Heidi: Tell us why this project was different for you? Joe: This assignment really combined everything I love about shooting for editorial clients. It was commissioned by the editor and designer Robert Priest so I knew that care would be taken in how the images would be used and that the process would be collaborative every step of the way. I was also excited about the subject matter, despite not being a true follower of sports. I felt that photographing women for a soccer magazine that primarily focuses on global soccer stars who are generally male, this was a nice chance to add to the coverage of one of the most successful teams playing the game today. It dovetailed nicely into conversations about inclusion and representation, which I care about greatly in the context of being someone who contributes to media the way I do.
What did you know about Priest+Grace the legendary design duo prior to this project? I’ve known about Robert Priest for many years, all the way back to when I was a contributor to Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, where he was the design director. I also did assignments for O (The Oprah Magazine) when he was the design director there. I have great respect for and reverence to his legacy as well as his ability to stay on the cutting edge of innovative design. I think if you love working in magazines, you know about Robert.
When a publication like 8by8 is so exquisitely designed what type of responsibility do you feel?
It’s really such a treat to know that the photography is meant to live side by side with amazing type and design elements made by the best designers in the business. I do feel a responsibility for my images to hold up to that great design, so they can be on equal footing and complement one another. My absolute favorite thing about shooting for magazines is seeing how my images pair with strong design, especially on a cover shoot.
Tell us about the gravity of working with such an important group of women that push beyond the normal cover subject? Truthfully, these are the types of shoots I live for. Anyone who is redefining norms, pushing boundaries, challenging expectations, is in my opinion the perfect cover subject. I want to look back on the work I do and feel like I was capturing my subjects at pivotal moments in their lives and careers. I knew the back story of the pressure these women have faced as favorites going into the World Cup. They face a discriminatory pay scale and are scrutinized in ways that I think the male players aren’t. In my eyes they are heroes as well as athletes and I wanted to my images to reflect that.
Most cover shoots come with layers of styling, h/m, how did the lack of these both inspire and intimidate you? It was refreshing. I loved that they were being photographed in their battle armor, it seemed to give them a sense of purpose on the shoot. Robert and I agreed that we would not ask them to pose or interact with a ball, I didn’t want to mine the typical imagery we’ve all seen of athletes in their uniforms performing.
This is your second portrait gallery of powerful women, how are you approaching these projects and what is on your mind leading up to these? I take it very, very seriously and I’m acutely aware that my (male) voice is not the obvious choice to represent all subjects. I’m very excited to see that diversity in photography is being honored and encouraged and I am extremely humbled if I am asked to take on a story like this. I think I may have been called for each of these portfolios as someone who has photographed many people, men and women, who are making an impact in the world. It’s not every day that I am asked to do that and I don’t take it lightly. I know that I have to come through with images that are thoughtful, representative of the story, and can live on as a historic document of the strides being made by women in 2019.
How do you hope women in particular respond to these galleries? In a few words what is your message? I hope all viewers can see that I’m truly looking to make honest and inspiring portraits, not as a male point of view, but as a proxy for anyone who is inspired by leaders and athletes. I especially think about what it might feel like for girls or young women to see these subjects celebrated in the same light as their male counterparts (by a male photographer) and hope that my voice can be lent, at times, to equalize the way in which subjects are photographed. I would hope that many more female photographers can be similarly tasked with documenting male subjects, as opposed to photography being divided into gender specific assigning.
What was the direction from the magazine? Robert initially said he was interested in some of the color direction my work had been taking, so that was a jumping off point for me to experiment with traditional studio lighting as well as some setups with a stronger color voice.
Tell us about the set conversation during the image making? We were extremely rushed for time so there were only a handful of opportunities to talk to the players during the session. But I did get to have a few laughs with some of them, it was early in the year and I think the excitement for what lay ahead for them at the World Cup was palpable.
How do you feel about community within the photo industry?
I hope it comes through that I am a believer in diversity of perspectives in photography and that I actively seek out conversation with other photographers on these matters. It’s not lost on me how isolating a freelance career can be so I make it a point to doing outreach to a group of peers so we can discuss the important changes happening, or that need to happen in our industry.
Heidi: How did this project come about?
Abhishek: I had recently watched the classic ‘Days of heaven‘. Its visual style, colour palette and the beautiful use of the golden hour light, especially for the landscape shots, inspired me to work on this project. It sparked the idea of shooting a fashion story in a setup which has a natural and raw energy.
What was the direction for the work?
My idea was to bring the characters alive in an uneventful, humdrum summer setup and let the characters be a part of the surroundings. With no defined relationship between the characters, I wanted it to have a free-of-ties feel.
Did you pitch this idea or did they ask you to submit?
I submitted them the story for a possible publication.
How much personal work do you do?
I do it as often as I can between the commercial projects.
Why did you choose this location?
For the look and feel I had in mind for the story, I needed a place which has a rural, countryside vibe and natural empty spaces, giving the characters an opportunity to be as close to the nature as possible. I always had it in mind to include elemental landscape shots to emphasize the summer vibe and complement the styling.
Tell us about combining landscape and fashion.
Landscape photography is very close to my heart. One of the things which drew me towards photography was the excitement of capturing a vista to stir the emotions of the viewer. Fashion I believe is a way of expression, emoting through styles. When combined with a landscape, whether it is to complement or juxtapose the fashion element, together it works seamlessly to bring out the intended emotions.
Creative Director: Heidi Volpe Assistant Photo Editor: Jay Modi Photographer: Rohan Hande Prop Stylist: Aditi Dugar Styled by Sage and Saffron Cooked by: Aliakbar Baldiwala and Akshat Agarwal Hand Model: Mythili Zatakia Food Editor: Sonal Ved
Heidi: I know you did some research on old master paintings after we discussed the concept for our OTT food shoot. What did you watch and what did you learn?
Rohan: I found this video lecture by John Walsh, the Director Emeritus of the J. Paul Getty Museum, L.A. and since these are historical artworks, understanding the narrative and motives by a specialist in Dutch paintings is better than a subjective approach. I learned a lot from Pieter Claesz’s composition and light.
How did that research translate into the final image?
The window light and textures, along with the opulence was replicated. Surrealist elements were also added to push the OTT narrative.
How difficult was the post as we had only one hand model?
It was quite straightforward to be honest. Much like a collage, it was cut and paste. The tricky bit was getting the correct hand gestures during the shoot.
Were you concerned the lights would start to deteriorate the food?
Since we were working with flash and not consistent lighting, I wasn’t worried. Some of the food had to be made “camera friendly” to draw attention and maybe a couple of them were taken back to the kitchen to “redecorate”. However, we weren’t working with any cold items, that could melt.
We knew you were the perfect person for this assignment bc of your expertise in collage/photo illustration, where did you first start experimenting with this technique and why?
Why, thank you! I started looking into this process when I was studying commercial photography. I wasn’t aware of this process until I met students from graphic design and illustration. It was a mix of that and happy accident where the model stood between 2 lights meant to light the background and ended up looking like this (tenacity_3).
Someone might have mentioned “collage” and that was it. This turned into mixed media very quickly. I found collages to be an exciting process to break out and translate my ideas and emotions in more than 1 way. And honestly, it was just a lot of fun trying out new and exciting process:
into the jazz age 1 and 2
You have great range in your work, how do you know when to execute straight forward photography vs the collage? and is all the collage done digitally?
