I shoot any kind of image that my boss tells me to: protests, sporting events, political meetings, feature stories, and more.
I have been taking photographs since I was a teenager but at first I only shot pictures of anything that didn’t move and wasn’t alive. Still pictures, no humans. It was one of my biggest challenges later on to learn to photograph the human face and figure and capture motion in a still image.
My camera became another limb while I was in high school, and there was little question that I would go on to a photography school after I graduated. Classes for me were mostly just paperwork though. Whatever I know, I learnt at the daily newspapers where I was an intern. I learnt a tremendous amount from the old-school photographers and editors who worked with me and who gave me an opportunity to go out into the field and publish any photographs that were good. I’m grateful to them to this day.
It may be sad but I don’t remember my first assignment. When I went out into the field with senior photographers it was their assignment, not mine, but sometimes I got a frame or two published as well. Those first jobs were tabloid stories, typically human-interest pieces - an old woman with her chickens in her back yard, that sort of thing.
One early breakthrough in my career came in 1998, when nobody on staff at the paper where I was interning had time to go and cover a flood in the Ukraine. I went and did the story and published a multi-page feature in my paper at the time. That was back in the era of film cameras, so I shot for several days, came back to Budapest and published the entire lot in one batch. That experience taught me to seize the opportunity and take the jobs nobody else wants.
The assignment that left the biggest mark on me was the toxic flood of red mud in the Hungarian villages of Devecser and Kolontar. Not only was I able to focus on one single story for a few days, but my coverage also gained exposure I had never achieved before. It was the first time I felt the effect a global news agency can have on a local community. Sending these images to the far corners of the globe helped humanitarian groups collect millions in donations to help the reconstruction, so the people affected could somehow restart their lives. It felt great to be a part of that chain of events.
Despite the fact, or perhaps precisely because of the fact, that I started with still photography, the biggest challenge for me was to learn to document human stories. I had to learn to engage with people on an emotional level to show more than just their outer shells. The piece might be about a family getting ready to go on a religious holiday, a woman going through plastic surgery or tourists getting drunk on a Friday night – there’s always more to the story. When I do my job right you get the feeling you know what I’m showing you.
With Reuters, you never know who your viewer will be; it might be someone in a small village in Brazil or a skyscraper in Hong Kong. My job is to tell the story as vividly as possible, get the best access that I can, and leave as few questions unanswered as possible.
My biggest lesson has been learning to save my files immediately. Never leave images on your memory card and go out on an assignment again saying “I’ll do it later” – that’s how you lose images or run out of space. In other words: respect the work you have already done and have the diligence to make sure you don’t lose it. Don’t ask me for examples…