Archive for August, 2017


Supporting Your Female Colleagues Will Help Grow a Stronger Community

When I began my career as a photographer, I could not imagine where I would be today. Two years ago, I planned on moving abroad to Istanbul, Turkey, to live as a freelance photojournalist. Instead, I decided that moving to Detroit, Michigan, was the best possible option for my growth as an independent visual journalist. I wanted to freelance in the United States and needed to be sure that it was right for me before living in a foreign country. Michigan became home and I realized I would be happy as long as I was still a visual storyteller. Moving to Detroit was a process of re-evaluating my world view and myself.

I often challenge myself to go beyond my comfort zone. When I was living, studying and working in Morocco for six months, I was an outsider. Regardless of how I dressed to fit in or how much of the language I learned, I would inevitably be perceived as a white, American female. I did not want to fulfill the “white savior” complex with my work. I wanted to connect with others and wanted those I photographed to feel the same connection. There were many challenges that came from living in a foreign country. For one, I could not look men in the eye while walking down the street. This was due, in part, to their culture, as well as my desire to deter unwanted attention. Despite this, I conducted interviews in French and did not let these barriers stop me. I can be different from those I am photographing, and this should not necessarily put me at a disadvantage. I work to my strengths. I am shaped by my experience as a woman who can sensitively and empathetically connect with people. This makes me the journalist I am today.

As female journalists, we need to work to create change in the journalism and photojournalism industries. There is a need for more diversity and respect, both for women and people of color. There is not an even playing field. Although this is being talked about more frequently, a lot can be learned about how privilege is favored when we are open about our backgrounds. I would not be where I am today without support. I am lucky enough to have found this through college, internships, workshops and studying abroad. All of those experiences were somewhat possible because I could afford them. Now more than ever, it is important to support your fellow female colleagues. Celebrate their wins as you would your own. Find inspiration from others to help you in moments of doubt and worry.

My biggest piece of advice to emerging female journalists is to know that where they are now is not where they will be forever. That may sound obvious. However, some of the best advice I received was to stop comparing myself to others. The more you appreciate your own growth, the stronger you can become. These days, I try to take everything a step at a time. As a young photographer without all the answers, I do not know where I will be next, or what my career holds. Regardless, I will give back to the community that inspires me to not be afraid to ask for help, to work hard and to be myself.

Rachel Woolf is a Detroit-based independent visual journalist. She specializes in documentary photography, videography and portraiture. As a visual storyteller, she works to intimately show aspects of humanity and mortality intersecting with economic and social issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, CNN, US News and World Report, Bloomberg, Education Week, Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. A native Marylander, Rachel now considers Michigan her home. You can follow her work on Instagram and on her Website.

If you or someone you know would like to share her narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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Lessons Learned From a Photojournalist to Her Colleagues

I am an Italian photojournalist of Croatian origin, and I have lived in Torino for many years now.

I come from the Balkans, territories devastated by wars in the nineties, which is something that lead me to this work. I grew up in a small town, where women became teachers or maybe work in the only food industry of the area, but always staying close to home. Looking back, my choice of career probably was dictated by a response to the highly sexist society I was raised in.

In the last years, my work as a photojournalist has focused on wars and conflicts taking place all over the world, and my investigative reports come from the Middle East, Africa, but also the Balkans, Russia, and Asia. I work as a freelancer, but also have my own news website.

Aleppo, Syria, © Andreja Restek / APR

Submitting your work to newspapers and find interested parties is always difficult as a freelancer, and it takes an extra effort as a woman: often, you need to work more, struggle more, and prove that you are good at your job more than usual.

But I love my job and I believe it is really essential in our world. What I find fundamental, in order to do it well, is being there in person: you can’t speak about war without seeing the frontline, you can’t write about refugees if you haven’t talked to them and haven’t been with them.

Sierra Leone, ph © Andreja Restek, 2016

Journalists have an important and noble role: our job is beautiful, and what we have to do is to be honest and report news without letting our views interfere with it. Without adding political or social implications. It’s not something easy, but it is due. We have the duty to be impartial, humble and not hypocritical.

Syria. © Andreja Retsek

When doing my job, I have the chance to give a voice to those who don’t have it. Often the people I interview gift us with the only thing they have left: their story. And that is why my priority is treating these stories with respect.

