29 Oct Project: SHOOT WITH A LOCAL, the story behind…
“HOW IT ALL STARTED”
I would like to bring you back to the beginning of the year 2016. Besides my job as a flight attendant I felt that I was looking for more depth in things I did. I felt this especially when I was on the road with my camera. I think it’s good for you to know that I had just bought my first DSLR camera in 2014. I did not know much about how to use it and mostly I just pressed the shutter on the automatic mode without thinking.
I always liked photography, partly because I am a visually orientated person and because I travel a lot I get exposed to the most beautiful sceneries in the world. These kind of places and people you don’t want to capture with just an iPhone. I wanted to capture all this beauty and stories with a real camera and after quite a period I wanted to get rid of this shooting on automatic mode and clicking just for clicking without any purpose. I wanted to convey images to tell stories to inspire others and to throw down the gauntlet to let us think about our existence.
I decided to sign up for a part time photography course at the photo academy in Amsterdam. In fact, the seeds of my current project were laid immediately in the first lesson. I was asked the question:
“Wendy, what would ‘you’ like to tell the world with your photography?”
It was a question to which I did not immediately know the answer and it has kept me busy in recent years. I now know the answer and I will come back to it later.
I stopped the training at the photo academy after one year. Why? I couldn’t afford it anymore and on top of that it was quite intensive to do all the assignments and combine it with a fulltime job as a full time flight attendant. Besides that I found out that I am not that kind of person who can be creative under regimental conditions. And also for me the type of assignments were too flowery, too up in the air. I don’t like to stage my photos too much and I got really nervous of all these technical tasks. I am more the ‘what you see is what you get-type of person’. I would like to work intuitively from what I feel and I want to get inspired by what I see, think, smell and hear! So I prefer to work outside with a preference for natural light and preferably I shoot when I travel.
Obviously, I won’t deny, you need to possess some decent technical skills and have knowledge about light and to be able to shoot with reasonable photographic equipment to express yourself, but I still believe using your own natural instinct will lead to better pictures. However I still find it the biggest challenge to create something big using less. This became the main thread of my project ‘Shoot with a Local’. I use photography purely as a tool to achieve a larger goal and I don’t focus to much on techniques and perfection.
After I left the academy, which of course felt a bit like a failure, I vowed to myself, whatever it would cost, to bring my camera on every trip and assign myself different kinds of exercises. I was terribly afraid that otherwise I would not continue to develop myself as a photographer. So I went e.g. for hours and hours of “panning” on the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo and taking long exposure shots in Kuala Lumpur. Sometimes I even obliged myself to just go on the street with only one lens, to learn in this way how to work with every lens under different circumstances. I also challenged myself to overcome my fear to approach people on the street and ask them if I could take a portrait of them. I even now can’t imagine that at that time I found it really scary! I learned a lot about myself by doing this and in the end connecting with people from a different culture in a different country became one of my favorite things to do and it is one of the pillars in my project Shoot with a Local.
From January 2017 I decided to post the photos I took during my trips on social media and at times I also posted some photos of myself in my uniform.
Soon after, this brought me more followers, especially on instagram. This is an easy platform to get in touch with likeminded people and enthusiasts. Among my followers were also lot’s of fellow photographers, amateurs and professionals, who asked me if I would be interested in shooting with them whenever I flew to their country or city. Of course I had to get used to that idea, but soon I thought, why shouldn’t do it and I decided to go for the adventure and realize these “photo team ups.”
“THE FIRST TIME …”
My first encounter was in Seoul, South Korea. During my 48 hour stopover I met Daniël, a young Korean analog photographer with whom I had some chat conversations in English on instagram once in a while. Because we always wrote to each other in English, I assumed that his English was good. That turned out not to be the case. Daniël had always translated his messages with google translate and apparently he was very fast and good at it. Communicating with him in real life unexpectedly became a bit difficult. Nevertheless we have photographed all day long in the streets of Seoul and we didn’t feel uncomfortable for even one moment. Instead we had lot’s of fun, we made beautiful photos, we shared our passion for photography and we learned from each other by observing each other. I had seen the most beautiful little gems of the city. Daniel took me to places where I would never have been if I would had been there on my own. Also with a little help of google translate and with much sign language Daniel taught me several things about the city and some local traditions. At the end of the day we both had such a great and satisfying feeling, it had been a great succes and we both went home with a big smile on our faces!