I try not to separate the 2 processes. By nature the collages always come in later. So any photographs made can work with the narrative. Sometimes I have found photographs made 3-4 years ago, so give me a narrative element. However, that’s rare. Most collages are made with photographs I’ve made in the same time period, for example “Japan Waiting”. I do have a lot of digital collages, but not everything is digital. It comes down to which method would be most beneficial for the artwork, for example Drips. I cannot predict how the paint is going to drip and blot.
How has your personal travel influenced your work?
“Japan Waiting” and “Japan Cabs” are the best examples of explore this topic. I’ve been there twice and both times, I’ve come back with a new perspective. “Japan Cabs” happened because of the classic car models, they fully uniformed drivers and the automatic doors. The collages weren’t planned, but once reviewing all the images, it was the only way to tell a story about the taxis in the city. During this year’s visit I saw a lot of people waiting..patiently. Initially shot as a photographic series of I think around 40 images, where the Japanese who wouldn’t cross a red light even if the street was 6 feet wide, “Japan Waiting” in turn because a response to “Japan Cabs”. To me it became a series on patience.
Heidi: Your images were recently in Shifting City, an exhibition that has been adapted in nine cities across the world that are considered ‘arrival cities’. The Red Cat and Other Stories had some of the same images, tell us about the cross over.
Ritesh: Kaiwan Mehta, the curator, gave us a brief related to the Arrived In City. In very simple words: A city where everything is kinda there, for whatever it is you wish to achieve or do; all you have to do is show up. I realized that my work on the city isn’t just looking at that aspect but I have also been chronicling the rapid expansion of the city, both in physical and mental terms. It evoked memories of the time I moved, and the mental jolt I got on seeing the socio-cultural differences. It made me think of all the conversations I have had with people I know that have shifted along with the city.
For curation I did a mammoth archive dive. I pulled out all my iphone images that went into the book, all the rejects that didn’t make it to the book and tossed them around. Over repeated edits and since I am one of those photographers who makes photos everyday, I added the new material made in the month and half leading up to the show. Final stage edit was done jointly with Kaiwan. One of my biggest takeaways, apart from many others, is his use of variants of a single image, akin to repetition. I always thought that repetition was simply a tool in writing, a figure of speech, but when done with images its quite fantastic!
What did you hope the viewer felt? The ultimate goal of my work is empathy and introspection. And they both work in tandem. Of course, I can’t really control what people feel so some viewers found it largely entertaining, some found the pictures to be a celebration of the absolute banal and hence very relatable. Most importantly I wanted people to read the photos and enquire within instead of expecting simplified captions. The whole series also aspires to incite curiosity. Life in the city is so hard, we barely get time to reflect or be curious about anything besides the fulfillment of one’s basic needs.
Were all the images in the book and the show shot with your iphone? if so why?
in 2014 I began using the phone camera extensively, in the square format. In the process, I learnt that am a very different photographer on the phone and it began impacting the way I deal with the city and country. The phone camera is the camera of today, our generation, and what better way to chronicle and display a lived-in experience of my spaces. The phone allowed me to have a citizen like eye instead of being all professional about it.
It’s true the work is serious and heavy at times, but just like life, I am very drawn towards a certain irony in images. And India, gets a short stick on that end. People have for years photographed it in extreme ways, too much colour, too beautiful, or too poor, too tough a place. I am quite fatigued by the cliched images of lovers on Marine Drive, crowds at the Gateway, south Bombay charm etc. Landscapes so imposing that everything else in the photograph is elevated too. As a response to this tedium, I self-published a photo book last year called The Red Cat and Other Stories in which I linked a Sindhi fable my mother told me when I was younger and my way of seeing the city which I feel now, after all these years of carrying multiple and confusing burdens of influences, is inspired more by these little fables and folk stories. My goal was to create the most un-Bombay book on the island city as I can. Hence I focus largely on the suburbs, arriving at a balance of sorts in terms of representation of class and landscape.
How long did the book take to shoot?
The book took four years, from conception on a May afternoon in 2014, till going to press in May of 2018.
Tell us about the title
The book was initially titled Ghar, meaning home, and as it developed I felt the title didn’t do justice. There are 16 stories of grit, of survival, of successes and failures that lead up to the Red Cat fable at the end of the book, where the protagonist is a young 17 year old, hence The Red Cat and Other Stories.
What font is in the title of the book?
The font is specially designed by Sabeena Karnik, who merged the handwriting styles of my 2 elder sisters Shirley and Sonia and for my name I used a font called Metropolis. If not for my sisters I would not be in a position to pursue my dreams. If not for my parents, and my father’s dogged fight to live in Bombay, we’d be in some small town and I’d probably have a corporate job. The book is an ode to that very fact that we are never self made. Everything is a collective effort and it is true for a city like ours. No one can fulfill their dreams on their own, everybody needs a Red Cat.
How did you decide on that binding?
The binding was a last minute decision fueled by an accident. The printer, sent me the final dummy and after one day the cover began to drift away from the book, exposing its spine. At first I got mad but then I was drawn to its bareness. I anyways wanted the book to have some elements that are like a lot of the city’s structures. How often do we come across a beautiful building or a home and when we go to its side we see a chaotic network of pipes and wires. I also wanted a sense of fragility, like some of our inter-personal relationships, one wrong word or action that is misinterpreted brings to collapse years of knowing someone. It happens with all of us.
No image on the book cover, why?
For the cover too, I kept it simple. I don’t want a reader to know this is a photobook. Its simply a book with photos and text! So, because of its whiteness, if you leave the book on a coffee table, there are bound to be stains, handle it roughly and it threatens to come apart. A day before printing, I reduced the paper weight from 130 gsm to 100 as well, for I wanted a certain see through to happen. Sacrilege, felt my photographer friends and the process co-ordinator at Pragati Offset. But if you hold up certain pages against a source of light, two images merge to make a third. Like life, many things happen at once, overlapping. The printer thought am being stupid or just cutting costs, but trust me, it only looks fragile, it is pretty sturdy.
Over the last year, I came across many readers who have done interesting things with it. One man wrapped it in a beautiful hand-spun cloth from his village and kept it in his safe as a gift for 4 year old son when he turns 18. Some others have refused to let go of the bubble wrap envelope that I had used to pack it. Some have simply kept it locked inside their cupboards instead of their bookshelves. Some books are beautifully personalized by food, pickle or tea stains.
How did the book push you creatively?
The book tested my patience at all levels. Whether it was design, production or tracking of couriers. At every stage, it demanded patience of ginormous amounts! I taught myself the basics of Indesign, binding, understanding page counts to minimize wastage etc etc. As a photographer I lead a pretty sheltered life. Chasing stories, getting published and drawing a salary. And when one is doing news pictures for a long time, a false sense of superiority or a strange unreasonable dismissal of anything but news pictures had set in. So, self publishing a book, in India, when one is freelance, is like harakiri for such thoughts as well! Every step is twice as tough without institutional backing.
With regards to narrative, I knew the things I wanted to avoid. So it simply became a process of exclusion. I revisited several places to better some of the photos, one place I visited seven different times spread across two years. I was no longer chasing the perfect light, or form or anything that makes a photograph come across more dramatic than it already is. I had about 98 versions of Ghar till I abandoned that narrative and changed its name followed by 40 odd versions of The Red Cat and Other Stories. I showed the book to some photographers but I found their feedback limiting
How did you decide about the text and was there a through line in all the interviews?
