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,, WSJ, DIE ZEIT, WIRED, Lens New York Times,, 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 and on Instagram.

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