Posts Tagged ‘Women Matter’


The Art of Storytelling Helped Me Explore Life and Myself

I remember gazing from my bunk bed every night in our house in Athens at my dad’s black and white pictures hanging on the corridor wall. I would stare at them until I would fall asleep. They just seemed to me so alive and beautiful and for some reason I wanted to do the same. Take pictures, travel, explore life and become a creator. (Just to be clear my father is not a photographer, but an architect).

My background has been in fine arts, specifically in painting and photography.

Documentary photography for me has been really my life’s dream and I truly have been lucky enough not to have worked in any other industry. It has taken me into worlds that I never thought that I could actually be a part of. It has given me strength, has made me face my weaknesses and has given me a mission — a mission to communicate, understand and respect different cultures, share and give a voice to those who do not have any other ways to be heard.

My interest in documentary photography and filmmaking stems from my passion in discovering untold stories and relating them in a way that will engage audiences on an intellectual and emotional level. As a journalist and creator I have travelled to numerous under-reported parts of the world and have seen first-hand the power that stories can have.

Greece, Kos island 2015
An immigrant wondering about at dawn in front of the port in the island of Kos.

Facts are important, but often they are only as powerful as the narratives they serve. Telling stories has always been the way people make sense of the world, and I firmly believe that documentary photography and filmmaking is one of the most powerful ways to tell them.

My name is Amani el Mekhlef I am 29 years old and mother of five. When I was in Syria I was seven months pregnant and one day an air strike hit next to my house so I lost the baby. After that they took me to a place to take out the baby from my belly without any anesthetics. It took the doctors about six hours to take the baby out. After that we decided to leave while being pregnant again. We basically left when I was pregnant to my son because of the many bombings. The borders were closed so we waited for about one week to go to Turkey. After that we went to Turkey and we stayed in a camp (Tel Abyad).

All this may sound ideal, but the truth is that to enter into these “magic” microcosms I had to struggle and work often harder as a female photographer in a male dominated world.

I had to prove that I was capable enough to work in the business in a way that my male colleagues did not; to show again and again that I could work under difficult circumstances, on interesting assignments, turning my head away from sexist comments so I could get the job, fighting for equal pay, being taken seriously by my peers.

Athens, Greece 2013: Red heels.

Nevertheless these obstacles never stopped me from pursuing my dream to become a photographer and storyteller. Indeed, these obstacles became my tools to move forward and carve a path for myself and take on stories that I was not “supposed” to work on as a woman.

So if I had to suggest something to a young female who wants to become a photojournalist, documentary photographer or a journalist, it would be to not let these obstacles stand in your way of becoming who you want to become. Work on developing a thick skin and don’t live down to others’ expectations of you. It can be hard but believing in yourself opens up new worlds in unexpected ways.

Pamir mountains, Roshkala region Tajikistan 2014
A bride getting ready before the ceremony.
Tajiks living on the plateau have very unique wedding ceremonies. Most ethnic groups in Central Asia begin the wedding ceremony with the betrothal and arrangements made by the elders of the family, but a Tajik wedding is quite different. It lasts seven days. On the first day of the ceremony, the bride and the bridegroom proclaim their marriage and hold separate banquets with their own families, which continue for three days.

In 2010 my life brought me back to Greece from New York and Italy, and here I really had the opportunity to work with major international outlets covering a wide range of stories in relation to the financial crisis and its impact on Greek society, as well as the refugee crisis.

These years in Greece have transformed and matured me. I saw a country that I often didn’t recognize and I felt obliged to report on its changes as I felt I was living through historic moments. In particular I have reported on the rise of nationalist and xenophobic movements, on the financial boom in the sex trade and on issues of European integration, immigration and identity.

In a way returning to Greece as a photographer has been both a curse and a blessing at the same time. I learned to live with the ongoing recession and all of the austerity and reforms that were imposed in the country on the one hand, yet on the other hand as a creator, I really had the chance to delve into fascinating stories and find my voice at a time when the country was in the international spotlight.

Of course, being a documentary photographer or a journalist is a never-ending journey – especially in this age of globalization and I don’t claim that I have figured everything out. Cases of editors who do not understand the situations photographers or journalists face are also part of this business. They basically often just want ‘the story’ as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But being a reporter or a photographer is often about much more than that.

Documentary photography can have a massive impact in our society and it takes a significant level of responsibility from our part to represent someone else’s life, culture, and country.

To achieve this, we need to spend time to work and develop strong relationships, gaining the trust of the people we photograph and gaining a deep understanding of all the issues and representing them fairly. Balancing the need and desire to cultivate these relationships with the pressing demands of the industry is often a difficult line to walk.