I was pretty sure about having text in the book; it simply shaped up as I went along. The layout for the spreads was also quite fun. If one sits and puts together all the text columns of the book on a single page, they resemble a city skyline. The gap between some words is more, some less, for a reason. Like houses in the city, some have a single room, some have 2 room houses and so on. To the uninitiated it might seem like one giant mistake.
Why are some words in red in the text?
In addition, There are some words in red ink though that one has to join up and construct a sentence which is the last line of the Red Cat fable. This allowed me two things, one that I can keep the story open ended if the viewer does not wish to join the words. Second, its a game of sorts and you can involve kids too. A lot of photobooks alienate kids and senior citizens. They don’t set out to, but the chunky design and/or choice of topic manages to. For the same reason, I junked the hardcover and made a semi soft cover which allowed me to make gatefolds that contain short, succinct and often suggestive captions for the images. This way, you don’t have to go all the way back to some Index page. Stay with the narration and simply open the gatefold to know more.
How has your perspective of the city changed?
Change is too severe a word. Its just transformed a bit for the better. Made me a whole lot more sensitive than I was towards it. I think, that is a really good thing for its very easy to fall prey to extreme emotions here.
Creative Director: Sebastian Bland Editor: Olivia Squire
Photographer: Catherine Hyland
Heidi: What were some of the challenges with the shoot?
Catherine: One of the challenges was aligning energy and the personality I wanted to capture, this becomes difficult with a communication barrier at play and a middle aged translator interpreting my direction. What they’re feeling becomes a mystery. You can’t communicate to say – I’m a nice person and I want to make you look good! So that whole thing is totally cut off. Who knows what we would have made if we were able to have a laugh together.
I know you had a turning point with this project. Tell us how that came about.
Getting out of Ulaanbaatar immediately opened up new possibilities. “Ideally, you don’t really want to be doing things impulsively,” Catherine says. “But at the same time I think that’s when some of the best work gets made. When we were trying to get the older sumos together in the gym, it was actually very stale compared to the rest of the work we made.”
Do you have a journal or a way of keeping track of your story ideas? Can you describe your process for crafting something that feels the creative pursuit? Yes, I have a journal that I use to keep track of my ideas. I also do quite extensive research into projects before they are undertaken, sometimes I will have been researching projects for a few years before they come into fruition.
Did the images come before the film you did with We Transfer? They were shot at exactly the same time, on the same trip. I went out there specifically to make this personal project on The Rise of the Mongolians which was funded by WePresent/WeTransfer.
How did you gain acceptance into the community in order to make the work? On this particular trip we had fixers who helped translate and introduce me to a mixture of people in the Sumo community.
How long were you there? 2 weeks
Was this the first time you were working with Suitcase? No, they had previously published my project ‘Wait-And-See Pudding with Patience Sauce’, shot in on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean.
Art Director: Arsh Raziuddin Photographer:Hashim Badani Writer: Ross Anderson
Heidi: The Atlantic discovered your work via instagram rather than a site. Tell us how you use the app and how it’s moved your work forward? Hashim: As we have witnessed, Instagram and Twitter have been powerful tools in letting one take control of their narrative. I use my feed to post a blend of my work which alters between documentary and fashion. It lets me blur lines. I use Instagram stories to document or voice my opinion on the everyday while I curate my post to lend itself to a larger cumulative narrative on how I perceive and experience the world.
How do you curate your feed?
It doesn’t follow a pattern. It might vary between something as whimsical as a play of colour to something more relevant as participating in a larger discourse we might be collectively encountering. I also use it to create short fiction stories on Bombay.
How did this project push you creatively?
It was a unique editorial project to be a part of. Mainly because the narrative moved so fluidly between places, science, faith and Ross’s (the author) own experiences. That was the challenge and joy of it. Arsh had a certain vision that should brought to the table too. All in all It pushed me to look at the space we inhabit beyond our everyday perspective.
Why do you use long form captions on some of your images?
An image can be read in a number of ways. I completely enjoy the process of creating make-believe scenarios around them. The text is a way of doing so. A series I really enjoy working on is called #makingupmanto. Manto was a prolific author who lived briefly in pre-partitioned Bombay. I wander the same streets of Bombay that he might have and imagine different scenarios he might have found himself in. Sometimes I add contemporary references. In a way, the captions to these images are a projection of my concerns on the current political landscape.
Things had to change. And still, nothing changed. It seemed like the saffron skies were here to stay. Manto packed the last of his bags, said his goodbyes. Kadar, the watchman at Mohmadi Mansion was his last farewell .Teary eyed, he told Kadar of his predicament-this was never home. Kadar didn’t care. He had dozed off. Manto disappeared into the crowd.
Lost in the music, Manto made his way to Madanpura. It was one of the few areas in Bombay where life started early. The morning azaan wend its way around streets tread by children headed to the madrasa, before heading to Christ Church or St Agnes school. Mill workers heaved in clusters toward New Great Eastern Spinning & Weaving Mills. In the early hours, the sky had turned a pale pink, the kind before a storm. Safiya would be awake any minute. He picked up the pace (continued as instagram highlight).
How does each genre of photography point back to one another ( portrait to street photography, fashion to photojournalism?)
I have never thought about photography in genres. It has always been more a byproduct of my curiosity and my need to tell a story. For now, I lean on photography to do so but I am open to exploring other mediums as well.
What was it about Hashim’s work that awarded him the project? Arsh: We thought Hashim was the perfect person for this piece. I wanted someone familiar with Delhi who has a versatile background. Hashim seems to have experience with portraiture, fashion, street photography, and photojournalism. He has a great way of using textures and colors and I knew it would play into the animals and birds well.
What type of direction did you give him?
I gave Hashim a list of shots that I would like and updated him on lines of the piece that were the most important. It was hard to capture everything, especially because much of the piece was not focused on Jain’s themselves but on the animal mind and treatment of animals.
Did the writer travel with him?
No, the writer was based in Washington DC. He did help with the shot list, though. He visited earlier that year.
Heidi: You’ve been shooting for Conde Nast Traveller for the past twenty years. How has your eye evolved; your experience of landscape and the world changed?
Alistair: The eye evolves in tandem with ones’ personality. As one matures, so does the eye and our interests. Our personality notices certain things, we become intrigued in different things throughout our life, so when traveling I may turn left down a street I might have found uninteresting before. I travel quite differently than I used to. I’m trying to describe a feeling and a sense, more than photographing a place, in fact had a chat with my younger self very early on in my career, I understood that my landscapes should not necessary to be representative of the place, we have post cards, brochures and guide books for this, but should represent my personal feeling of where I’ve ended up. It’s vital for myself as a photographer to have an opinion, no matter what you are taking an image of. It must be personal, and I try very hard to ‘ milk ‘ every opportunity I get, to dig deep and to manage to represent what ever I’m shooting to mirror my feeling. I have taken it with my eyes, the camera just records it for me. Same for a beauty brand, perfume, fashion or landscape. The gesture or a hand, a look, or an attitude of a model, it all stems from the center of a personality. Every personality is unique, so should creativity.
Can you tell us how your fashion points back to your landscape/travel and vice versa?
