Ask Us Anything - AMAFeed on Documentary Photography
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
In May 2018 we had the privilege of participating in an "Ask Us Anything" interview on AMAFeed about our work. Below is a transcript of the thoughtful, probing questions we received. Thank you, AMAFeed, for your support of our work! -- Theresa and Dan
Ask US anything. Documentary photography husband and wife team focused on the Global Refugee Crisis and humanitarian issues around the world.
JOSHUAMENDOZA Why is that people don't celebrate those moments where people reveal a little bit more about themselves for that split second? What causes people to cover ourselves up? Is it simply fear of being judged? MAY 31, 2:39PM
Theresa: That's an excellent question, Joshua. When it comes to vulnerable people, especially displaced people and refugees, it's important to remember that many people have been (and still are) literally fleeing for their lives. They face persecution and violence, as do their families, friends and loved ones back in their home country. There can be unforeseen implications that go well beyond the individual being photographed.
ARLENECOSTO How do you approach strangers? What do you say to them? Or, do you simply watch, capture and move on? MAY 31, 1:35PM
Theresa: Hi, Arlene. We are very sensitive to taking photos of strangers, and vulnerable people even more so. We try to be considerate and respectful in whatever situation we are in, and only try to take photos when we have received a person's consent. When we are working on the ground, we make it a point to make eye contact with everybody we encounter, even if in passing, smile and acknowledge them. Some people may be interested in engaging us immediately (we usually have our cameras out in a non-threatening manner). Others may see us repeatedly working and interacting with others and grow comfortable with our presence and eventually engage and speak with us. One of our most effective skills is probably our willingness to approach strangers in a non-threatening manner and start a conversation.
FILIPAL Where is your photography going? What are you currently working on and do you have any photographic plans for future? MAY 30, 7:00AM EDT
Daniel: We will be returning to Greece to continue documenting the refugee situation on Chios island. Our intention is to continue our refugee portrait project and raise awareness of the dire situation. We are looking for media outlets to submit articles and provide information, create gallery exhibits, and give presentations and talks on the situation and how people can help.
CRIS1990 What are some of the guidelines you believe should be developed regarding the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations and what has been your first-hand experience of such situations? MAY 28, 1:36AM EDT
Daniel: In the camps and in general, there is a rule that one should never identify unaccompanied minors in articles or other media because human traffickers can specifically target those children or teenagers if it's know they are on their own. Theresa: Regarding photographs specifically, when working with vulnerable people it's important to obtain their consent to use their images whenever possible. When we interview people we obtain their written permission. Our standard release form is written in English, Arabic and Greek at the moment. We're adding Farsi as well.
CHRISTIANLUIGI Do you believe that your photographs accurately portray the emotional, psychological and physical distress of the people and places in front of the camera, why or why not? MAY 27, 10:39PM
Daniel: Yes and no. It is important to remember a photo is 1/100th of a second of a situation. What is captured is a moment in time, a blink of an eye, and what happened immediately before or after is different. Photographs are incredibly powerful, but they show a moment in time. They tell a story, but not an entire story.
JANUARYXVI If you had the power to make a decision for your country in handling the refugee crisis in the world, what would you do? MAY 26, 5:24AM EDT
Daniel: I think there are fundamental issues that should be adressed that impact even more than the refugee crisis. Diversity makes our country stronger, not weaker. And the same goes for every other country for that matter. So many people are either being manipulated to or are choosing to form their opinions and live their lives based on fear - in this case fear of "foreigners" whatever that means.
DANILOZA Does travelling to grief stricken places affect your relationship as a couple?
Daniel: It most certainly makes you continually evaluate what we want our personal and mutual priorities to be. It helps for us both to see a situation with our own eyes to understand it, and we can both relate to what the other person experienced, as opposed to hearing about the experience afterwards.
Theresa: Definitely. It makes us both recognize the incredible privileges and benefits we are able to enjoy every day, things like clean drinking water and safety and security. So it does make us weigh what's important to us, where and how do we want to spend our time, and how we want to use our available resources.