Soon after that more “photo team ups” followed in among others: Iran, Taipei, India (Kolkata), Barcelona, Dubai, Uganda (Entebbe), Bahrein, Washington, Kuala Lumpur, India (New Delhi), Buenos Aires, Mexico, Hong Kong, Oman and the last one was in New York. Even in Luanda, Angola, I met two photographers. Unfortunately due to safety restrictions I was not allowed to leave the hotel so the photographers came to visit me there. On almost all my travels I was able to make new contacts with photographers and to my great surprise, they all were so enthusiastic and wanted to hit the road with me. They even took days off work to meet me.
Many people ask me if I find it scary to meet complete strangers but in fact I can say sincerely that each and everyone of my encounters with all these beautiful people were very special experiences and it has brought me and the photographers a lot ! However, there is a lot of planning and preparation before deciding with whom I team up in any location. At first I try to get a feeling for the photographer through his photography and writings and nowadays I often have many Skype conversations before a meeting takes place. This is necessary in order to thoroughly discuss all details in advance and to have a clear view of each other’s expectations.
In Iran I have met Hadi Mohseni. I knew him quite a while via Instagram too. Hadi is 26 years old, a refugee from Afghanistan living in Iran. Fortunately, after hard work and by overcoming a lot of bureaucratic hassle, Hadi is able to live a reasonably good life and luckily he is able to study. Besides his Architecturale studies and his fulltime job he is a freelance photographer and he dedicates all his spare time to document the lives of the refugees living in Iran. He has set himself the goal of bringing their hardship and life conditions to the attention of all of us and he is committed to their destiny.
When I finally saw a work trip to Iran ( I had been waiting for it a long time) on my schedule I didn’t hesitate and asked Hadi if I could join him and visit the refugees together. He agreed and on a 24 hour stopover we went with our cameras to make a photo reportage about the life of the refugees in one of the camps. It became a moving report and the message I posted about it on Facebook received a lot of attention afterwards. A famous dutch photographer reposted it on his Facebook page and as a result, thankfully the story of the refugees got a lot of attention.
“FROM PHOTOGRAPHY TO FILM”
I got so many positive reactions to my initiative to meet fellow photographers on my trips and shed light on their projects so at that point I decided to establish my current project “Shoot with a Local”. And also at this stage I decided to film these meetings so that I could focus more on sharing the impact rather than only showing the photos. Filming my encounters also gave me the opportunity to tell the story behind the photographer and his projects in a better way. In these short documentaries I show the viewer who the photographer is behind his or her photos, how we work together, how we share our passion for photography, how we learn from each other, inspire each other and how we connect with the local people. Included are also the final results of the photos we took during our photo team up!
A lot of work is involved in making those films and the challenge became; “how could I make these videos low profile and with a low budged and preferable without any costs at all with only my two hands.? Luckily I found someone who believed in me and my project and he helped me to edit the first three videos that I made. Nowadays I edit the videos myself. A complex and time consuming process, but I am determined to become better and faster at it and I am very keen on learning the software from the inside out.
The first time I decided to film the photo team up was in Entebbe, Uganda. There I met Pius Kibazzi, I approached him to ask if he would be interested in doing a photo team up with me after I had found his profile on instagram and I had studied his style of photography. It was only one week before my planned trip to Entebbe. Without knowing each other beforehand he immediately said ‘yes’ to my offer and agreed to me filming it. Wow what a magical feeling was that! Excitement and happiness were all over me!
I was so lucky that Pius was the first photographer I made a video about. He was tremendously patient with me and he helped me a lot with the technique and the audio behind it. It was a very nice and educational day full of beautiful photo moments and enriching encounters with locals.
“THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION THAT KEPT ME BUSY FOR SUCH A LONG TIME”
Last year Pius dropped me a wonderful message. He had some good news to share. An American company that runs several NGO’s in Entebbe was searching for a photographer in Entebbe on the web. Guess what? They found our video for Shoot with a local about Pius and because of that they offered him a great contract for one year to work for them. I felt so proud after Pius told me this story and I suddenly realized that I could answer the question the photography academy had asked me in the first lesson;
“Wendy what would you like to tell the world with you photography?”
Well with my approach of photography but also film and with my project I would like to make a noticeable difference for someone else. My mission is not to become the best photographer or filmmaker myself but I would like to use photography and film as a tool to reach a greater goal than just use it for self glorification and personal profit. I would love others to be part of this succes too.
The key words that I always want to see reflected in everything I do are:
To connect, to share passion, to inspire, to challenge, to learn, to help and to feel compassion. In summary: “Celebrating humanity through photography and film”
We live in a world full of photographers who all want to be “seen”. They all want to get ‘meaning’ in the world of photography. A world where competition is fierce and as a result they remain on their own ‘island’ rather than sharing their position.
One has more talent than the other. Some are technically well developed, but lack some form of creativity and the other one is very creative, but they lack technical knowledge.
Then there are also many photographers who are good at both, but do not have the financial means to further educate themselves or purchase equipment. There are also those who lack commercial insight to keep positioning themselves in the market again and again. Nowadays you have to spend hours and hours on social media to stay visible, building a proper website, keeping it updated which can gobble up all of your time. Sometimes it seems that only people with sufficient financial resources can gain access to this overwhelmingly and stressful photography market. And then we also have all the models and TV stars that are going to photograph. The photo exhibitions of well-known celebreties are popping up everywhere.
“PURPOSE OF THE PROJECT”
What I aim to tell the world is that your origin, your age, your financial situation or your environment should never be an obstacle to follow your passion and reveal your talents. I believe in living from our heart and our passion, I believe in sharing, in joining forces where we believe not only in ourselves, but also in others. With my project “Shoot with a Local” I hope to inspire people to follow their passion and to share it with others too. Moreover, I hope to be able to encourage people to think about our part in society as it is today and how we could personally play a meaningful role in it. How wonderful would it be if we could share more and we could use our camera as a tool to achieve that bigger goal. “A better world where respect and togetherness dominate and where we try to make the difference for someone else through photography and film”
A couple of years ago I met a 19 year old boy in Kolkata, India. His name is Shivam and he is a very passionate photographer, who’s talent explodes from his instagram account. After getting in touch with him I found out that he didn’t even have his own camera. He couldn’t afford one. As much as possible he borrowed a simple camera from a friend and made stunning pictures with it. He does not only do it for self gain but he truly has the intention to document the life of the children and people living on the streets of Kolkata. In my opinion, these types of people deserve a chance to develop their talent, to get help to promote themselves and to continue to accomplish their mission. It is my great wish to go back to Kolkata and meet Shivam again and make a video documentary about him. He worked very hard the last years and he set up his own successful photo tour company.
Over the course of the years I started to feel the more and more related to photographers who want to commit to global issues. By making documentaries about them and highlighting their projects, I give them something concrete to sell themselves and to share their mission with the world.
My most recent ‘photo team up’ was in New York. I met Renzo Grande, a great photographer and the founder of ’24 hour project’. A photography project which encourages people from all over the world to come together in their city on one single day and document humanity for 24 hours. With this initiative he sheds light on global themes and the profits of this event go to charity! These kind of photography projects make my heart dance and I truly believe that we can change the world by using photography and film as a tool to bring the world together and make the difference for someone else!
CONVEYING THEIR MISSION BECAME MY MISSION …
IT EVEN MADE ME RESIGN ME JOB!
In my next blog I will explain you why I quit my beloved job and I’ll tell you what my new plans will be for the future!
To be continued …
Lots of Love,