Ron Haviv is a photojournalist, producing work covering a broad spectrum of international conflict. He is the author of several photographic collections and the recipient of a number of awards. Haviv is also a co-founder of VII Photo Agency, which is dedicated to documenting change, conflict, and development of individuals, cultures and societies worldwide. He also lectures at universities, conducts workshops worldwide, and has appeared on a number of television news shows.
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My short bio: I’m an Emmy nominated, award-winning photojournalist and co-founder of VII Photo Agency, dedicated to documenting conflict and raising awareness about human rights issues around the globe.
Thanks guys for the questions.
If anyone is LA this weekend please come to the VII Evolution tour.http://training.abelcine.com/vii-evolution-tour-los-angeles/
I have 1 slot left for Berlin next week and will be teaching in Maine and Bali this summer.
With stories in the media coming and going at near light speed, what's a little known issue that should be getting more attention?
Even though, it is discussed, I don't think people understand what is happening regarding water. Many of today's conflicts have their roots in people concerned about water rights. There are obvious environmental issues but we will move away from conflicts about energy to those about water. The Darfur conflict in Sudan and even to some degree Israel/Palestine have water issues.
Hi Ron, what are some advice you will give to aspiring photojournalist who are looking to make a difference in this world? I understand that patience, commitment and ethics are extremely important because of the possible impact you can make through whatever you are trying to do.
The best advice I can give is to learn how to think outside the normal box. Create your projects in a smart way to reach an audience and you will be rewarded.
Thank you so much for doing this AMA. I am a huge fan of your work. As a person from the Balkans, I also want to thank you for shining light on the prison camps.
Now to my questions (answer any or all!):
-What made you want to go into combat photography?
-How did you manage to get this photo of Arkan’s Tigers? Did he ask for a portrait or did you ask him for one?
-How did you feel that your photos of the Yugoslavian prison camps actually became evidence and aided in the detainment of war criminals by the ICC?
-If you could have any other job besides being a photographer, what would you do?
Thank you so much again. I wish you best of luck with VII and look forward to seeing more of your work! I hope to produce photography like yours one day!
My desire wasn't to become a combat or war photographer. But I realized that awareness was needed from places at conflict. In addition, I consider it a privilege to witness history first hand and then to be able to show people my interpretation. Much of the time these events come from conflict.
I was lucky enough to be traveling with the amazing and charming French photographer Alexandra Boulat. She was beautiful and when we asked Arkan for a portrait, he created that scene.
I always want my work to have impact. When the ICTY used the images it was fine for me.
I can't imagine another way to live other than the life of a photographer.
I've heard a story about you hiding the film with this image on it in a bag of cookies... Any truth to that?
This film was hidden but no in a box of cookies. My colleagues are were robbed at gunpoint in Albania during the Kosovo war. It was then I managed to toss my film in a box of cookies and they let me take them. (I told them I was hungry)
The image you refer to, was saved when I caused a diversion by arguing with a warlord over the film in my camera. He wanted to process the film and I said I would process and show it to him because his lab was terrible. We argued over film labs until he took the film in my camera and forgot to search the car for hidden film...
Hi Ron, I almost had the chance of making your Berlin workshop, but alas work prevailed! I know there's no shortcuts, but what pathway/key steps would you recommend someone starting out as a documentary photographer take to get represented by an agency etc. i.e. to become a paid/professional documentary photographer?
Sorry to miss you in Berlin, but try come to Maine or Bali...
Your question is complicated but the most important is easy.
See in a unique way and choose stories that are important to you and that people are not paying attention to. That will be the basis of moving forward.
As for the rest come to a workshop and I'll talk to you step by step...
Not sure if you saw my reply as it seems to have disappeared.
Your question is complicated with a number of answers.
But the most important one is easy to explain. You need to see in a unique way and create projects that can reach an audience. If your visual voice and stories are strong the rest will come.
But the business of photography is just that-a business. Most photographers don't treat it as such.
If you get a chance come and take one of my workshops where we discuss both the photography and what you need to do behind the scenes to succeed.
Best of luck!
Hey Ron, I'm sure you occasionally have to photograph assignments that aren't very interesting or visual. How do you stay focussed and still make quality images in those situations? Also, do you have a favorite photo that never got published?
The beauty of photography is that there can be amazing images from anywhere. Even if you're photographing an office, there should be a great photograph. Open your mind and think visually at all times.
Sadly I have my "favorite" images that haven't been seen yet. I will keep trying...
How many scarves do you own? One for everyday of the week? Also, is Ash Gilbertson's hair ever a source of inspiration?