NUNNALLY What is the best and worst part of working with a spouse? MAY 25, 1:01PM EDT
Theresa: We're good at leveraging each other's respective strengths and capabilities, so our effectiveness is high. We balance each other out in difficult situations as well, such as when me being a woman may have better ability to connect with other females, and vice versa for Daniel. Quite frankly, there's not really a significant "worst" part. If there was, we wouldn't be doing what we do for as long as we have.
Daniel: It's also reassuring to know we've got each other's backs as a safety measure if a situation may get complicated. I think when we approach people, whomever they may be, as a team we put people a bit more at ease because they see the teamwork. As far as worst part, it sounds like I'm dodging the question but really can't think of anything meaningful. We work together by choice, and it has worked out well for 20+ years.
MARIE KHRIS TORREON What do you hope your work will acheive in the issue of global refugee crisis? MAY 25, 9:27AM EDT
Theresa: We recognize that we have the ability through our work, resources and resourcefullness to inform and educate the broader public. Information is powerful, and we hope to spur action, contribue to the broader discussion and perhaps open the possibility that some people who are against helping refugees might re-evaluate the crisis.
KALA MAXYM Bravo on your amazing work. How do you choose when to go where? When there are multiple places you'd like to be, how do you "choose" which situation to cover? MAY 21, 6:41PM EDT
Daniel: It's a combination of logistics, practical considerations and access. The refugee crisis is so widespread there are permanent camps in many, many countries. We have been focusing on Greece because EU restrictions force displaced people to be detained and processed in the country they first land. Given the overwhelming number of people fleeing through Turkey, the Greek islands are the first landing for many people and people may be detained for months or even years at this point. The flow of new refugees to islands like Chios or Lesvos continues today. We continue to monitor the situation in certain hotspots, and then commit to a location about a month prior to departing the U.S. We need to be fluid in our planning, taking into consideration safety, support and logistical issues.
MAYETH What camera do you currently use for documentary photography? MAY 21, 5:10PM
Theresa: We use a variety of gear -Canon printers, Nikon bodies and lenses, Rokinon and Sigma lenses. Samsung 360 video camera, GoPros, Sennheiser microphones too. Lots to carry!
CARENJOY Do you think you will keep doing documentary photography forever or do you have any plans to retire? MAY 21, 4:58PM
Daniel: Not going to retire, but over time I'd expect we would evolve in our focus.
PIKOMONDE How long have you been married and how do you keep your relationship strong? MAY 21, 8:38AM
Daniel: Ask her.
Theresa: Ask him.
Both: hahaha [inaudible]
Daniel: Good question. 22 years is the first answer. 2nd answer: We're both busy on a lot of things -- both personal and professional -- that we both find interesting and important and prioritize where we spend our time and resources.
Theresa: We are both really good about being energized and passionate about things, especially our family, that are important to us. So we are continually active on work and things that inspire us. And we're good at problem solving together, so that keeps things fun. And we do recognize the importance of appreciate the present moment.
CHRISTIANDALE To be surrounded by so much pain and tragic situations must take a toll on your spirits. How do you keep doing your job? MAY 21, 8:13AM
Daniel: It's hard sometimes, very hard sometimes. I think if most anyone sees another person in distress you natural reaction is to want to help immediately. Because displaced people have fled horrible situations and then are faced with so many immediate obstacles (seeking safe refuge, medical attention, etc.) and institutionalized obstacles (such as closed borders, discrimination and exclusionary policies and laws) it is frustrating to say the least when you meet people who are merely seeking safety and a better life for themselves or their family and you know there are so many man-made obstacles keeping them down. Our conviction gives us courage to keep pushing forward in our work.