Shooting landscapes, I’ve understood, that the further I am from the airport, the more interesting place I am in. The harder the struggle to arrive the more the reward, art imitating life I guess… If I produce a set of images that I myself find acceptable, and that can stir an emotion, then I will submit them to my editor. It could be just a dusty track in a certain light, and somehow I notice it and it becomes magic, so when I’m shooting, I don’t stop until I feel I have this.
The same goes for the majority of my fashion work, even if it’s often diffused by commercial restraints and needs of what ever client I am working with. The imagery must first pass my litmus test. I must find the magic.
What would you tell your younger self creative self about having such diversity in your work?
My diversity you mention is perhaps the result of an impatient wandering eye, coupled with an appalling memory, and my need to capture to remember!
What type of terrain do you love?
I love inhospitable places, the harshness is often rewarded by a beautiful smell. Danokil is an extra ordinary place. Completely Biblical, I have the feeling nothing has changed in the past 2000 years. Erta Ale is still bubbling and fussing away, The salt on the dry lake is still being harvested as it was thousands of years ago, The sulphur pools still smell the same, and it’s still considered the hottest, most un-hospitable place on earth, but in this wonderland it fires up the soul and ignites the passion to capture the invisible emotion just in order to remember.
Creative Director and Editor-In-Chief: Ben Giese
Heidi: Is this the first time working for META?
Dean: This wasn’t the first story that I shot for Meta, I did a film and photo series on freestyle motocross rider and all around amazing person, Jimmy Hill previously.
Did you bring this story idea to them, or was this assigned?
This trip was prompted by me buying a Harley which coinciding with a road trip planned by friends and co-collaborators Justin Chatwin and Jay Zaretsky. We rode 3000 or so miles starting in Venice, California up into Western Oregon; across the state and part of the coast – returning to Los Angeles some 10 or so days later. The trip wasn’t assigned by Meta – it just sounded like the right kind of adventure. As always, I took a camera to document the journey. My friend Ben who runs Meta seemed like the perfect person to put the story to print and he encouraged us to have Justin write to accompany the images. Justin’s words really helped bring the piece together.
What type of creative direction did you get from the magazine?
Ben made selects from the thousands of images I shot and then Justin wrote small diary-style entries to accompany the images since we didn’t have a consistent narrative.
Over how many days did you shoot this?
10 days on the road, we camped most of the way and carried everything we needed on our bikes.
Tell us about the making of some of these images
Sometimes the best images come without intention and are based purely on living some kind of adventure. I would like to be doing more of this and thankfully I have an amazing group of friends who live this way.
How did you hear of this publication?
I first heard about Meta probably 5 years or so ago, first just through the motorcycle circles and then through my ad agency friends at Team One who at that time were working on Indian Motorcycles. I met Ben and Andrew who started the magazine soon after whilst on a motorcycle ride in Colorado. We became fast friends and I’m a big believer in the attention to detail and hard work they put into the magazine. Ben brings an elevated aesthetic to motorcycle culture, something I also feel strongly about.
Where did your love of motorcycles come from? Are you a collector?
My love with motorcycles comes from starting to ride a dirt bike around 6 or 7 years ago in the vast California and Nevada desert and then having some amazingly passionate friends who I have learned everything from. I love the people, the bikes and the culture – it’s an awesome community and helps satisfy my love for adventure and camaraderie. I suppose some day, in s decade or two, I’ll call myself a collector – but for now I just have one too many motorcycles – A Harley Dyna FXDX, Triumph Scrambler, Honda Dirt Bike and an old 90’s BMW GS. I already have plans for one or two more.
Heidi: What type of direction did you get from the magazine?
Bill: “It was the perfect assignment for a few reasons. First, it was in a city I had been longing to visit, I love Italy, and this was truly special.
My editor simply told me – “go to Palermo, and come back.” I think one of the best things a photo editor can do on an assignment like this is to show trust in the photographers they hire. They were drawn to the photographers work for a reason, and letting them do their natural best is key. It frees up the experience to really be open to the unexpected, which is exactly what happened here for me.
Had you been to Italy before? Yes. I was reminded of a shoot I had done in Tuscany a few years before where I was working with Alduino Ventimiglia, a descendent of Frederick the 2nd of Sicily.
He is the man responsible for saving a breed of Sicilian war-horse, the Persano stallion. One evening we were speaking of Sicily, and he asked me “what do you think of when you
think of Sicily” “mystery,” I said. “exactly” he said. I’m not sure if a photographer can be assigned to “shoot” mystery, it is something you must experience when you’re not looking. Palermo, like other Italian cities I have been to -Napoli, or Tropea for example, has many layers of mystery. It has a kind of shiny and forward busy side, as well as a deeply poetic dark side. The connection between the two is the “vena cava” of sorts, I was excited to see what the city was willing to show me.
Who did you travel with?
My Italian producer from Rome was available to accompany me.
What was the first thing you did upon landing?
Upon landing from Rome, we were immediately in search of local delicacies. The fish, the sea urchin, the infusions and digestifs. The weather was building, it was hot, and there was a beautiful pressure in the air. We found a small, beautiful place, with a sidewalk terrace covered by a canvas canopy. The food was simple and perfect, the light from the encroaching storm was telling and moody, I loved it. Near the closing
of our meal, the sky opened up and flooded the streets, reflecting the “bruised” sky and shifting clouds, we remained at our table outside beneath the canvas roof, sipping a beautiful, herbaceous liquor made from laurel leaves. The first two shots of the printed story were taken after the storm – the two upper left images. Upon leaving, I noticed in the corner of one of the windows, a tiny sticker reading “Member of the Moto Guzzi owners club.” I asked about the location of the club, thinking it might offer a possible view into a stylish corner of the city, I also own a vintage Moto Guzzi, so I was personally intrigued.
Did you have a shot list? We had no shot list, the mystery unfolded in front of us, as we moved from moment to moment, person to person, meal to meal. Our first hotel was hidden in a backstreet, and inspired some exploration. Having given up on the motorcycle club, but still keen to find some Italian machines, I noticed a flash of red through a door barely open. We stopped, and had a look. It turned out to be an old bike shop run by its original owner, vintage Italian exotica, like the Binelli race bike also pictured. It turned out that the bike shop had been a theater for puppetry, still adorned with handprint murals, and backdrops. I asked about the tradition of Marionettes, and puppet theater, they happily lead me to the master, also pictured below.
As a photographer, my work is to make memories, storytelling is key. This trip in particular was loaded with
experience, a testament to the trust of my editor Caroline Metcalf. If I had been chasing down a shot list, none of this might have happened.
How did you find your subjects?
Our first night there, I was shooting shadows in a back alley, the sun had just gone down. I heard something which sounded like a metal knife on glass, clinking in a window above me. I looked up and saw a woman chipping wax off of some antique candle sticks. She asked me if I was looking for something, I said I was looking for shadows. I noticed the fresco covered ceiling behind her, and asked if she lived there. She said yes, and it was a studio as well. I told her it looked beautiful, and that we were shooting for a magazine. She asked if we wanted to come up for a drink, of course we said yes. She turned out to be a furniture designer, and was having people over for dinner. We helped her in the kitchen, set the table, and were there for the evening, it was amazing, and we are still in touch. I mentioned I was interested to find some characters to shoot, and I wanted to breathe in some style. She gave it some thought, and connected me to a friend the very next day. We met at the studio a day later, went through her closet, and dressed her
friend Lucrezia in clothes I found in her closet. Lucrezia turned out to be a photographer, director, performer, we too are still in contact, the layers continue.