While getting stories commissioned and making a living in this field remains a constant challenge, looking back on what I have achieved, the people I have met and learned from reminds me why I chose this career to begin with and makes me eager to get out there and see what else I can discover and share. It reminds me of the feelings I had as a child: of wanting to explore life and to understand and learn about myself and others through stories.

Myrto Papadopoulos finished her studies in 2003 after completing a five-year Fine Arts degree, majored in painting and photography. In 2006, she applied for a documentary photography degree at the ICP (International Centre of Photography) in New York, where she was granted a scholarship.

Her clients include TIME Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, GEO International, Le Monde, The Guardian, nationalgeographic.com, WSJ, DIE ZEIT, WIRED, Lens New York Times, Time.com, ARTE TV, ZDF TV among others. Today she works as a freelance photographer and a documentary filmmaker and is represented by Redux Pictures in NY. You can follow her work at www.myrtopapadopoulos.com and on Instagram.

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Elevating the Status of Women in Journalism Through Mentorship

The last few years have been especially visible for the conversation around women in journalism, their presence in newsrooms and in the field is being noticed, the number of graduates from J-schools has risen as have women reporting from the ground as foreign correspondents and freelancers.

The value of organizations that supported women journalists, and have long been there, like the IWMF that was founded in 1990 (yes, they have been around that long) and Women Media Centre that was launched in 2005, saw new meaning, and only recently taken seriously. Women in journalism and those who supported them started getting wider cross generation recognition which was something incredibly new. Women initiated avenues to help each other through social media, the several Binders and other FB groups. More funding came in, scholarships and grants offered opportunities to women and newsrooms started reflecting over their age old discriminatory attitudes towards women colleagues.

In 2017, it seems a hopeful future for women in journalism, if the conversations and support continues. The hope is that perhaps women will be able to be treated equally in the mainstream. That perhaps women will be able to claim an equal ground with their male counterparts in the industry. That perhaps the noise we are making today, will work this time. 

This hope is not new. We have seen many such phases and made many such noises. Each time there is a new theme. In the last century, it was the new recognition for women who started covering male beats, then later it was the women journalists who started covering wars, the world war II coverage by female reporters was especially remarkable and recognized by some avenues. The first top editorial positions were given to women. Women, or at least some women, felt liberated. They felt they had a voice now and they were using it wildly. 

But when you look closely, today, still thousands of women journalists remain struggling; they are fighting different kinds of discriminations some systematic, some perceptive and some deliberate and designed. The opportunities that are available are tendered to the ones who already excel, grants and fellowship are offered to those women who fit one or the other profile. This makes them struggle to be in the right circles, show face at the right conferences, be friends with the right people. So much of their energy and wisdom that can be spent doing reporting, refining their skills, is instead spent trying to make their way up. It’s exhausting. 

I formed the Coalition for Women in Journalism, for the colleagues who often feel they are stuck mid career. The program, that came after years of reflection and inquiry, offers short and long term mentorships to women who have spent a few years working as freelancers or staff reporters and feel they could use an expert’s ear. Through mentorships we hope to offer an opportunity to women colleagues to refine their skills as reporters, to be able to discuss personal and intimate feelings about discrimination, or handle a situation where they feel trapped. We also try to offer support as much support as we can, to women who are stuck in crises situations, or are dealing with mild or severe trauma either on the job, or while balancing their work and personal lives. 

I believe that women could have made much more progress over the century and a half we have made our contributions to journalism, had we worked along male colleagues more efficiently. After all, many if not most women have only made progress, with the advice and support of male mentors and friends. Therefore, the coalition has a #HeForShe program in which we . Though majority of mentors with the coalition are still women, that is fulfill the need of the type of applications we get. But in certain arena where our male colleagues can help, we invite them to support us in the endeavor. 

We are extremely thrilled to partner with the SPJ International Community, an institution that has for a long time, helped journalists network and find support. In that we both – the Coalition and the International Community hope to combine our efforts to make breakthroughs to elevate the status and experiences of women in journalism.

I formed the Coalition for Women in Journalism, for the colleagues who often feel they are stuck mid career. It was over a coffee with one of my mentors, whom I looked up to with awe. She told me that in over a two decade long career as a successful journalist that brought her several awards, she never had a mentor. She recalled how she made her way up in a male dominated newsroom. That women had been always doing it on their own was shocking, and it requires a lot to maneuver and I wanted to create a system where they could count on each other.

The program, that came after years of reflection and inquiry, offers short and long term mentorships to women who have spent a few years working as freelancers or staff reporters and feel they could use an expert’s ear. Through mentorships we hope to offer an opportunity to women colleagues to refine their skills as reporters, to be able to discuss personal and intimate feelings about discrimination, or handle a situation where they feel trapped. We also try to offer support as much support as we can, to women who are stuck in crises situations, or are dealing with mild or severe trauma either on the job, or while balancing their work and personal lives. 

