over the course of the past several years my passion for and belief in the power of photography has taken me throughout eastern and western europe, twice to africa where i worked with an anti-trafficking organization and most recently to the middle east where i was privileged to work with the syrian american medical society, msf/doctors without borders and the international committee for the red cross.
in april of 2016, i traveled to jordan and iraq to do what i saw, and continue to see, as my responsibility as a photographer and a journalist: to humanize and further understanding — by putting names, faces and stories — of what is all too often referred to as an enormous, though anonymous, “refugee population.”
following time in jordan and compelled by the desire to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the issue(s) within the region i then traveled to iraq to work with doctors without borders documenting their work with IDPs (internally displaced persons) near the border with syria.
this past summer was spent putting together exhibitions, speaking about my experiences at local universities and community groups and shooting enough weddings to fund my most recent travels to lebanon and spain.
in mid-october i traveled to beirut to work with a pittsburgh-based refugee resettlement group. i opted to remain in lebanon for an additional month in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the country itself as well as the lives of those displaced within the country. a job with the ICRC kept me in beirut for much of that month before a last-minute opportunity to attend a conflict photography workshop in southern spain presented itself. i quickly jumped on what i saw as an opportunity to learn and train with some of the best in the field.
we live in a world where the protections that once existed for journalists have not only disappeared but where an alarming number are now being targeted specifically because of their profession. thus, the importance of training, research and knowledge cannot be understated. though CPW makes no claims to “qualify” someone to work in a war zone it is my belief that after the week one would know, rather definitively, that they wanted nothing to do with this type of work OR they will leave with the skillset, the knowledge and the confidence to do the job both effectively and safely.
the week in andalusia was an incredible 7 days of training, simulations and mental and physical challenges; as we were all pushed past the brink of what we had previously thought ourselves mentally and physically capable of, i found myself deriving great pleasure in the obstacles, the fatigue and the danger. it was not only, but especially, in the moments of most duress, where i felt most alive and in tune with who i am as individual and as photographer. in many ways it was confirmation of what i already knew about myself as well as confirmation of what i had once only thought i knew about myself.
if you desire to find adventure and rich, potentially life-changing experiences and encounters i would suggest following your instincts instead of your plans. for me, that has often, but not always, taken the shape of travel. whether travel or otherwise life is about challenging the soul, opening the mind and stretching your boundaries. it is about pursuing a life of meaning and searching for the experience of being alive.
i stepped back into pittsburgh a more learned, experienced person. for me, the real “test” will be what i am able to do with the knowledge and skill sets acquired in 2017 and beyond. what shape that will take is still very much to be determined. in the immediate future i will be working on a series of personal projects while in pittsburgh, waiting to hear back on several grants and, as always, looking ahead to seize future opportunities.
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