How many days were you there?
I believe we were there for 4 days? maybe 5?
Did you submit those grids of images or did they edit those for you?
They got so many pictures out of it, they had to spread it out using grids, a good problem to have.
I do play with diptychs in my own edits, and feel it helps create contrast graphically, but it also helps to tell a story and create a narrative.
Did you turn in both black and white and color?
I mixed black and white and color, they pretty much went with what I sent.
Heidi: Why a podcast? How did this come about? Shaughn and John: As a photo team we’ve realized that working together in the same physical space helps us to make the most of the days we aren’t on set shooting. Although we both live in the LA area there is about 50 miles separating us, which means at least 2 hours of driving per day. Like a lot of people these days the way we cope with the long drive is by listening to an insane amount of podcasts. Whether it be true crime, investigative, daily news or interview style, we love being absorbed in stories while we commute. What began as a fun way of keeping ourselves occupied evolved into a conversation about what a Shaughn and John podcast would look like. We agreed that the best idea was to create a podcast that matched the style and approach of our personal documentary projects. Whether it is through photos, video and now audio we love telling the stories of fringe groups and subcultures.
Which podcasts do you both listen to? We each have our favorite genres. Shaughn leans towards true crime (Sword and Scale, Casefile, True Crime All the Time) and I (John) lean towards investigative podcasts (The Daily, The Dropout, The Dream). But there is definitely a ton of overlap. Some of our recent shared favorites include: Uncover, Bomber, Dirty John, Heaven’s Gate, S-Town, and Up and Vanished.
What is the criteria for a subculture to make the cut? There isn’t exactly a criteria but we both constantly have an ear to the ground searching for our next big project. Subcultures that make you scratch your head and wonder what a day in their life looks like always intrigue us.
How does photography tie into your podcast idea? Photography pretty much ties into everything we do. When there is a good story to tell with audio, there is usually an opportunity to capture great photos as well. One advantage of being a team is that we are able to capture stills and audio at the same time. Also, we’ve noticed that when most people tune in to a podcast they often become interested in knowing what the characters of the story look like. By capturing both the audio and visual aspect of the story we feel we can provide an even richer picture for the audience.
What’s the line up for the first season?
In Season One we are diving into the story of the Sisters of the Valley, a group of self ordained nuns living in Central California who grow and smoke weed! We discovered the sisters back in 2016 and the photos we captured went viral in a way we had never experienced before. We kept in touch with the sisters and over time their operation has continued to grow. Their CBD business now grosses over a million dollars a year and they have since expanded into Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the UK. The sister’s have gotten a ton of press in the last few years but what we hope to do with the podcast is to use the long form medium to tell the deeper story of who these women are.
How is the approach to crafting a podcast different or similar to creating images? The process is actually pretty similar. Regardless of what tools we are using we keep our focus on discovering what the true heart of the story is and working to capture it powerfully and authentically.
Where do you hope this goes in the next few years? Over the next few years we plan to continue producing the podcast with each season focusing on a new fringe group. Our ideas for future seasons include flat earthers, ghost hunters, and more.
Do you listen differently now and how has that affected your photography? We both hear the world a bit differently since we began the podcast. In the same way that we are constantly searching for visual elements that will make for good photographs, we now bring that level of attention to sound and conversations. Whether it’s the crackling of a bon fire, a heartfelt personal story, or even just the sound of silence, we have a whole new appreciation for audio.
For 75 years Dwyane’s photo lab in Parsons, Kansas had been processing Kodachrome film. It’s closing in 2010 inspired many photographers to make the trek to the lab back then, and more recently, a Netflix film called Kodachrome. The New York Times published an article in 2010 about the lab’s closing and it sparked the idea for the film. The last roll of Kodachrome 64 was handed to none other than Steve McCurry, a long time fan of the film, and you can read about his process along with the 36 images he shot here. Closing credits from the movie include McCurry’s images below
Photography by Steve McCurry: Villagers Celebrating the Festival of Holi, Vrindavan, Rajasthan, India, 1996
Heidi: How did this job come about, did you pitch it to the magazine?
Sean: Whenever I hear from Skye Senterfeit, the photo editor at Travel + Leisure and Departures, it’s always a ‘pinch myself’ moment. When I saw Madagascar in the subject line of this email it was particularly exciting, although I’m ashamed to say that my knowledge of the country before this trip came exclusively from the animated kids movie.
How many days were you there; had you been to Madagascar before?
7 days. No I’d never been there before.
What was the overall directive from the magazine? Despite the exotic destination, the direction from the magazine was surprisingly low-key. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Skye several times (starting with some assignments closer to home and then gradually moving further afield) so I think I’d built up some trust! However there was some dramatic emails in the lead up to the trip when news broke of an outbreak of The Plague. A last minute visit to my doctor and the prescription of some obscure antibiotics later, and I was good to go.
Did you have a shot list to fulfill? Often on assignments like this, the writer has travelled in advance and has made a start on the story which can then be used to build a shot list. But in this case I was traveling with the writer so everything was a little unknown. The hardest thing about this particular assignment was the vast visual contrasts in what we were experiencing. From arid landscapes and poverty of local villages to a brand new $2500/night resort on a private island. To find a visual cohesion was the biggest challenge.
Are you editing as you shoot?
Yes absolutely, to make sure everything is backed up and also to ensure that I’m managing to shoot a good variety of images. I love working on travel stories because they are a great excuse to make a mix of details, landscapes, portraits and interiors. I’ve always preferred to work to a series rather than in single frames and I get pretty excited about the idea of crafting a narrative.
You have a broad range of work, is there a common thread you pull on for each category? I’ve always been much more interested in subject matter and atmosphere rather than photographic techniques, and in a broad sense I hope that ties my work together. I’m always striving for a simplicity and clarity from an observational viewpoint.
How much of your work is local and how much is international brands asking you to shoot in AU? Probably 50-50. It’s more convenient to work close to home but as a photographer I think it’s so important to constantly be presented with new environments. It’s the best way to stay motivated and inspired.
Creative Director: Kate Lanphear Fashion Director: Joseph Errico Accessories Director: Julia Gall Director of Photography: James Morris Photographer:Lynette Garland
Heidi: Did you cast the models as well as style them and shoot them?
Lynette: Yes, I like to chose the models myself so that they suit the feel of the shoot that I have in my head. The mood I wanted to create was a kind of low key sensuality, hence using the underwear and hosiery, which I asked to be called in. It was Kate Lanphear at Marie Claire who suggested the idea of using the natural elements/woven accessories. I always have a pretty firm idea of what I want the images to look like, so on the day of the shoot it’s mainly about putting all the different aspects together. I tend to work quite fast with very few people around. I’m always trying to keep it instinctive.
How long have you been doing both photo and styling?
Around two years or so. Initially I was using my i-phone to create images just for myself. It developed from there, really. People saw what i did and liked it.
What type of direction did you get from the magazine?
I had certain pieces that needed to be shot but other than that Kate gave me complete freedom. Basically, she liked my work and trusted me to do what I do.
What do you look for in photo compositions?
It depends on the subject, really. I do like to crop into the image and home in on certain details. It’s often about creating a mood by being a bit more abstract.
What are you inspirations?