I believe that women could have made much more progress over the century and a half we have made our contributions to journalism, had we worked along male colleagues more efficiently. After all, many if not most women have only made progress, with the advice and support of male mentors and friends. Therefore, the coalition has a #HeForShe program in which we let our male colleagues help us in the program, through mentorships and advice. Though majority of mentors with the coalition are still women, that is fulfill the need of the type of applications we get. But in certain arena where our male colleagues can help, we invite them to support us in the endeavor. 

Kiran Nazish is the co-founder and director of the Coalition for Women in Journalism. The Coalition will be contributing to the SPJ Blog every first Wednesday of the month discussing topic that involve women in journalism.

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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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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.

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Overcoming the Challenges of Being a Woman in Journalism Abroad

I’ve started as a professional photojournalist in Egypt. Indeed, in 2012 I had the opportunity to have an internship at the local newspaper Egypt Independent just out of school and only one year after the Egyptian Revolution. I couldn’t wish for a better opportunity.

Nevertheless, I was terrified to live in that area as a 24-year-old single, young woman with no concrete experience in the field. I’ve followed the Arab Spring thoroughly and what struck me from the events in Cairo was the sexual assault on Lara Logan, a correspondent for the American network CBS.  

In the wake of this assault, other cases came out in the news, describing it like one of the many problems of Egypt: sexual harassment on women. Doing my best to mask that notion, I did my best to overcome my anxiety and started my first day of work on at the same time of the first anniversary of the revolution on January 25, 2012.

Of course, I wasn’t alone. I was accompanied by male photographers. I knew that mass sexual assault mainly happened in crowded places, but as a photojournalist I couldn’t avoid the gathering of Tahrir Square. Two colleagues protected me from the crowd, but I could still feel hands groping me below the waist once I started to take pictures in the square.

Immediately I turned back to see who it was, but it was impossible to know who it was in the turmoil and crowds. My first day as a professional, it was very frustrating and scary. I couldn’t imagine myself working in those conditions everyday. On that day, I was lucky. It didn’t go further than “just” hands on my behind. I’ve lived and worked in Egypt for two years and half since that day. I faced situations of sexual harassment, but it never went further than touching but that itself is something already serious.

In Cairo, I’ve learned to react and never stay quiet when it happens. So did my other female friends. Some say that Egyptian men react like that to dissuade women to go down the streets and protest. Others say that it’s a social problem linked to financial issues and the frustration of men not able to get married. In Egyptian culture, it is not seen positively to have sexual relations before being wed.

I don’t know why we try to find an excuses. It’s a crime that should be punished immediately. I’ve learned to find solutions to this issue: be careful and direct in my reaction whether I am Egypt or any country. Women are typically seen as more vulnerable just because we’re doing work mainly surrounded by men, especially in a conflict zone.

What I want to say out of this testimony is that even if we feel weaker and more vulnerable, there are ways to be stronger. We should never give up and let it go. Each time a man touched me in the crowd or touched a friend, I would always scream and defend myself. We need to show all men that we are not weak prey. They will never dissuade me to do my work. This strength brought me to where I am now.

I did not let my frustration from January 25th overcome me. As the time passes, I realize that being a female photojournalist has many advantages. For example, we have more access to the intimacy of a family being a woman. A man alone would struggle to photograph the daily life of a Muslim family if the husband is not at home. For this access, I feel relief to be a woman and never wish to be a man for the work I’m doing.

Our vulnerability, we can make something about it, either by ourselves or by raising awareness around us. But the access we have as women, men can’t do anything about it and maybe this is why I feel that a story realize by a woman will always have something more intimate with more emotions than the same story made by a man.

If you look at Stéphanie Sinclair’s work, “Too Young to be Wed,” would a man be able to do the same? Same with Brenda Anne Kenneally’s work, I don’t think it will communicate the same emotions if a man was given the same task.

I’m Virginie Nguyen Hoang. I am 30 years old and I’ve been a professional photojournalist since 2012.

Virginie is as photojournalist currently based in Brussels. She studied journalism at IHECS (Brussels) as well as training in photojournalism at the Danish School of Media and Journalism (Denmark). She has previously worked for the French news agency Wostok Press, the Studio Hanslucas and became the co-founder of the Collectif HUMA. From January 2012  she settled in Egypt as a freelancer for local newspapers Egypt Independent and Mada masr. She’s received the Nikon Press Award Benelux in 2012. You can follow her work on Facebook.

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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