I do a mixture of daily life pieces, medical features, stories about animals, religion, minorities and the LBGT community.
My first memory of photography is having my picture taken in kindergarten when I was three years old for a Mother’s Day card. Because my surname begins with ‘A’ I was one of the first kids to go up, and I didn’t know what was about to happen. I still remember today how terrified I was and you can really see it when you look at the picture.
Even as a kid I really enjoyed taking pictures, but I didn’t receive any formal training in photography before I moved to the United States. I didn’t speak any English at the time, which was very frustrating, so I took a photo class at a local college just to find another way to communicate. I’ve used the “language” of photos ever since.
My first assignment started out as a task to get extra credit for a journalism writing class that I took after studying photography for three years. Our teacher sent us to cover the Olympic torch being carried through San Francisco as Tibetan protestors tried to block it. I managed to get some images that seemed reasonable and I had the urge to share the story so without any real expectations I got in touch with a Czech magazine I had always liked and offered them the material. The next day not one but two Czech magazines were both asking for an article and photo reportage from the event.
Going to cover the Occupy movement in Oakland, California, left a big mark on me. I went to shoot the story for Reuters on May Day and I realised that this kind of photojournalism is not for me. I had to admit to myself that documenting raging conflict, vandalism and clashes between people or groups is not what I’m built for. I think it’s important to know what we are good at as much as what we aren’t.
My passion is intimate long-term stories and reportage that I can cover in depth over an extended period of time. I also love portraiture and enjoy coming up with new concepts of how to shoot an individual’s picture.
There isn’t always a specific group of people or particular audience that I am trying to target with my work. In general I hope the images I produce will make someone stop for a moment and want to look harder. I want to move people in some way.
I learnt my biggest lesson as a photojournalist while taking a summer vacation from school to go work abroad in Nepal and Bangladesh. I decided to try out the job I had been learning theoretically, and do it in real life on a continent I had never visited before. I learnt not one but many lessons that summer. It was the best ‘school’ I ever went to.
I respect people who respect themselves regardless of what others say. One example is a teenage transvestite I photographed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He lives in a very homophobic country and his life could be in danger in certain circumstances. Still, he goes out onto the streets every day with pride dressed as a woman. He owns who he is. People stare at him, laugh at him, some are noticeably shocked and some make insulting remarks. He doesn't care. That is something I believe deserves huge respect.