I like photographers whose work is intimate and looks natural – Saul Leiter, Joan Colom, Raoul Hausmann.
Design and Photo Director: Hannah McCaughey Associate Art Director: Petra Zeiler Photographer:Nate Bressler
Heidi: How did this story come about?
Nate: I’ve been fortunate to develop a working relationship with Outside that supports “no amount of time is too much” for an assignment, combined with my archaeology background, 37 years on a horse and months with native youth camps, we both knew being embedded would be vital to getting the story.
How long did you spend with riders/racers?
I ended up spending four months with the teams, splitting my time between Pine Ridge and a ranch where I run cattle just north of the reservation. Most nights were spent on floors, couches, the bed of my truck or the ground below the Sun dance tree of a new dear family where we spent long hours talking about problems and solutions of the wounded Lakota nation.
What direction did you get from the magazine? I’ve been a contributor with Outside over 15 years so Hannah stressed the importance of portraits, knowing I should have plenty of reportage moments, from there, the rest was up to me.
Before meeting the writer and racers, I had many lengthy calls with them about what I did not intend to do w my camera, Pine Ridge is infamous for being the worst living conditions in the US and I didn’t want to add to all that press, I let them know that I was there to capture this story in a positive light and leave the depressing stuff to others.
Tell me about the suicides and last second wins, did that relate to any of your images? How did that impact you while you were there?
Summer race season is an incredible distraction from life on the reservation, where childhood is difficult for many growing up in the third world conditions. You can feel the weight lifted off these team members when they load their horses for another race weekend. Unfortunately, the Brew Crew had suffered more than their share of loss, the months I spent with them was never quiet with talk of their virtuoso rider who had taken his life the summer before, just days after winning the World Championship. With friends and family of my own suffering the same fate and an epidemic four times the national average on Pine Ridge, I knew what these young kids were up against. Between high drug/alcohol abuse, an 80% unemployment rate and 17 people per single wide trailer, their life of hard times was very apparent though my camera lens. As our relationship grew, so did the thoughts of a safe shelter for kids to ride during winter months and a classroom to finish the days studies. From these talks a nonprofit was started with the aim to educate native youth and support them through early spring also known as suicide season on many reservations. There’s a need and an obtainable solution to help the native youth that’s been the cause of many sleepless nights, turning my embedded assignment into a project beyond the story itself.
Was it easy to be accepted into the group of riders?
The groups of riders were very accepting by all teams w a weariness of only a select few, unsure of the nonnative w a camera, the jokes flowed freely along w the herbal medication and the commandery of a Kansas born outdoorsman and the Great Plains natives I was camping, cooking and riding horseback with. We all had some form of ranching backgrounds, an understanding of the importance of youth programs affiliated with horsemanship and the hardships of life on the reservation. The race community is small amongst the enormous backdrop of the America’s west so with enough race weekends under my belt their acceptance into the worlds first extreme sport felt as though we had known each other for years.
How difficult was it to shoot the race since the laps were so fast?
Shooting the races had its challenges with the obvious factors of light, angle and the ability to get clean shots came the moments of laying on the track in some blind corner, under the rail, my head out just enough to get the riders who will entering the corner at 40+ mph and unaware of the photographer at their feet. These horses are hot-blooded and warmed up to frenzy come race time, with their high hips and pulsing veins the thoroughbreds will deliver the pic as long as you move just as fast in this chaotic 2 minute race.
Did you also ride?
With surfing being so popular and my local breaks becoming too crowded and overly aggressive, I found myself seeking out horse adventures, still wanting to fill that craving for a connection with the outdoors and the elements out of my control, my last ten years on horseback has taken me on 500 mile endurance rides, cattle drives to brandings and hosting week-long group rides for adventurers looking to sleep under stars.
Between the nonprofit riding arena, the cows I own and ranch w others just outside the reservation and 1,000 miles on the pony express, this summer will keep me horseback daily.
How did you grow as a photographer from this assignment?
I’ve kept a full-time job since I was 15 and as an artist, your life of projects is never finished, with that said I realized through my bond with a this incredible nation and seeing ways to help, I’ve felt a sense of purpose that never came from the grind of being a struggling artist with a bachelor lifestyle. The desire to see things change has ignited a fire within, changing my life for many years to come, the thoughts of happy kids laughing together, leaving their worries behind for a couple of hours a day is my drive well beyond this photo world filled with so many unknowns.
Heidi: You have a variety of color pallets within your work, is this bright poppy a new direction for you?
Joe: I’ve had a few commissions recently where the subject matter really called for super poppy color. I guess I started going in this direction as I transitioned to shooting entirely digital and working more in the studio. In the studio, where you have to make a decision about every variable in the frame (light, color, etc.), you’re less tethered to reality. I’m less interested in replicating “real” light or color than I am in amplifying that artifice of the studio. What I ultimately want is to make pictures that are fun to look at, and sometimes exaggerating the color is a way to get there.
Did you have a food stylist?
Nope. Stella Blackmon, the photo editor, dropped off three dozen doughnuts to the studio and let me play.
If styling your own, what drives your style?
I love how NYC coffee carts display their food and I’ve also been really inspired by NYC deli graphics–where you’ll see stock images of Pepsi cups and bagel sandwiches and doughnuts cut-and-pasted on top of each other over clashing digital backgrounds. They’re super engaging and attention-demanding, all about abundance, but set against this filthy urban backdrop. I wanted this image to have that kind of trashy-cornucopia feeling–kitschy and irresistibly delicious at the same time. The background is a piece of rubber matting – the kind you’d see on the floor of the weight room at your gym. The Donut Pub looks and feels like a diner inside and the pattern had a “Saved-by-the-Bell” quality that had an echo of formica flecks and candy sprinkles that felt like it would fit in that world.
Why those particular doughnuts?
Of the whole bunch, these were the most over-the-top. The Donut Pub makes outrageously decadent doughnuts and these felt like the right ones to show. They’re very special doughnuts. I did a few options with different doughnuts as the hero. This was my favorite and theirs too.
What type of direction did you get from the magazine?
Honestly, not much on this particular image. There wasn’t a creative brief or anything. We talked over the phone and hashed out some ideas, but they really trusted me on this one. I had taken a picture of some cake slices the week prior and posted it on instagram and they called it out in their email to me. The direction of that image felt like an obvious way to go for this image.
What do you look for in your compositions?
For me, composition is all about creating energy in the frame. Even if the subject is basically centered, the frame needs to have some asymmetry or some interesting use of color or space that creates tension. The image has to feel alive. I also want there to be a moment where you question what you’re looking at. You recognize it instantly as a doughnut, but it’s not a normal doughnut–it’s familiar and foreign at the same time. Maybe that’s not an issue of composition, per se, but a general attitude about image making.
Creative Director: John Korpics Photographer:Grace Chon
Heidi: How did this body of work start? Grace: The series actually started out as a personal project with 9 dogs, back in 2016. The series went massively viral, and then turned into a book called Puppy Styled that was published in 2018.
Are these dogs trained? The dogs are all not studio trained animals – they are pets that didn’t have experience modeling, let alone in a studio in front of strobe lights. more info about the series here
Is it difficult to give the animals direction? I’m extremely connected to animals and intuitive about them while I shoot, so it’s not difficult to give them direction because I’m pretty tuned into how they’re feeling on set. I also make sure to keep them happy while we shoot, so I bring a variety of treats and toys to keep them happy and motivated. I tell people it’s like a mix of dog training and photography. I also make funny sounds to get fun, unexpected looks to the camera.