Good questions. Haven't counted the scarves but can give you a 100 reasons why they are helpful to have.
Everything about Ashley is inspiring...
What is the biggest political issue from when you first started in journalism that you feel never got resolved?
Hi guys, Great to be here!
The issues that we face today are rooted in the past. When I started photographing, it was the face of nationalism that was taking hold. The world began to feel those effects and now it has morphed into including religion. A very bad combination.
Do you have a short list of some young up-and-coming photographers that I should be keeping an eye on?
There are a number of great photographers to look out for. Please go to http://viiphoto.com/photographers/?viewby=photo where you can see some of the photographers from around the world that VII is mentoring. You can also go to the World Press Master Class http://www.worldpressphoto.org/academy/joop-swart-masterclass to see more great photographers.
Hi Ron! Writing to you as I sit in as a grad at the University
of the Arts graduation! As a graduate of the photo program I cant tell you how much I appreciate and admire your work and all that you've contributed to the field of photojournalism. Any words of wisdom for a recent grad?
Thank you. As I said earlier, your visual voice and thinking outside the box is the way forward. We have an opportunity today to reach more people than ever before. While this is hard to do it is possible and will be very rewarding. Best of luck.
Hi Ron, thanks for the AMA. What is the most dangerous situation you have found yourself in while working?
It's hard to compare danger, but it exists and it is there more and more. Today, everyone understands the power of the image. Many people want to control it and that causes issues for us. Be careful out there.
I love your work, and am so impressed by both your outlook and the world-changing nature of your work in Bosnia and Panama and. I even bought one of your prints in the last VII flash sale, and hope to add to it in the future.
Editing and sequencing my photo projects is always the hardest part. It seems as opaque as alchemy and feels like torture. I know there’s an emotional impact when shooting that I try to reduce by waiting as long as I can before editing, but when I show my work to non-photographer friends, I find there’s a gulf between what I think works, and what they gravitate to. I do give more weight to the opinion of my few photographer friends, but when there’s a lack of consensus I lose confidence in my choices.
Is editing/sequencing something that can be taught, or is it possible I’ll improve just by doing? Are there photographers or projects you would recommend for inspiration?
To edit one's own work is one of the greatest challenges. You are not alone. Part of it will just take time and part of it will be studying and working with others. Workshops can be helpful where you are in an intense environment with others and can learn from that.
What has been your greatest regret while working, a missed opportunity perhaps?
So many missed opportunities. The biggest lesson, and a mistake that I still make, is that I should just go. Stop overthinking and when the story is there and right for you, that is the time to go.
Hi Ron! So generous of you to field questions here. I's struggling photographer in Canada and have reached the limit of what I can learn here. I'm apply for the Eddie Adams workshop, but have reached a mental block on what work to show. Can you offer any suggestions on constructing a compelling portfolio submission?
I think Eddie Adams and other workshops can be great for making a breakthrough when you hit a wall. Personally I think a submission should be about the way that you see rather than just what you did. A photographer's visual voice is the strongest thing you have.
I don't understand how global leaders don't take action on this. Simply put, life is unsustainable without water. Greed and corruption be damned, where's the common sense?
Exactly. Hopefully we as photographers can continue to remind people of what is happening and what we can do together to make the world better.
Thank you so much! To follow up this question, how do you find your projects? How do you decide which project to follow?
Are there any moments that make you wonder "should I take the picture?"
This is a business as well as a calling. So there are times when I work a story because I was assigned to do it. But my projects are ones that are interesting to me and ones I hope that I can find a unique view of.
I don't think it's right to self censor. I am in these situations as the eyes of the audience. So I try to photograph what I see in a way that makes sense visually. The times I don't take a photograph are primarily when I feel that people are performing for the camera.
What's the worst thing you saw while covering events in war?
The worst is always when someone is defenseless and is suffering. This can be from famine, a war crime or simply bad behavior. It is always troubling to see what humans can do to each other. On the other hand there are also moments of heroism and kindness that gives me hope.
Thanks so much for answering! Your work and vision continue to be an inspiration for my own photography.
Thank you!!!! I'm just starting out. Can you please recommend short-term workshops and fellowships? i.e. Learning about fixers, pitching, logistics, shooting styles, etc, ...I'm currently looking at the Foundry Workshops in Bali this summer. If anything, let me know what you would recommend for someone looking to start out and get educated.
That is exactly what I teach in my workshops and lectures. Foundry is a great experience and worthwhile to go to.
I also am doing this Sunday in Los Angeles, a half day workshop as part of the VII Evolution tour discussing those very things.