DJAN How did your work evolve from photography into being crusaders of the Global Refugee Crisis and other humanitarian issues? MAY 21, 4:32AM
Theresa: It took years of developing our craft and technical skills in both photo and video to the point where we were confident to initiate our projects and reach out to organizations with proposals of what we wanted to cover. It's a cumulative process, where we addressed larger and larger issues, and got deeper into complex problems. I think we continually push our goals on what we hope to accomplish in any situation, and how we hope to reach people.
Daniel: Once in a while we take a step back and ask ourselves, "What are the most important things we should be spending our energy on?" and that led us to the areas where we are focusing.
SAFTAIN342 What are you trying to achieve through your work with refugees? MAY 21, 12:27AM
Theresa: We want to raise awareness and spur action by policymakers/politicians as well as individuals. The overwhelming scale of this crisis requires both policy and grassroots solutions. It is easy for the noise of everyday like to distract from these sorts of issues so we believe it is important to keep this in the public's eye.
ENA DIANE PASA How did you get into documentary photography? What drew you to it? MAY 20, 11:22PM
Daniel: Over the years as our work developed, we realized that we had the capability to reach a wide range of people through our photography. We also realized that we can be meaningfully helpful to groups working on the ground by raising awareness of the work being done. Now, we often partner with NGOs when we work in-country, which allows us to obtain immediate access and insight into complex situations.
BRYAN VARGAS What first intrigued you about the Global Refugee Crisis, and why did you both take it upon yourselves to travel the world and speak of these matters at hand?
Daniel: As the Global Refugee Crisis was unfolding in the early years (2015-2016) we realized we didn't really understand it so our curiosity pushed us to pay attention. We had been developing our competence over years and realized that we had capability to help raise awareness, so we made the decision to engage.
ROMA-KAYA Sometimes photographers make sense of things in their own lives through their work. Do you feel you do that? MAY 20, 5:41PM
Theresa: Our work certainly calibrates our view of the world. It also makes us appreciate what is important and what's less so. When you see so many people who have so little, and who have survived incredible hardships, with little certainty of their future safety and security, it makes us continually assess our priorities.
IAMJC16 What roadblocks have you faced as documentary photographers? How were your beginnings? MAY 20, 4:50PM
Daniel: Our first extended body of work started the afternoon of September 11, 2001. We were living in New York City when the World Trade Center was attacked, which was unprecedented on many fronts. I was in our apartment, Theresa was in London that day. Before stepping out of our apartment, I instinctively grabbed my camera and started capturing everything I saw. Over the ensuing weeks we documented New York City's shock, despair, anger and slow recovery over the weeks, months and eventually years. A few months after the attacks, we were encouraged to present our work to museum curators as many institutions were looking to develop their collections. Since then our work has been added to the permanent collections of the Museum of the City of New York the New York Historical Society, the International Center of Photography and other institutions. We've been extremely fortunate to have earned the trust and support of high-quality partners and sponsors, including Op/Tech USA camera accessories and TAP Packaging Solutions. Being able to work with the support of companies that understand our work is incredibly important.
MARINAPERIN Do you have any advice for young documentary photographers like yourself? MAY 20, 3:55PM
Daniel: I think one of the most challenging aspects of this work is separating your personal opinions and context from the situation you are documenting. Everyone sees the world through their own lenses and maintaining objectivity is crucial. Of course, you can and should show empathy towards people -- after all, that's probably what drew us to a situation in the first place -- but it's important to tell a story objectively and professionally always. Present the facts fairly, and let the viewer form their own rational opinions.
KATHLEEN What was the most important lesson you learned that has had a positive effect on your work as photographers? How did that lesson happen? MAY 20, 12:40PM EDT1
Daniel: Hi, Kathleen. For me, the most important lesson is realizing that everyone can make an impact on a humanitarian situation, either positive or negative, depending on what your objectives are. It's important to never become so apathetic that you think you're powerless to affect change (and when I say "you", I mean "me").
Theresa: I think there are more people in the world who want to help each other rather than hurt each other. And I want to reach those people through our work to push for change.