Where did your love of people and pets start from? I’ve always loved animals my entire life! I grew up watching Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures and wanted to be a vet when I grew up.
Ethan Pines talks about photographing Elizabeth Holmes for Forbes
In late 2014 I photographed Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and CEO of the now notoriously fraudulent blood-testing company and Silicon Valley darling Theranos. When I shot her for the Forbes 400 issue, she was the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world. By 2016 The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and others had published excoriating investigative pieces, and Forbes estimated her net worth at zero.
Suddenly her story is everywhere again: John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood is a hit, HBO’s documentary The Inventor just premiered at Sundance, the ABC News podcast The Drop Out is streaming, and a seemingly endless number of articles on Holmes’s massive fraud have come out. In addition to appearing editorially here and there, my portraits have been licensed as key art for the HBO documentary and the ABC podcast.
And friends keep asking me, What was it like at the company? What did you see around their offices? How was it spending a few hours with the woman who appears to be a narcissistic, delusional fraud, maybe even a sociopath? The short answer is, I now see clearly how her starry-eyed investors were taken in.
The company came across as fairly standard Silicon Valley. A campus in Palo Alto, a P.R. person coordinating and vetting everything beforehand, modern open-office architecture, lots of young people from an array of countries walking around doing their jobs. On the walls were large prints from a Martin Schoeller shoot commissioned by the company — including a portrait of Holmes herself — and a giant mural with Yoda’s famous DO OR DO NOT. THERE IS NO TRY. The company was accommodating and welcoming, which is usually the case when you’re coming in to shoot a potential Forbes cover.
As a biotech company, they also had a ton of lab equipment, machinery and accessories around. In hindsight, I keep wondering, if Theranos’s core technology and promises couldn’t deliver, what was all this for? I suppose they were trying to make good on Holmes’s unproven, likely impossible promise of conducting dozens of tests from a single drop of blood, i.e., they were following tech’s ubiquitous fake-it-till-you-make-it approach. Some areas were a jam-packed, disorganized mess. (See next image.)
As for Holmes herself, photographing her was entirely different from what you might think. While she apparently sought to emulate Steve Jobs — his mythically genius status, his black minimalist wardrobe, his change-the-world ambitions, his megalomania — she did not adopt his difficult demeanor, at least on the day we spent with her. Jobs was reputed to be an awful jerk. Holmes was polite, genuine, easygoing, friendly, accessible and an engaged conversationist. She asked about me and my crew, never dominating the conversation. She did her own hair and makeup (quite well). She spent much of her time on set without her her P.R. person around.
I’ve photographed a lot of tech CEOs — Sundar Pichai at Google, Elon Musk at Spacex, Kevin Systrom at Instagram, Jen-Hsun Huang at Nvidia, Tom Siebel at C3 IoT, Patrick Soon-Shiong at Nantworks, Travis Kalanick at Uber, etc. — and they all either have very little time, a specific way they want to be portrayed, or both. Some have that CEO swagger, some are immersed in their own deep thoughts. Yet Elizabeth Holmes was surprisingly malleable, seemingly a blank slate.
She ceded control, trusted us with the shoot and took direction well. She didn’t come out of the gate with fake investor-friendly smiles and body language, nothing smug, no crossed-arm power poses like subjects tend to do for Forbes. I asked her to relax her face completely and just look into the camera, and we got those doe-eyed blank expressions you see in the posters. Between her black turtleneck, shaped black jacket and asymmetrical hair, she had a bit of a sci-fi look, and I told her so. She appreciated the compliment. She was a bit of a dream subject, and I think I was developing a crush on her.
She gave us a lot of time, which is unusual. After setting up for about three hours beforehand, we shot her in three different locations for at least a couple of hours. In two of the setups I asked if we could have some blood samples in the shots, and I found it a bit weird that they had these tiny, fake blood containers just sitting around, at the ready … for what? Publicity? Internal presentations? Employee morale? There was also a metal cart labeled Ebola in the lab where we shot, which freaked us out a bit.
If you’ve seen footage of her talking, you’ve probably noticed her unusually low voice. There are rumors that she deliberately lowered her voice to compete in the male-dominated tech field, but I don’t recall it being that low, and I think I would have remembered something so odd. What I do remember is being charmed by this young, attractive, billionaire visionary who spent time with me and my crew and made us feel important.
And now I realize: This is part of what lured investors. Sincerity. Relatability. Accessibility. Simplicity. The facade of quiet wisdom. Eye contact from huge blue eyes that made you feel you were hearing the unvarnished truth. How could there be anything sinister or deceitful behind those giant, pure glacial pools? In a promotional video commissioned by the company, a compilation of female employees dreamily laud Holmes as “inspiring,” ”intelligent,” “strong,” “nurturing” and full of “big ideas.” Holmes appears at the end the video. At first she looks down humbly, speaks thoughtfully. Finally she looks up at the lens to deliver the final line: “Next to every glass ceiling there’s an iron lady.”
You couldn’t help liking her, wanting to believe her, itching to embrace the dreamy future she promised. I could see how investors and the media were taken in, just as I was. How bizarre to look back and realize that we were in the belly of a massive fraud machine, the deception happening all around us. It’s hard to know what was real and what was fake, both in the company and in Holmes herself. By the end, perhaps not even she knew.
Design Director/Creative Director: D.W. Pine Photographer: Andrew Quilty
Heidi: How has politics shaped your work there? Andrew: American foreign policy since 9/11 shaped my opinion and much of my mission here. I’ve been focusing on Afghans rather than on Americans in Afghanistan. Granted it’s little bit easier for me to concentrate on Afghans over Americans because I am here at a time when the American involvement has been significantly reduced, especially in comparison to 2008 to ‘12. Having said that, America’s involvement in Afghanistan since 2001—and it’s failures—affect affairs here on a daily basis. It’s hard to separate that affect from any subject a journalist might choose to look at here, and I don’t think it should be
What was your sense of the country before you arrived? When I came here, all I knew of the country was what I had seen through the media
I have this photo in my head: 10 camouflage-wearing soldiers walking through a dusty village or across a dusty plain. Before 2001, I wouldn’t have even had that. I wouldn’t have even been able to place Afghanistan on a map, let alone tell you who was there, who’d come and gone or who was in charge on September 11.
What drives you? More and more, I feel an obligation to redirect the minds of readers and viewers who, for the most part, like their governments, are only interested in Afghanistan insofar as it effects them or their national self interest. It’s playing out now with America’s number one priority during peace talks with the Taliban being a guarantee that Afghanistan won’t be used as a base for terror groups with international aspirations, with the future for Afghans seemingly a distant second. There’s some anger toward the Americans and their allies for the hubris that allowed them to think they could mould yet another country that was only moderately willing into a shape more suitable to them. And there’s probably some guilt that I’m from one of those countries that followed the U.S. in, blindly, driven by emotion and revenge.
