I am on assignment now and am traveling in India; today I am in Ladakh. People often ask me how I get started on an assignment.
Most of my photographic projects now involve places I’ve already been to and experienced. With the monsoon in India, I had already been experiencing it, actually living it, for two or three years.
I did a story recently on the Bamiyan region in Afghanistan, the home of the Hazara people, a people who came to Afghanistan perhaps a thousand years ago. They are a very peaceful, long-suffering tribe, who somehow end up on the short end of the stick. They are more mistreated than the Kurds and do all of the menial jobs. The giant Buddhas they had protected for centuries were destroyed by the Taliban, and hundreds of Hazara villages were burned and the people were murdered. I’d already spent years observing them and living among them.
So, as far as research goes, I want to arrive at a place with a pretty good idea of what I’m going to do. But there’s no point, really, in spending time trying to come up with a lot of pre-conceived ideas because you will always end up being disappointed. I usually get to a place and immerse myself in the situation and then go from there. Since I’ve been so many places I have a long list of situations and places and people that I would love to photograph.
Since I’ve always been interested in photographing Afghanistan, South Asia, Tibet and Buddhist countries, it’s a continuum rather than an assignment. I might get an assignment, but it’s really adding to my body of work.
While focusing on the assignment, it’s important to understand the big picture and how it will contribute to your personal archive.