CEOME Do you plan to write a book about your experiences? MAY 20, 12:28PM EDT1
Theresa: We are more interested in working on a book about the issues, situations and individuals we are documenting rather than our personal story.
Daniel: I much prefer being behind the camera than in front of it. We can do much more good speaking up for vulnerable people who aren't being heard.
ZELLA What were the specific subjects about the refugee crisis of your two TEDxTalks? MAY 20, 9:57AM
Daniel: Hi, Zella. In our talk at TEDxWilmington we wanted to reduce misinformation about who or what a "refugee" is. "Refugee" is a label, it isn't a person. Our talk was "The Power of Faces: Looking at the Global Refugee Crisis" where we wanted to give people the opportunity to look into individual's eyes and see them as fellow human beings. Our talk at TEDxRutgers was "Life Inside a Refugee Camp" where we discussed the difficult, harsh and often dangerous living conditions people face every day.
FLEURGUMMY There must be some degree of danger in your field of work. What has been the most difficult experience you had and how did you overcome it? MAY 20, 6:20AM
Theresa: Yes, there definitely have been some, shall we say, tense situations that could have escalated badly. Being aware of our surroundings and feeling the pulse of a situation is critically important. Research in advance to understand the situation we will be entering is the foundation. Then when we are on the ground, we assess the situation constantly. Usually, issues for us arise when one or a small number of individuals spark a situation that can turn violent and endanger others. Most people we meet are supportive and protective of us being able to do our work.
Daniel: Most recently when we were documenting a refugee camp located on a military installation we were specifically warned be the authorities that is we took photos of the actual camp or facilities we would be arrested immediately. So that had its challenges. We focused on taking proper portraits of the individuals living in the camp, which we then used to raise awareness of who and what "refugee" actually means. We showed people who are hoping for a better life in a kinder world.
BHARATISARKAR Among the places you’ve visited for work, which one was your favorite or the most memorable? MAY 20, 4:50AM
Theresa: That is a hard question to answer. We've had eye-opening, perspective-shifting and even life-altering experiences in all the places we've worked, by virtue of meeting new people and broadening our view of the world. And by seeing how much more we all have in common rather than how people are perceived to be different from each other. Every place I've been to I would love to return to in a heartbeat. I would love to get deeper into communities we've had the privilege of being introduced to.
Daniel: Even though we've traveled a fairly extensive amount over our careers, it feels like we've only scratched the surface of all that's happening in the world - both the good and the bad. I think the easier way to answer this question is, "Is there any place you wouldn't go again?" and the answer for me is No. For different reasons, I would love to keep working in all the areas we've been because there's a continuing story to tell in each situation.
JASMIN.BALUCON What legacy would you like to leave with your work? MAY 20, 2:39AM
Theresa: I want our children to feel that we did everything in our power to use our voice to speak up for people who are voiceless.
Daniel: Try to leave the world in a slightly better condition than you found it. I think there's a responsibility we all have at some level to stick up for people who are vulnerable.
JOVANA Do you consider photography your full-time job? MAY 20, 1:52AM
Daniel: After our 4 children, we can definitely say photography is our full-time passion. We both have full-time day jobs, which allows us the ability to accomplish the work we want to do. Theresa is a Director at a pharmaceutical company and I have a strategy consulting practice working with small and mid-size businesses. It requires us to be efficient in how we allocate our hours and days, and fortunately we make it work out.
ERIKOCAYA Do you make friends when you’re traveling for work or do you try to detach yourself emotionally from these people? MAY 19, 10:00PM
Theresa: We love meeting people. It's one of the great benefits of our work and we do keep in touch with a lot of people. Thank goodness for Facebook messenger and Whatsapp. We've continued to be in touch with many of the individuals we've met who were living refugee camps. In a very small number of situations, some individuals have been able to obtain asylum in EU counties and we've been able to follow their advancement. Many others we met still reside in camps languishing unfortunately.