How do you think your images would have been different had you been in the country earlier? I don’t want to criticise those who came before me because, in the early years of the war there was an appetite for what the international soldiers were doing. Of course readers from Australia want to know what their soldiers are doing; why they’re fighting and dying and coming home mentally ruined. I have no doubt that if I was here, then, I’d have been covering the international military mission almost exclusively, too. But what we rarely heard about were the Afghans affected by the war. The innocent ones being killed in horrific ways. Or why, after the Taliban had been ousted, were people turning against their “liberators.” Afghanistan was still depicted in simplistic way: government good, Taliban bad, when the reality was far more complex. That simplification not only damaged the international public’s understanding of Afghanistan and the deteriorating situation here in recent years, it also ensured the failure of the international military mission and built a culture of corruption into the government and its institutions.
Is this a reaction to how the media has imbalanced everything? It wasn’t about Afghanistan. No one really cared about the outcome for Afghanistan. It was-and still is-all about Afghanistan in relation to how it will affect America. So I just find that a little unfair.
How are you trying to humanize this in your own mind? I think about the people who had no say in this. First they were given hope, then despair and the whole roller coaster that’s ensued. What about them? International interest has tended to focus more on those who made the choice to come here. I hate the cliche of the journalist’s roll being to speak for the downtrodden, but when the balance is so far out of wack, as I feel it was through the majority of the war, and when those who have, and continue to impose well-meaning but dismal policy and strategy are all but impervious to reproach, it’s hard not to back the underdog.
What speaks to you about this experience? and what is misunderstood by those that consume your work? Well, look, I think a lot of people assume that I’m here out of some sense of vocation– and yeah I think that’s part of it but I also think there’s a lot of other things to consider. I actually quite like my life here outside of my work. Although work is pretty all-consuming, I happen to love the work that I’m able to do here. But my point is, a lot of people assume I’m making huge sacrifices and taking massive risks being here, and that I’m doing it all for the sake of the Afghan people. In general, I don’t even think photographers and journalists are particularly empathetic people. That’s a myth that viewers can easily fall for by looking at the kind of subjects many of us focus on but I don’t think it’s entirely accurate. Sure, I get affected by things here – I’ll have to wipe away tears while listening to people tell their stories and I won’t sleep a wink for a couple of days after being close to a bombing but I’m not sure a deeply empathetic person would last long—assuming they had the choice to leave—in this kind of environment. I suppose it’s a journalist’s job to be able to switch it on and off; to be able to channel it into words or pictures rather than letting it overwhelm ones soul.
What is your life like there? I manage a nice old Afghan house that’s home to two dogs taken off the street before I arrived and an assortment of others, mostly journalists, who stay for varying lengths of time. I read the news over breakfast and coffee most days and, if I don’t have something specific to work on I’ll try to get out on my motorcycle to shoot some pictures. As a photographer, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this city. Aside from that, like any photographer or journalist, I’m planning trips into the provinces, pitching or filing stories, sending invoices, responding to emails and, twice or three times each week I’ll do something social, usually dinner or drinks at a friend’s place, taking a new housemate along on the back of the bike.
Are you married? Do you have children? No. No, no. Neither. I’ve had a couple of semi-long-term relationships here in Kabul. But I’ve never dated an Afghan. The foreigner crowd here is a good group of people, by and large. They’re all in similar life circumstances – no kids, no mortgage, maybe or maybe not married. So it’s a bunch of people who are at a similar stage in their life and they’re usually pretty good at what they do. It’s like small-town life with people who have chosen to eschew small-town life.
Dinner table conversation is always really interesting, save for when it inevitably turns to matters of security in Kabul. But that’s a bonus. Obviously good dinner table conversation wouldn’t be enough to keep me here if I didn’t love my work, as I do in a way I never have before. Back in Sydney, I was probably really invested in 20% of the work I did. I cared about it. I cared about what I was photographing. The other 80% was what I had to do to pay the bills. Here, I mean, it’s beyond the inverse. I mean, there’s very little that I photograph here that I don’t find interesting, that I’m not personally curious about or that I don’t think is important. It’s very hard to find a subject here that isn’t in some way affected by the country’s history, and that history makes those subject’s stories compelling in a way that is rare, especially somewhere like Australia. As a photographer, it’s hard to turn away from that.
When I go on your Instagram and see what you are publishing if looks like an incredible opportunity, photographically to personally grow so I would understand why. Yes.
You’re going to come out the other side of this immersion a completely changed person, Most people wouldn’t even think about trying… Yeah, very much so. Most people assume that you can only come out the other end of a period working as a photographer in Afghanistan as a diminished person, damaged by what you’ve seen. If I left now, I’d leave a richer person than the one that arrived here five years ago.
You’ve said you arrived in Afghanistan and just knew that was it. Many people struggle to craft a voice. What I enjoy about your work is — I feel like you’re happy. You’ve zeroed in on a very distinct voice and eye and you’re able to articulate your pictures. It’s fortunate that you’ve found this calling because most people search for this their whole lives. Yeah. Yeah. I know. I know. And I didn’t even knew I was looking for it. I thought I was satisfied in the work I was doing back in Australia and from New York, and now I look back on it, and it’s like BC/AD – before and after I came to Afghanistan. Now, on my website, I don’t have a single picture that wasn’t taken in Afghanistan. It’s a very distinct line for me. It’s also helped me realise the potential of photography as a means to tell stories, or to inform, in a way I’d never understood.
I’m sure that there’s some haunting things that you’re seeing, too. How do you cope with that? I try to look after myself and eat well and exercise and all those things. Speaking with friends. I mean, that’s the good thing about being here. Everyone is in the same boat, and strangely enough, some of my fondest memories here are of the nights following either a big bombing or an incident where someone we know has been killed or injured. Coming together with a small group of friends, just being together, helps. What was that line in the movie Speed? Something about relationships formed under intense circumstances. Those will certainly be some of my strongest memories.
It’s rich. It’s real life that’s so visceral. Yeah. It’s real experience. Yeah. And also part of the reason which makes it hard for me to think about leaving, and most people seem to think I should.
Right. They’re probably afraid for you. People project and can’t even imagine themselves doing that, so it’s natural. Yeah, of course.
Do you pitch stories written and shot by you? Yes, I pitch stories myself and write them myself as well. But that’s relatively new. It came as a result of some of people I used to work and travel with leaving the country. All of a sudden I had to rethink where my assignments would come from, whereas previously, they tended to fall in my lap. Not only that, the stories attached to the assignments stopped coming, so, almost overnight I had to start thinking for myself. It’s a new way of working for me. Where I started my work as a photographer, at The Australian Financial Review in Sydney, I’d be handed my assignments on a piece of A4 paper each morning. It was very rare that I ever had to think for myself. It’s a bad habit that many photographers are bred into. The best photographers, I think, are thinking photographers, the ones who know their subjects intimately, rather than just turning up for a day after the writer has been and gone. So it’s actually been a blessing in disguise, and a challenge
Tell us about the making of this photo which was nominated for World Press Photo for 2019.
I was in a shop, below street level, about 200 metres from where a man driving an ambulance packed with explosives detonated when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. I was asked a similar question when I was home in Sydney recently. I was sitting on on a beach on a hot summer day with some new friends. They asked me about the worst thing I’d seen in Afghanistan. Without much enthusiasm, I gave them the thirty second version of what followed the explosion. The reaction was predictable. The kind of shock expressed to fulfil the social obligation of revulsion, not through actual revulsion, because how could anyone who hasn’t seen something like that conceive of how horrific it is? But we should be horrified. It was at that moment that I decided, if I was ever asked about it again, that I’d tell the whole story or not at all.