. I mean, major, major mistakes that put a lot of other people in bad positions, and I've just been incredibly lucky. So you really try to really think in his logical manner as possible and map everything out. It doesn't really at this point, you don't have to be covering a war. You can go off like you want to go to Africa and cover cover a refugee camp or something like that. Today, in the way the world works, you're walking around with a camera, you know, whether it's Isis or some other group, your target, and you need to understand that. I mean, there are even now, even for tourists like you walking in Turkey and a woman a few six months ago, Something happens to him. She's just a tourist with a camera and became a target. So it's about being aware, understanding what's going on, what you're seeing, what you're doing and what your perception is to the people, the people around you. But especially when you start asking questions and you start to your the role of the journalist and people in so many places think we're spies. It's it's really difficult, so it's totally doable. But you have to really just be smart. If the talk to people, you have to ask questions. If you research everything from Lonely planet to trip adviser to talking to other photographers that have already been there and and then start to piece it together, we'll leave just his example of logistical like planning brewers bring it home. In a few days, we're gonna be covering the pope's visit to the United States. I'm gonna cover it, Actually got access to him in the basilica in Philadelphia, so I This is very simple, but I if I hadn't done this, I would probably miss the event. Now that I'm understanding the tremendous security around him, So I have to drive down to sub Just I'm going to drive down in a suburb of Philadelphia. The night before, I booked a cheap hotel on Hotwire. Uh, and although my wife told me that you didn't on and I and I had like to manage to do the research and find out, you know what train station do I need to be near so that at five in the morning there is a train that leaves from that train station in 15 minutes, it will get me to the place 10 minute walk from where? After pick. I predict Crest press credentials because I have to do that three hours before if I want to get access to the facility before the event starts. So if all I did was I got to go to filling on Saturday, you know, I leave at five in the morning and drive down, I would have missed the whole event. So it's something as simple is that in our own culture in our own country that you need to do due diligence and understand. So the same thing applies is Ron is saying, if you're going to a place where maybe you've never been or it's, especially if it's a hostile environment and, you know, we can plan all we want. And still things can happen that we can't you know, that we that are unexpected or so we have to also be ready in the moment to be malleable, to be flexible, to be reactive. Which is also why it's so critically important to work with people. You can trust these the fixer, you know, And sometimes I work with people who I trust. And I know they're times like Nigeria and other places where I'm realizing all I am is a payday for them. They're not going to take a bullet for me. They're not gonna They might even rat me out, so I have to treat them really well. But I also have to be be cognisant that they have no allegiance to me. And that is rough because you don't get all these other things you know we're trying to do is make pictures. It seems so simple. And they're all these other things that go in to doing it successfully and safely. That's really just to reemphasize. Why this training that exists now for journalists is so is so important. In fact, like in the field often on some of these bigger news stories, they're groups of journalists coming in different countries and so uncovering Libya or Egypt or Syria. And I won't even stand next to somebody that hasn't gone through this training because it's so important, from thinking in a different manner to first aid training. And in fact, actually, more journalists were killed covering, you know, working overseas in car accidents than anything else. And so, like, even in the car, I want to make sure that the person I'm traveling with were an accident. They know how to bandage me up, and they've got a first aid kit with them, just like I do. And these air like these air relatively new things that are coming into play now, especially for younger, younger journalists. But it's really becoming an absolute necessity that we have to be prepared for any contingency. He just don't know what what's going to happen. And so you know, whether you're taking a risk horse or going to the local Red Cross, you know something in 1 to 3 days, a first a class can be incredibly, incredibly valuable. So it's really it's really, really important to come and go forward there. Times where I've had to reprimand my driver because they were driving. Usually it's always a he the driving too aggressively or to recklessly or not only just potentially endangering my life, but also civilians on the street. You know that there's just there's so much there's so much to take into account here. So you know, often when people will say, you know how becoming a photographer for National Geographic or whomever you know, it's like, Well, it's great if your pictures