Back in 2007 I went to Afghanistan on assignment. I was excited and nervous for many reasons. My personal safety was highest on my mind along with all the other reasons, doing something worthy, not disappointing my clients, not mess up, in other words lots of pressure on myself by the worlds toughest critic of my work....me. I was not there to capture conflict imagery, but documenting some programs of nurse training run by the Afghan Institute of Learning, and when I had a chance something where I got a glimpse of the soul of someone. No superficial images of destruction or people beat down from the conflict. So I had to get in there, get to know people, accomplish my goals, all in a very short time frame.Being the crazy idealist that I am, along with my digital gear I dragged along a 1960's era 4x5 speed graphic and polaroid type 55 film. Super low tech, slow, and some of the best photos I took were with that camera.I met Aziza at a women's clinic she was waiting to see the doctor. We got to talking a bit (through an interpreter of course) and we connected. These are the only 2 frames I shot. You have to wait for the right moment, and create images one at a time. I liked the first one where she was being a little shy with her smile.
There is nothing better than getting people to smile and enjoy the moment.
Photographing in a foreign country is a challenge. Most of my work is in the documentary/reportage style. Basically photographing in the moment. These days though my projects are in that style but with models, wardrobe, picked locations. So it's not so much photographing in the moment anymore, but "planned in the moment" images, it is certainly more involved than just showing up with a camera, and making do with what is there. Not to mention to keep it feeling serendipitous while controlling everything. That is the challenge.
I went to Rio with a long shot list, and a mandate. Show modern Brazil and its people, living a healthy lifestyle. We found models in Rio (yes, its true it seems like almost everyone is beautiful there), locations, and had to plan shoots while on the run. It was tough, but with Rio and it's people as an inspiration, not to mention some great help on the ground, it was a pleasure.
It's not just clicking the shutter, it's the journey to get to that moment to take the photo is what defines a photographer.
The best part of what I do as a photographer? Getting to know people that I would probably never, ever encounter if it wasn't for being a photographer. Meeting people from different cultures and spending some time with them, eating with them, drinking tea with them really keeps things in perspective for me, and I find immensely enjoyable. I am lucky. Here I am getting to know and sharing a bit of tea with Abhimand a bit before I photograph him earlier this year on an assignment for Abbott. He was on his way to deliver milk from his cows to the milk receiving center in Shirdi, India about five hours east of Mumbai.
"Smile!" but look at me.
When on assignment I am sent with specific requirements on what ideas the images are supposed to convey, as well as look and feel. "Oh, and make sure there is room for type! but not sure of exactly where it will go." So as random as it feels sometimes, I get mandates like "go photograph pregnant women in India with gestational diabetes." One of the most important aspects is authenticity. Keeping the images "real" is probably the biggest challenge. Its much easier when things are planned and working with models. You can control the look and the feel of the images that way. Although that can have its pitfalls when it comes to looking authentic. Working with real people it can be hit or miss, of course being a professional it is expected that there is more hit than miss. You can tell people stand there and look this way, and that way, but how do you convey an idea you want them to express in their faces and body language? This becomes particularly problematic with cultural and language barriers. Many times I show up at a persons home in a rural area of another country that is off the grid like an alien from another planet that just got off a spaceship. Although my visit is usually pre-arranged. Most people have no clue about, why am I there, what I am doing, why am doing it, why is it important, and what is the point of it all. Not to mention I am probably the first foreigner that they have ever seen up close let alone interacted with, and a man no less which can be an issue in very conservative countries. Also I want to take lots of photos over here, over there, doing this, doing that....I get 20 minutes tops before people start getting tired of the whole thing. Plus they have work to do!
So whats a photographer to do? Sit down and have tea, share a moment, get to know each other a bit, and do more than hope for the best.
Stories, from the road: "My father is a barber, my grandfather was a barber, I want something else. Although I am very talented. Abbott has given me an opportunity to be something else."
"Want a haircut?"
I was in Brazil last year on assignment for Abbott Global Citizenship report. This particular report is for Abbott Brazil specifically using photos I took while in Brazil it also includes photography I did in China, Haiti, as well as the USA. Here are a few selected pages from the report. If you want to see more of what Abbott Brazil does in corporate citizenship click here. Also check out the main Abbott citizenship site here.
A rare quiet moment in Mumbai. Most of the time the buses are filled beyond capacity. Love the colors.
It's all about the eyes, smiling and unafraid of the camera.
The first time that the mother got to hold her baby after a month in intensive care after being born prematurely. She couldn't stop smiling, and there wasn't a dry eye in the room. I will get to follow-up later this year on the baby's progress.
