Ever since my parents gave me a Polaroid “Swinger” camera when I was ten years old, I had a fascination with taking photographs. Around the same time, they gave my brother and me leather-bound diaries that locked with a little key. My Mom and Dad bequeathed me an intellectual curiosity, a hunger for travel, and a love of words and images — valuable tools that I would years later turn into a career.
When I decided to get into journalism, I was drawn to both the written word and the visual image. I could never seem to decide which made for the best representation of the reality I was trying to document. In the end, I have worked as a writer, photographer and a television producer. When I go to the field on assignment, I collect material in my notebooks, I shoot still photos, and I shoot video on small format digital.
I have found in the course of my field work that I usually prefer the company of photographers over other news reporters. Photographers are cowboys, and they need to get close to the action. They’re not burdened with a lot of the intellectual baggage that often weighs writers down. They’re often the most fun to hang out with, and I have learned the most valuable lessons — dos and don’ts — from photographers and their bags of tricks.
One of the most valuable has to be with proximity to the subject matter. In photojournalism, you need to get close to your subject. There has to be a level of engagement. I have found that my strongest images are usually portraits, most often taken at very close range with a very wide angle lens (20mm is my favorite). It obliges you to get in people’s faces. This requires a heightened sense of diplomacy and an ease with people whom you do not know and whom you have never seen before and probably never will again. In an instant you must capture some essential truth about them. It’s a challenge, and that’s why I like it. And I believe it has made me a better reporter and writer in the process.
Besides looking for a gesture, a grimace, a certain way of looking that reveals some inner truth about a person or human situation in the split second I squeeze the shutter, I pay close attention to composition. My photographs are all full-frame, almost never cropped. I am not only looking at the focal ring in the center of the viewfinder, but just as attentively at the outer edges that will frame the photograph.
I began my professional career as a writer, photographer and broadcaster in Central America in 1983. I spent seven years in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama during the turmoil of the 1980s.
My photographs have accompanied articles I have written for National Geographic Traveler, Newsweek, Smithsonian, Sports Afield, the Village Voice, Interview, the Guardian, the Independent, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Other photo credits include National Geographic, Outside, Details, The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, and The Economist.