are wonderful, that's a starting point. But there's all this other stuff you need to know, and you need to be prepared, toe learn and to do the years show us some more of the work to kind of go a little bit more into that. Yeah. So, um, what I want to share with you now is, um is in this again talking about like how we do this work. Um, is this idea of multi platform storytelling? I don't know if you guys have heard this term before, but it's something that, um I've been sort of doing consciously and unconsciously for maybe 15 years. It really began when I was working on the aging project and my wife, Julie, win over who went from being a writer to a filmmaker. You know, we sort of learned this and we had the good fortune of working with Brian Storm, who runs Media Storm. So we were early, at least in our profession, in starting to think about these new ways that we can tell stories that it's not necessarily just about a still photograph in text, and there's nothing wrong with a still photograph in text. Just please know that that is still so deeply in my heart, one of the greatest ways that I feel I love to communicate, but we have these other tools. Now we have these other two other options and telling stories. And one thing that I've learned and Ron you alluded to this earlier is that, you know, by introducing audio just audio, not just motion into our work. We can enrich the stories we can actually b'more, um, we can actually be more authentic and weaken. And the great thing is, we could bring the voices of our subjects So it's not me telling you what's going on in the *** Delta. Some American guy, No matter how much I know it's a Nigerian who lives there, who's telling you? And hopefully my pictures are the window into their world so that in combination it hopefully creates a much more complex, multilayered and deeper story. So in the um, with this project, um, I want to share this short video that I did this multimedia piece actually with Media Storm and represents one aspect of how I told this story way have enough. Well, how many 1000 barrels of oil like this siphoning from our land every day on how much is coming to us. Nothing. No water, no light, no rude. People are dying every day because for a hungry man is an angry way are hungry. That's our brother has been killed. Even the women carry weapons. When spots on t we have our freedom Way won't stop Thing is a trailer to a 13 minute piece, but again, multi platform storytelling. So now when I approach a project, I'm thinking about doing a video like I did with the kidney disease project. But this to me was probably the in some ways, like the aging project for me was the, you know, the greatest fruition the most, the most the best example of I've been able to achieve. So I published a book. It's going into a second printing, So I have this multimedia piece that has reached I know possibly millions of people because it's appeared on many, many websites. And then I published a book, which, and the book still continues to be a fulcrum point for the kind of work we do when you have a book, all these other things happen, even if it's only copies or 2000 copies. That's the weird thing about this, right? You create a book that reaches 2000 whatever that has 2000 copies or or I have my work in National Geographic magazine, which theoretically reaches, you know, 2030 40 million people, but and then you have a multimedia piece or a short film which can reach hundreds of thousands or millions of people, and sometimes they're repeat, you know, they're they're reaching the same people, but in many cases they're reaching sort of different audiences, you know? So this work appeared is a major spread in National Geographic magazine. But then, you know we're the world. I come from the editorial world, the magazine world. This work that still work from this has also been published all over the world, in magazines and newspapers. It's been used in documentaries about this issue, and that's the other thing. I believe Ron mentioned that, And it's something I always talk about is that there is sort of nothing more humbling and thrilling when you create media materials that are bigger than you. But it's not about you. It's not about your career and all that. Yeah, those things are important. Don't get me wrong because they help me. They help sustain you to wake up another day and do more of it. But that's not the point of it. The point of it is that we sometimes are get to create things that other people find value in and use toe advocate and advocacy, you know, is another very important part of sort of why and how I do my work now. Um the, um I think Ron, maybe you want to take over from here. It is still me. Oh, my God. Look at that. Okay, so So another example of how this work was used was, um, Oxfam. America asked us to create a 32nd viral video. Uh, that doesn't mean it went viral, but And it was part of oven overall campaign, which actually had, uh, had a role in changing legislation in the U. S. Congress. And I'll get to that in a second. Let me play. This is just a 32nd clip here, man. I can't believe I have to fill up again. Where's all the money going? Somebody's probably making a killing off this way. $ that can't be right. Billions of dollars come out of the ground each year. Yet our schools, our Children are clinics don't benefit. Where does the money go? Way? Have a right to know