CAKKAE In your opinion, what skills do you need to be a good documentary photographer? MAY 19, 4:56PM
Theresa: For the type of documentary work we focus on -- telling the stories of people -- one of the most important skills we have is our willingness to look strangers in the eye, smile, and start a conversation. It can also take a few days for a person to get comfortable having us around before being willing to speak, so we try to be very respectful of people's boundaries.
NOOR12 Where will you go on your next assignment? How do you choose your projects? MAY 19, 4:56PM
Theresa: We're working on logistics to document refugee camps in Greece and Turkey in July. We're continuing our work raising awareness of the Global Refugee Crisis and our portrait work of individuals and families detained in the camps. Over the years we've been focused on women's and children's issues and the alleviation of poverty. The refugee crisis is our primary focus now.
KAMAA How important is research for a documentary photographer? How is your process when you visit a new country? MAY 19, 4:45PM
Daniel: We do extensive research in the weeks and months leading up to our travel. We do all the organizing, planning and logistics for our projects so research is crucial because we often work in situations where the landscape is continually shifting. We often reach out to NGOs active on the ground in areas of interest (in recent years Haiti, Colombia, China, India, Vanuatu) to document the local situations. Partnering with NGOs gives us the ability to gain on-the-ground insight quickly and also be introduced to a wide range of people in the local community.
JOSHUABONAQUE What’s a good and affordable beginner’s camera that you can recommend? MAY 19, 3:55PM
Theresa: Most cameras today all do a fine job. If you're starting out I'd recommend learning composition with a smartphone first if possible.
JUEL RANA Do documentary photographers earn a lot? Is it a financially rewarding job? MAY 19, 12:05PM
Daniel: It's rewarding on many levels. It's also challenging on multiple levels as well. Finance is only one aspect, and we try to find the balance that makes it all work.
How long have you been married and how do you keep your relationship strong?
Theresa: Wow. Going on 22 years now. We both take a somewhat similar approach to the world (and how we want to fit in it) and I think our personal values are in sync. We both understand what's important to the other person and encourage each other to pursue our personal goals. And give each other the breathing room to do so.
Daniel: It's important to have mutual interests. It's equally important to have your own interests that you can do on your own. And schedule accordingly so you both feel it's properly balanced.
What’s it like working with your spouse? Do you always agree?
Theresa: In the beginning it took a while to get our working relationship in sync. We both had our own ideas on how we wanted to focus on different social issues -- the Global Refugee Crisis, women's and children's issues, alleviation of poverty. Our goal in working together was to bring each of our respective strengths into our work. Also we wanted to leverage each other's capabilities so that we could produce more than the output of 2 individual's work to be effective in raising awareness on issues. We don't always agree on every issue but that's healthy in a working relationship.
Daniel: I agree with the last statement about not always agreeing. As journalists, we're continually alert to the importance of presenting our work objectively. So we do carefully evaluate the images and articles we put out to ensure we're showing an accurate representation of a situation. We recognize that people's lives can be impacted either positively or negatively by our work so we continually challenge our work to ensure accuracy and objectivity.
Do you do documentary videos too, or just photos?
Daniel: We work with both photos and video and continue to explore new media to effectively tell stories and share information. We've used 360-degree video to show the poor living conditions inside refugee tents and elsewhere. We're now looking to incorporate augmented reality in our work to convey information and new perspective to readers. At the end of the day, however, we don't ever want to believe technology is necessary to take a good photo or to connect with people on a deeper level. A photo snapped on a smartphone can help change the world.
HERSPHINX As photographers, do you find you have a responsibility towards society? What would you say to encourage other photographers to advocate for other many important causes out there? MAY 19, 6:56AM
Theresa: We recognize that we are incredibly fortunate to have a voice and means to raise awareness on issues that are important to us. Photography allows advocates to speak on behalf of people without a voice, and when used well can show people with courage, beauty, dignity and grace. What we've learned is photography is a means of communication that reaches across language and cultural barriers. We're fortunate that a huge portion of our social media followers live in other countries and speak a wide range of languages and we communicate through images.