I didn't know what to expect when I showed up one frigid morning in Galway, Ireland. What I knew is that I was photographing a dance. Its always hard to predict what going to happen when working on scant information. At least I wouldn't have the communication issues I face in places that don't speak English or Spanish or something close. Although I always muddle through with limited charm and wit. It was great fun and I also made a small video for the client and the NGO. So here is a plug for them, a good organization that helps many people.
Use it or lose it! Arthritis Ireland an, organization for arthritis sufferers in Ireland organizes dances to get people suffering from arthritis up from the couch and on to the dance floor.The goal being to get them exercising which helps keep them limber. This is one couples story on living with arthritis
I get many questions about what its like to work on a project like the one I just completed. A project with lots of travel, and many uncertainties. My response is...."It's the best" Which is an honest answer. Photographers dream about these kind of assignments. I am privileged to work on a project like this with clients that trust me and appreciate my work.
Now the not so glamorous details. I am going to break this up in a few parts in different posts.
Part 1 Organization and travel
I work by myself on these type projects. I travel with no assistant nor a client. I generally connect with a local person that is connected to whatever I am photographing. Sometimes they handle moving me around, sometimes I arrange for local transport in order to show up someplace like a hospital and they show me around. I spend lots of time moving around either in a plane, bus, car, train, tuk tuk, motorcycle, walking, running any and all kinds of transport. No dog sleds...yet, although I have been on one for a different project a while back. I travel as light as possible although it feels like I am still taking too much, particularly when you have to pack for different seasons.
The shoot schedule is very tight that tends to change every day in some form. In this case the design agency coordinates with the client on the schedule. Its up to me to be there on time and ready to work. Its all on a very big spreadsheet that is not too much fun to look at on an iphone. I have to be prepared to rearrange travel on the go in order to meet the schedule. Thank God for the internet, travel agents, and the iphone! Also being prepared for the unexpected like crazy long layovers, closed airports, broken airplanes, no one who speaks any language that I understand, bad weather, no food where you are stuck, no place to get cash, showing up in the middle of the night, don't take credit cards, no cars left to rent, no taxis, the list goes on and on.
So where did I get this kind or experience navigating? When I was a photography assistant I worked with a few guys who did serious travel, and picked up a few pointers. Thanks guys!
This a slide show of the many things I saw in my travels. No actual work shots yet. My client gets first crack on publishing them.
Much of of my time is spent photographing people working, playing, laughing, vogueing, etc, but I never have any photos of me doing those things. For example in my house there is a wall full of family photos I am in one maybe two of them. Why? because I am usually the one doing the photographing. So in my recent travels I handed a camera to my client........Many thanks Roopal! I really need a personal paparazzi.
This is a photo of me photographing a mother and daughter in front of a temple near Lonavala, India. The little girl was really personable and pretty in pink. What a beautiful family.
I had such grand blogging plans for my travels....I didn't do much of it unfortunately. I did post some to Facebook when I was sitting still. The demands of moving non stop through different cities, and countries with spotty internet, and crazy data roaming fees forced those ideas on to the back burner. Instead I really focused on the reason I was there; the job at hand. Just a few more domestic trips then I will be done. I will post some stories when I catch up.
Here is a shot in Chandigarh, India at a celebration. They sure know how to throw a party in India.
View 2011 Abbott GCR in a larger mapIndian visa (ready to be picked up), China visa in process, update photo gear (check), get a haircut (check), updating maps on GPS, relax (check, well half check) the list goes on...Starting to plan some travel for a project that is fast approaching, way too fast. The map shows general locations because many things have not been nailed down yet, also there will be different cities and towns in each area as I speed travel around the world. I think this years travel will be back to back in some parts so no stop overs in NYC to do laundry, replace broken gear, download drives, drop off film to develop (yes film, B+W), see my wife and kids, deal with business stuff, or take a break. I will be on the road from the end of January till mid March. So I have to be extra prepared for anything this time around. I will be in places where anything would be impossible to replace.
I have been thinking a lot on trying some new things, and change my approach to keep things fresh. It's really easy to follow a formula, and sometimes things can get stale. We can't let that happen, can we. Trying to stay true to what you do, and evolve is tough.
I can't wait to get started, and experience the unexpected.
Recently in NYC there was a kickoff party for the BSR (business for social responsibility) conference in NYC. It was a very well attended event by many people in the corporate responsibility field. My client Abbott was one of the sponsors of the event. The best part of the event (at least for me) is that photos I took of various Abbott Fund projects in different parts of the world these last few years were being projected, and printed on banners. It served as a great reminder to everyone at the event that there are people in the world that need support, and we need to do what we can to help. It is good to know that my work is used to bring awareness, and perhaps stir action to do good in this world. The different organizations highlighted were, the Afghan Institute of Learning in Afghanistan, Vivir con dia Diabeties in Bolivia, Ankor childrens hospital in Cambodia, and the Gao Diem nutrician program in Vietnam. All very worthy programs which I have seen, and experienced personally. Each name is hotlinked check them out, and donate if you can.