Refugees from Austria, Viaggio, Serbia, Ungheria. © Andreja Restek

A few years ago I realized that as a journalist I could do even more for those struck by war, and with some colleagues I founded an NGO which tries with small but efficient and precise projects to help people in need.

My father once told me that I live life breathing at the top of my lungs, and I would advise any colleague to follow their dreams and to “fully breath their lives”.

Andreja Restek is a photojournalist of Croatian origin living in Torino. She is the founder and director of APR news, an online newspaper that follows and monitors terrorism and terrorist groups in the world and conducts independent investigative reports on illegal trafficking and human rights. She is a member of the International Federation of Journalists and registered to the Albo dei giornalisti.

She has been invited as lecturer and guest to many events, organized among others by UNICEF, University of Torino, Salone Internazionale del libro di Torino, Associazione vittime del terrorismo, Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), RAI, Festival dell’Europa solidale e del Mediterraneo, photography clubs. She was the artistic director of the International Security Festival 2017 in Vicenza.

In 2016 she published “Siria, dove dio ha finito le lacrime,” a photographic book collecting her salient work regarding the Syrian war. You can follow her work on Twitter and aprnews.net.

If you or someone you know would like to share her narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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Barred From Studying Photojournalism Because of My Gender Didn’t Stop Me to Pursue My Dream

I grew up cornered by closed borders in a city on permanent lockdown and that was “home” to me. I rarely saw the surrounding concrete walls opening up, but when they did my hardworking middle class single mother was there taking a photo of it. Whenever we would be fortunate to travel around she would take her camera with her, creating her own photo biography.

It automatically registered in my mind, the events you don’t document, never happened and history will remember it as such.

The ongoing siege on Gaza wasn’t on the top of my list to worry about as a young woman growing up in the city. However, the older I get, the longer the list of forbidden taboos I’ve to deal with. The dos and don’ts started to get heavier and the more dreams I explore the conservative side of the culture began to weigh me down.

In a class of 50 kids, I didn’t pick and choose between wanting to be a doctor and a teacher — it had always been photojournalist, until I wrote that word on my University application and saw the resentment on the admission worker’s face.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.

In so many words she told me I can’t be a photojournalist, starting with my high score that magically became a problem and ending with how much shame I’ll bring to my family by doing a “man’s job”.

It was just presumed that women were banned from specific jobs and photojournalism was one of them. I chose to quit being the low key, playing by the rules sort of student and choose my battles, being able to transfer the surroundings of my home, the occasional wars and the unseen mental injuries through the aftermath.

The argument to be a photojournalist grew within me like fire, but unlike foreign photographers’ situations, I was the local who could be the messenger for all the surviving storytellers or what we refer to as “story subject”, as my male colleagues in the field promised.

I failed in studying photojournalism, I was barred from having the opportunity based on my gender and I had to switch lanes and become a self taught photographer. That’s when Google became my best friend and my camera experiments became more regular.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.

While the hardship of becoming a woman photojournalist in Gaza seemed to be growing, the actual local people on the ground were the most understanding to the nature of my work, after all I was translating their everyday struggle into photographs.


Within the first couple of years of my career, I learned how to listen so carefully, give proper attention to the storytellers I’ve met and be quiet until I’m unnoticeable.

I disobeyed the traditions but showed respect to those who believed in it, until the heavy bombing on the city made me realize that my first big story as a photographer is going to be the war on home.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.

In war photojournalism, the various rules are constantly changing as some might save your life and others might cause the death of others. Being around civilians with a camera could possibly put them in more danger if the camera was viewed as a possible threat.

My confusion while covering my first war wasn’t focused on the bloodshed scene I was photographing, but also the family I was leaving behind. Not knowing if I’ll be going back home to dust and ashes.

Even though I worked with some of the best international photo editors, none were able to advise me on how to balance this job. The harsh taboos still categorized me as a “rebel” where all I wanted is to do my job, which I wasn’t better or worse at because I’m a woman but I had more access because of the same taboos that seemed to call to limit me.

Photo by Eman Mohammed.


More unseen stories were coming to the surface within my conservative community. I didn’t seek shelter in civilians’ houses, yet those were the places I was asked to come in to in hope that I’ll deliver their story to the public. My message wasn’t much different than my colleagues, but the delivery was.

