Tag Archives: Eye See Media
I was recently interviewed by Eye See Media, a media company focused on telling stories of hope and stories that are not often told. The interview, shared below, was shown on their Eye See Media’s Blog. They do some great work, and I would highly recommend reading their articles and their magazine. It was a great honor to be featured on their website.
When and how did you first become interested in photography?
I first became interested in photography during my travels through South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. As I spent time in slums, far-flung villages, and refugee camps I repeatedly experienced a deep beauty in the people I met. I saw their joy in the midst of great suffering, and generosity in the midst of barely having enough to get through the day, and this changed how I saw the world. Over time it fundamentally changed who I was. Whenever I went through such places I captured what I could with the point and shoot camera I carried with me, but the results were never that great.
In 2008 I bought my first DSLR and a few months later I went on a trip to Guatemala for a friend’s wedding. I found myself spending hours walking through the streets and taking thousands of photos. What I was able to capture through the lens continued to reveal the power of a picture, at times expressing more than a million words would. I also enjoyed how people interacted with me just because I was holding a camera. It sure acted as a great ice-breaker!
After returning from Guatemala, I decided to pursue photography professionally, and I also decided to expand my portfolio to wedding photography and head-shots. However, the longer I spent with my camera, the deeper I desired to use my photography to show those around me a glimpse of people unknown, forgotten, and often misunderstood by them. The summer of 2009 presented the perfect opportunity to do so through a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo where I was to capture the work of a small US non-profit in Congolese refugee camps. I spent one month in Eastern Congo capturing images and hearing the moving life stories of refugees. Through this experience I truly discovered how I can uniquely capture beautiful images in the midst of great suffering, and this by primarily getting to know the people before I snapped their picture.
The following summer I joined my girlfriend, now wife, who was doing research on Iraqi Refugees in Beirut, Lebanon. Together, we captured images and stories of what these Iraqi Refugees had faced in Iraq, what led them to flee, and what life was like being caught in limbo in Beirut waiting for potential asylum in the West. The resilience, hope, generosity, and dignity these Iraqis showed after having had terrifyingly close encounters with death and while living in the midst of much insecurity and unknown was humbling, and spoke volumes of the courage that can drive the human spirit forward in the darkest moments of life. My photography barely captured all of this, but it was an experience that had me thinking deeply about the one side of war that many often forget to consider: its innocent, vulnerable victims.
This last year, as I was unable to travel and do a project abroad, I had an opportunity to partner with a local Southern California non-profit, called Mika CDC (link: www.mikacdc.org). This small non-profit does community development work with low-income Latino immigrants, the majority of whom are undocumented. The non-profit has a passion for empowering local leaders from the communities that they serve, and helping them in practical ways such as maintaining a number of education centers, health education, and community improvement projects. I was asked to capture images of their work for use in their print and online fundraising efforts. I was also hired to re-design their website, creating new photo galleries with my own photographic work. I was deeply impressed by Mika’s commitment to their work, their genuine focus on the community, and their desire to empower leaders who can bring change in their communities. Not to mention the stories of these immigrants, the injustices they face on a daily basis, and their perseverance to provide a better life for their children. Besides getting married in 2011, this project was a highlight of the year for me.
What is Art to you?
In my mind, good art captures both beauty and emotion. Whatever the means is, writing, painting, or photography, if done well they can all capture beautiful moments and deep emotions. When I visit photography exhibits or art galleries, the images and paintings that move me the most are the ones I value as good art. I am particularly interested in art that motivates action. Working with humanitarian projects, I want people to understand issues surrounding injustices and take action on behalf of those whose voice has been muted.
What is your goal with your photography?
The goal of my photography is to capture stories of people who have faced great injustices and to show the beauty, the hope, the dignity, and the humanity behind their pain. I believe that these people’s stories need to be told, and that hearing their stories inspires us all. I do this best through photography; snapshots that hopefully even those living a rushed life will catch a glimpse of. I want to share my work with anyone who would take the time to look at the hope and beauty that is seen amongst those who face the biggest injustices.
You spent some time in Lebanon and Congo, countries that the rest of the world fear because of the reports from media. Could you tell us a bit about your experiences being there and how that informed your view of media reports?
I have been surprised by every visit I have made to places considered dangerous by the West. As I spent considerable time in the Middle East and Africa, I have often been surprised by how safe I feel and by how misleading our perceptions of these places usually are. I felt as safe in Beirut, which I visited twice, as I have felt in my nearby city of Los Angeles. I feel that much of what the media says about these places is overblown and biased by an agenda to instill fear. Not to discount the reality of ethnic tensions (Lebanon) or even rebel forces (Congo), but I believe that you run the same risks in neighborhoods of major Western cities such as Los Angeles, New York, or London. Anywhere you go, you run the risk of something misfortunate happening to you, especially if you enter that place ignorant of the local customs and arrogantly proud of yours. Living your life in fear is not the answer. I personally made the conscious choice a while ago to not let fear rule over my decisions but rather to choose to understand others. No one is too hard to understand. And so I have chosen to go the places where the need for understanding and reconciliation is great, regardless of whether it is regarded as safe or not.
Why is it important to show the sides of life that don’t commonly get represented in the media when we communicate about countries and cultures we have experienced?
Solely because what we often hear is not the whole story and this is doing absolutely no justice to the many efforts to cancel out misunderstand, hatred, and fear. What desperately needs to be instilled is a love for and celebration of diversity. I have personally encountered great beauty in the midst of much injustice and suffering, a beauty that has changed me, and I believe others would be able to experience the same if only they were given the chance to. There is beauty for everyone everywhere-what we need are the eyes to see that beauty. My experiences have changed the way in which I see the world and I have the desire to capture those experiences through photography and share them with whomever is willing to stop and look.