I recently spent just under two weeks in The Philippines and part of my work while there was showing two wonderful young men how to interview people as part of the story making process for the INGO I am currently working with. These interviews were emotional as they often involved recounting events during and following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda which swept the area in 2013 destroying lives and homes. Talking to others about how we interview gave me time to reflect on my own practice. Here are some of my thoughts jotted down in my journal during the two weeks
1) We are human first and interviewers/photographers/videographers second. Yes, someone crying to camera makes for a powerful video. Yes, someone recounting something traumatic makes for good footage. Yes, the glint of tears in the eyes will make a moving photograph. But we should never forget what it feels like to be on the other side of the camera/dictaphone. Twice we paused interviews to comfort someone or to simply allow them to gather their thoughts. I did not regret this either time. Maybe the content we captured might have been stronger if we had carried on filming but I know we would have poorer as people for forgetting the humanity and dignity of the person we were interviewing. We should always remember to be human.
2) When we listen to someone’s story we are given the honour of carrying that story and sharing it appropriately. I am reminded time and time again that a story is a precious commodity. I rarely share mine with people, and sharing the ‘painful bits’ is reserved for friends I trust most. Therefore to sit and listen to people talking about some of the most difficult days in their life should always be treated with utmost respect.
3) As human beings we can often search for the differences between us to define and create the story. What is amazing to me is that we share more that unites us than things that divide us. We met one young woman who spoke to us about the last two years of her life. Typhoon Yolanda took her home but what broke her heart was her husband leaving her. The biggest crisis in her life was not the damage caused by an event that we find hard to comprehend here in typhoon-free Britain but was instead the all too familiar tale of betrayal and abandonment. It would have been easy for us to assume that every tear shed in this part of The Philippines relates to disaster wrought by the changing climate but in actual fact most of the daily issues in people’s lives are not so different to those experienced all over the world.
4) Poverty compounds problems. With everything said above I yet again saw that poverty becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. In this case sometimes that poverty was cruelly brought on by a disaster beyond anyone’s control.
5) I love meeting people and sharing time with them. This is something I know already but it is always good to be reminded. The part of my job I thrive on is not the photography itself. Rather it is the time I get to listen to people’s stories. I am never happier than when sat with someone and hearing about their life. This trip to The Philippines reminded me of that and reignited my enthusiasm for what I do and for the need for good storytelling.