Till one rainy morning during the first Gaza war back in 2008 and 2009, while I was wandering in the Northern areas of Gaza strip, a colleague of mine offered “peace”.

He expressed how it’s not any one person’s call to “allow” me to be a photojournalist but it’s more of the common norm in our society. We seemed like we began a new chapter as colleagues and so I asked if I may join the group while moving in the North. He smiled warmly and nodded yes.

I got into the armed jeep with three other local photojournalists I knew. We drove for few minutes before the expected airstrikes resumed. As we parked aside everyone got out including me.

However, the scene wasn’t anything I’m used to. The dust covered everything within my sight and the whistling sound was getting louder. I finally realized the airstrike was targeting our location so I ran towards the jeep as the rest did but as I arrived late, the passenger side door was closed.

I knocked to get it open but my “big brother” sort of colleague looked at me as he shut his door and said: “I don’t have time for you.”

Within seconds, the jeep took off and I drowned into confusion. The airstrike continued so I decided to take the only option and walk through the back allies hoping I’ll make it alive.

A few hours later, as I reunited with other photographers at a nearby hospital, I learnt this was a lesson for me to never cross the line with my male colleagues. Ten years later I must admit it was a successful lesson but not in the way it was intended, despite being a local.

Only that day that I found the answers to several questions I’ve often wondered about, specifically why would photojournalism be a man’s job? Well, it’s not. Why can’t women cover war zones? That’s a myth.

Lastly, why was I abandoned by my own people amid airstrikes just for being a woman photographer? It doesn’t even matter.

On the first day of the war, I remember thinking to myself, I’ll cover it for a week then go back home. When I became my own team I shifted the focus from my personal surroundings and put it on what counts the most and that’s the history being made moment by moment, in war zones.

Photojournalists, men and women, don’t heal wounds and don’t fix what’s broken but they do their job of delivering the truthful story as it is and those stories that inspired my unwelcome pretense in the male dominated field could only be found in the darkest corners of the city.

Women’s perseverance isn’t unheard of, and the resilience of war survivors and victims is also a well known quality spread among those who are affected. So if anything, the unpaved paths women journalists and photographers have to take often make us realize the common grounds we have with these regions and establish a better stage for the news we deliver to be heard, seen and felt.

Eman Mohammed is an award winning photojournalist and TED fellow, currently based in Washington DC. She is a Palestinian refugee, born in Saudi Arabia and educated in Gaza City,Palestine where she started her photojournalism career at the age of 19. Her work was published in The Guardian, Le Monde, VICE, Washington post, Geo International, Mother Jones, and Haartez. You can follow her work on Twitter, Facebook and her website.

If you or someone you know would like to share her narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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Never Underestimate the Power of Emotions in Journalism

I cried in my first job interview. ‘Can you list three reasons why we should give you this position?’ asked two of the editors I’d interned for over six months previously – two women with bright vintage jumpers and symmetrically winged eyeliner – two women so intimidatingly funny and cool that I used to stutter when they called my name; who I was so desperate to impress that I would rewrite three-word-long email responses eight or nine times in the hope that they might seem witty enough to make them laugh. I was applying to be junior writer at a teenage girls’ magazine, and I’d worn a Justin Bieber t-shirt underneath an H&M blazer to show just how enthusiastic I was. Still, I clarified it in my response, just in case. ‘I’m really enthusiastic,’ I said. And then my brain blanked, and my eyes welled up with panic, and I started to cry. Enthusiastically.

It’s been five full time jobs and seven years since that interview, and these days I’ve learned a few – <a few> – things. I’ve accepted that winged eyeliner, symmetrical or not, will fall off my face two seconds after application wherever I am in the world – and that bright vintage jumpers just take up unjustifiable proportions of space when you’re living out of a backpack for six months at a time. I’ve discovered that when men stare at you – whether while reporting from a brothel in Bangladesh, or standing in a boardroom in Bermondsey, the last thing they’re expecting is for you to stare back. I’ve proved that no matter what anyone tells you, you don’t have to remain pigeon-holed in one small sector of the industry for the duration of your career – that writing about Justin Bieber (and wearing his facial features on your chest) doesn’t mean that three years, or five years, or ten years later you can’t write about human rights, or gender politics, or Iraq. I’ve discovered that even if and when you do start writing about human rights, and gender politics, and Iraq, you can still write about Justin Bieber. And I’ve realised that while crying in interviews may not be ideal, emotions in journalism are often under-estimated, just like women.