This image truly represents how I see things when I am traveling....Some blur with some sharp areas. Finally, I was able to make it to Rio and shoot at a production plant. I spent a total of 6 hours in Rio. I know its crazy...I had to get back to Sao Paulo the same day to shoot early the next morning. Its a shame Rio really is all that you imagine it to be. I did get to see Ipanema, Copapcabana beach, had a beer, and Cod fish cakes (which are super tasty) on Copacabana beach. Not to mention soak in a bit of sun to get rid of the NY winter grey tone of my skin and it was 100 degrees which felt nice. As usual though I had to rush off to the next location.
Observations: Hot, actually very hot, great looking beaches and people. That's all I got I was there for only 6 hours.
Coming in for a landing at the airport in Rio you see the green patch in the upper middle that's the runway, and yes it ends in the water on both ends!
The weather has played a huge part in my recent travels unfortunately not for the better. I was stuck in Shengyang, China (a small city near North Korea, although they did have a Prada, Gucci, and Burberry boutiques just to name a few) when on my way to Singapore because of snow, getting around Chicago was a nightmare with all the snow and the cold. I almost slid my rental car into another car in Odense, Denmark. Luckily whatever I did kept me from hitting the car, but got myself stuck in a snow bank instead. A woman who was jogging passed by me, volunteered to help push my car out of the snow bank as a result of the slide. Did I mention Danes are amazing?
So why should flying from Copenhagen via Frankfurt be any different? I was supposed to fly to Sao Paulo and make a connection to Rio de Janiero. That was not to be....My flight from Frankfurt was late by an hour then the connecting airlines computers were having issues so they couldn't get me on another flight. I traveled by taxi to the domestic airport to try to get another flight no luck. Ugh...a rare defeat for me. I usually mange to overcome those issues somehow. Anyway Rio was rescheduled and I stayed in Sao Paulo to work on other parts of the project. I photographed doctors, patients, battery recycling, regular people, kids, babies, and triplets...the triplets were a challenge.
I was last in Sao Paulo 10 years ago, and it was really great to be there again. Its a busy metropolis of 10,886,517 in the city and 19,616,060 in the greater metropolitan area of people with things to do.
Thanks to everyone in Sao Paulo who made my short time there interesting and special.
Observations in Sao Paulo in February: Hot!, beautiful people, clean for such a large city, bad traffic, crazy afternoon rains, great food, Brazilian Portuguese sounds beautiful, great music, friendly people, great vibe, Bohemia beer, and those Capirinas that somehow taste better there.
Flying into Sao Paulo. This is the edge of the city. Look how it ends so abruptly an>
Thunder storm out my window at the Sheraton Sao Paulo Brooklin. During the storm the power went out in the hotel for about an hour.
The drive to Copenhagen should take about 2 hours from Odense. My drive took almost double that due to snow, and because of the totally wrong tires on my fab Volvo rental car. So after a nerve wracking drive I slip and slide into Copenhagen. I went to Copenhagen to catch my flight to my next stop Brazil, see a friend, and some speed touristing (something I am getting very good at.) Too bad the weather was not too hospitable. It was cold, wet, snowy, and 8 inches of snow on the ground. It was beautiful with the snow and all, but wet feet are not conducive to walking around for too long. I bet its beautiful in the summer time though.
Observations: cold, snow, wet, (it is winter time after all), great architecture, pedestrian friendly, canals, great people, great hotel Royal SAS hotel.
This is what was expecting me as I approached Aarlborg airport.
Farsøe is a small town in the Jutland region of Denmark. It was cold, snowy, and small. As a matter fact there was no hotel in town. I had to stay at a nearby town called Aars for that. I was photographing a woman named Bente for the report I am working on. I photographed her at home as well as working at her job as a bartender. The bar was a local place with a working class clientele. I got to meet some interesting people. That's the best part of projects like this I get to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. People like Thomas and Anders in the last photo. Thomas works in a lumber yard, and Anders is a fish farmer. He raises trout I believe. We were immediate friends. Most of the poeple at the bar were regular customers, and Bente told them that a NY photographer was coming to photograph her. They were excited by that I hope I didn't disappoint. I did keep the NY'er attitude dialed down a bit. Thomas and Anders kept offering to by me a drink. They found it incomprehensible that I would be in a bar and not drinking. I took them up on their offer once I was done. SKOL! That's cheers in Danish.
Observations: cold, snow, ice, lonely, really nice people, good food as a matter of fact great food even in the middle or no where, great landscapes.