Other workshops are in Berlin:
Feel free to PM me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more specific questions.
Do you enjoy teaching and developing skills of people in your workshops? And what are some of your most memorable trips and activities you've done with the workshops?
Teaching is an important part of photojournalism. I believe it is incredibly important to make sure the next generation is ready to tell the stories that have to be told. I have had many students over the years that are now side by side with me as professionals. I am very proud to have worked with them.
Each workshop is a unique experience. My next workshop is in Berlin
and after that in Maine. http://www.mainemedia.edu/workshops/photography/photojournalism-today
Students are able to unique stories and often get them published on their way to improving their photography.
Dude, thank you for the insight.
Hello Ron. Thanks for the AMA, another balkan person here. I have recently seen a conference/presentation given by a fellow grad student/photojournalist for the Moscow Times and he has mentioned working almost 16hr days. Do the hours get better with time or notoriety?
Also, are you scared of death?
I am not looking forward to death but I do use the fear to make sure I don't do anything too stupid in the field. It's a fine line between being paralyzed with fear and being smart about it. If someone says they aren't scared in conflict I move away from that person immediately.
I've never been staff, so my hours are what it takes to do the work needed. It can be 1 hour or 24. You never know.
What camera did Gary Knight use in his Afghan Landscapes?
What are the intangibles that make a good photojournalist?
That's a good question re: Gary's camera. I think he used an X-Pan but not sure.
The intangibles are few. But I think they are: passion, dedication, being interested in the world around you and wanting to say something about it.
There are many other qualities that will differentiate you from the rest and that is what will make your work special.
Thanks so much for the AMA. I got to attend the VII Evolution Tour in DC and thought you all had a lot of great insight for us newbies breaking into the field. I just finished up a project about PTSD and its effects on the spouses with a photo essay recently featured on VICE News, and a short documentary that I think could win awards at film fests. Everyone keeps asking me "whats next?" At a time when the world of photojournalism is changing rapidly, what would your advice be for those of us trying to make a name for ourselves not for the sake of fame, but funding. The process of applying to awards/grants can sometimes seem futile when I am applying for the same contests as some of my role models. Cheers!
A great question. It's important to understand that this is also a business and you need to make money to do the next story. I think that you should absolutely continue to apply for grants because it is the ideas and voice not the reputation that means something in photography.
But you need to think outside the box with your work, build your audience and create diversified income streams with your photography. Create a business and marketing plan. This is not just going out and photographing. There are a lot more parts to the puzzle.
That being said, it is all possible and can be a great way to spend your life.
Thanks for coming to DC!
Wow. Thank you so much sir! That means more than you could ever know. I'll be looking into those points immediately!
Hope to see you somewhere...
If you were a greenhorn in his thirties looking to set out in the world, what area/country would you go to for work, stories, and issues that will be coming to the forefront?
If you want to make a living you need to take into account who else is there. If it's just for your work, choose a place that means something to you or a place where the ideas exist.
The stories of our time will continue to be the reshaping of the world from radical Islam and the response, the Russia's new attitude to water. There is much there and more just below the surface.
Thanks for answering!
How much of starting out in photojournalism is just getting out there and doing it? The prospect of jumping into the field can be daunting at times
Absolutely. But you have to take the steps. A workshop can be helpful both with your photography and the business of it. That's what I teach.
There is a lot of potential out there so keep your eyes wide open and go forward. Nothing will happen until you try.
What do you say to subjects who don't like your photographs of them?
It depends on who they are what the situation is. If they are criminals I don't care. If it's a portrait, I try to convince them the merits of the work.
If it's the truth, I say this is what happened.
What are some of your favourite photobooks?
Do you see the use of the Leica M cameras coming back to photojournalism in some way?
I think that the tools of the trade are dependent on the individual and hope it helps you see. An Iphone can be as valuable as a Leica.
The books are too many to mention but I will highlight Telex Iran from Peress, Evidence from Knight, My America from Morris and Inferno from Nachtwey as just some of the ones I love.
Do you do your photography and cinematography separately or around the same time (perhaps with the same camera)? How do you balance the two media? What do moving images + sound provide that still images can't, a vice versa?
That's a great and important question. We will be discussing that very issue this weekend in Los Angeles at the VII Evolution tour.
For me, each medium creates a specific relationship with the viewer. It is up to you, to decide how and when to use it.
What's with the hat?
I get cold easily.
i'm documentary photographer from denmark. what's you advise to how to shoot raw, visceral from subject? how to approach?
Hard to answer like this but I think its a matter of immersion/understanding and time. When you combine all 3 you can go deep into the world you want.