Corinne_Redfern_Frontline

Photograph by Francesco Brembati.

There’s a pressure in this world, of frontline reporting and international freelancing, to not only protect your skin, but to also armour yourself from within. When I started out, I thought sensitivity was synonymous with weakness, and that my feelings were my failings. If you’re working primarily with men – be they journalists, or photographers, or fixers – and they’re more established and acknowledged than you, it’s easy to try to follow suit and embody their behaviours. Their approach to storytelling must be the default way to go, I thought. Their attitude to chasing stories must be mimicked and mastered. I wish someone had told me earlier that they’re often wrong; that the way women are raised to empathise is a strength that we can use to our advantage – that relating to the people we interview can draw out stronger stories, and enable us to recount their histories with humanity and care. That’s not to say that many men aren’t capable of the same – but when women are outnumbered, the qualities we’ve practiced and perfected are easily overlooked.

As a freelance international journalist specialising in women’s issues around the world, I see a lot of trauma, and I hear a lot of tragedy. In Iraq, a nine-year-old recounted running home from school on the last day of term, excited to tell her parents she’d received the highest grade in her year. She was five metres out of the gates when she heard an explosion behind her. When she turned around, her classroom had disappeared; the playground red with the blood of her best friends. In Benin, a mother of 10 listed all the ways she’d tried and failed to kill herself: one method after another after another. ‘And I’ll try again later,’ she said, as I stood up to leave. In Sri Lanka, a woman told me how her husband would assault her and lock her outside, naked – so that she’d be too embarrassed to run away or ask for help. Bound to stay in the shadows by her own shame, she would curl up in a ball in the dirt and pray through the night for death to come. Sometimes, I’m a witness to their pain as well as an earpiece to their experiences. While working on a story in brothels in Bangladesh, I sat with a 15 year old girl and held her hand as she had an abortion – the blood seeping through her knickers and onto the floor as she cried for her mum.

It’s true that you can’t take all these stories on. I’m lucky – I don’t lie awake at night, reliving what I’ve seen and heard. Boundaries are important, and so far, I’ve been able to maintain mine – you’re not there to cry too. After all, the story is never about you.

But it is about <someone>. When people share their stories, they’re sharing a small part of themselves – often for the first time in their lives, and often – by dint of our industry – about the worst thing they’ve ever been through. We’re all working under time constraints, but while rushing a case study along or jumping straight for that pullquote might appear editorially efficient, it’s invariably damaging and generally unkind. Typing this up seems like I’m spelling out the obvious, but I’ve lost count of the number of times when I’ve been working alongside a male journalist who has interrupted an abuse survivor or trauma victim mid-flow – his irritation clear as he clarifies dates that don’t appear to add up, or brusquely questions the order of her narrative. One time, I even saw one yawn and roll his eyes. Our subject saw him too.

And empathy swings two ways. To ignore or repress emotions evoked by another’s experiences is to do them a disservice – be those emotions yours or theirs. As a female freelancer working thousands of miles away from the editors I’m filing to, I’m offered little or no psychological support for the environments I’m placed in and the stresses I’m working under. Tight deadlines and limited budgets mean I jump from one story to the next; barely finding time to unpack my bag, let alone my feelings. But I need to get better at that: because taking the time to process what I’ve seen and heard benefits my work, and benefits my mind, too.

Journalism is a male-dominated world, and as such it’s one that continues to teach both genders to feel shame should we embrace our emotions and allow ourselves to feel. One Iraq-based evening’s attempt at decompression was recently marred when a man remarked – with discernable derision – of another female writer who ‘looked like she was about to cry’ after four days on the frontline. When I once recounted a particularly grim day’s work in Bangladesh over WhatsApp, I received a lengthy message from a friend back home, questioning whether I was ‘too thin-skinned’ to sustain this career. And when one of my colleagues, a brilliant photojournalist with a decade’s experience – a woman who I count myself privileged to work with – broke down on our way home after a particularly long day of working with teenage trafficking victims, she felt the need to apologise, again and again. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I never normally let it get to me.’ But the photos she took that day are beautiful. They’re sensitive, and they’re full of feeling. When I watched her work, she did so carefully and kindly. And when we talked about that day’s events later – with wry laughter and warm whisky and wet eyes, we didn’t pretend it hadn’t been horrible to see.

I got that job, by the way. My editors were women empathetic enough to know that while tears might be a sign of inexperience, emotions are a strength, not a weakness. Whether recruiting from behind a desk, or reporting in the field, it would serve us all well to remember that.

Corinne Redfern is a multi-award winning freelance international journalist with a decade’s experience specialising in women’s rights and human interest stories from around the world. In the last year she’s filed from four continents, including the epicentre of the Zika outbreak in Brazil, the frontlines of the Mosul offensive in Iraq, and the decks of a particularly unstable boat in a waterlogged district of Benin. As the former Features Director for Marie Claire magazine, she’s also written for the Guardian, Telegraph, Sunday Times, Stylist, Grazia and ELLE among many others.

Currently working on a longterm project in brothels across Bangladesh, she’s given up trying to plan her life more than two months in advance – but also can’t seem to stop Google Image searching pictures of the Philippines. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and corinneelizabethredfern.com.

If you or someone you know would like to share her narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 
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From the Midwest to the Middle East

Alex_Kay_PotterI knew I wanted to be a photojournalist after organic chemistry lab my Sophomore year of university, soon after being accepted to the nursing program. What I was studying at the time seemed so intangible and unrelated to what I set out to do – what use did I have for building mini-models or charts of the immune response pathway, and what did that have to do with how much I cared about other people? I’d always been one for discovery and adventure, but also one for reconciliation and building bridges.

While I loved traveling to new places, learning new languages and about other cultures, I cared just as much about fixing a fight between family members or being there for a friend who was down. Photojournalism to me, through the eyes of photographers I looked up to like Jonas Bendikson, Alex Webb, Lindsey Addario, Ron Haviv, Ed Ou, Carolyn Drake, and Susan Meiselas, seemed like the perfect career, a combination of the forces that drove me.

After I graduated in 2011, the photo industry wasn’t in great shape. So I finished my degree in nursing, as the daughter of a practical farming family in the Midwest should, and proceeded to do almost nothing with it. I was stubborn, I wanted to be a photojournalist, so I moved to the Middle East. This is the first quality I believe all photojournalists, but women in particular, should possess – a drive that manifests as stubbornness to drown out the critical voices saying that it’s impossible to achieve what you set out to do (however ambiguously the criticism is disguised).

Obstacles aren’t always in the form of colleague criticism or editor rejection: financial struggles are one thing the photo industry rarely talks about: how to make it in this media climate, not being able to photograph only what you enjoy, having to take commercial or other assignments to pay the bills. Photography is increasingly a career for the privileged: and while there are increasingly more grants, it is difficult to not have a “side hustle”and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Many people teach, hold workshops, edit others’ portfolios, or do commercial work to supplement what they love to do. In the last year I’ve gravitated back towards nursing in between assignments. And I don’t think photojournalists should feel bad about having to do something outside just photography – if anything, it supplements your reporting.

The last thing I feel like photojournalists need, maybe because I’m feeling it now, is to know when to take a breath. You can’t always be producing work, you grow in the in-between times (some advice I really needed at the time from Diana Markosian. When you’ve hit your limit physically or emotionally, your work suffers. Taking time, giving yourself space, not pushing at full speed for years on end – this will help develop your storytelling voice in the long run. It took me this year to learn that.

Alex Potter is a photographer and journalist from the Midwest working mostly in the Middle East. Her work explores conflict and trust, loss and isolation within communities and relationships. Alex aims to bridge the gap between the foreign and familiar by creating thought-provoking and emotional images. Potter recently received the Pulitzer Center’s grant to return to the Middle East to photograph families whose lives have been disrupted by ongoing conflict. Her work has been published in The New York TimesHarper’s,and The Washington Post, among others, has done work recently in Yemen that focuses on Yemeni civilians and identity during instability and fighting. You can follow her on Twitter and her website to stay updated on her work.

 If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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