Georgina Goodwin is an independent documentary photographer and Canon Ambassador based in Nairobi. Specializing in social issues, women and environment she works regularly for Agence France-Presse AFP and United Nations Agency for Refugees UNHCR, contributes to Getty Images and Everyday Climate Change and is a member of Women Photograph, a unique global collection of women visual story-tellers, and African Photojournalism Database, a collaboration of World Press Photo and Everyday Africa. Georgina’s work on refugee children in Tanzania is a finalist series at Siena Photo Awards, her personal work documenting cancer in Africa was nominated for the Prix Pictet 2015 Award for Sustainability and Photography. Both her coverage of Westgate Terror Attack which won Kenyan News Photographer of the Year 2014, and her coverage of the 2007/8 Kenyan post-election violence which was shortlisted for Prix-Bayeux Award 2008 have been widely published.
Georgina’s work has been published by NY Times, Newsweek, Elle Mag, FT, Vogue Italia, BBC, CNN, AFP, Reuters, UN, World Bank and many others, and has been shown in Times Square NYC, Tokyo Japan, The Louvre Paris, San Francisco Public Library, and by Magnum Foundation and #Dysturb at Look3 in Charlottesville, USA. Georgina is a Canon Trainer teaching storytelling workshops around Africa, she also teaches photojournalism workshops for Aga Khan University in Nairobi. She is also one of 19 finalists at TEDx Nairobi 2017 and a speaker at TEDx KakumaCamp June 2018, the first TED talks ever to be held in a refugee camp.
RK : First of all, thank you for accepting our invitation for an interview as our Guest Photographer. Let's jump into the past. What first attracted you to photography? Out of all photography genres, why did you choose Photojournalism?
Georgina Goodwin : I used to manage a camp in Kenya’s Masai Mara, the owner is a very close friend of mine and a keen amateur photographer. He encouraged me to get a digital camera and arranged me to get one through a client from Hong Kong. I photographed everything I could at that time, reading a collection of second-hand photography books in my spare moments while running the camp. One guest that stayed is a well-known international conservation oil artist, he told me “if you have a clear idea of what you want who you want to be then do everything in line with that to make it happen. If you want to be a photographer, tell people you are one”. Documentary photography wasn’t something I consciously chose to do, it happened quite naturally for me given my passion for the stories, people and environment on our beloved continent of Africa. The diversity of subject matter, travel, complexity, depth are all challenges for me which I love. Some photographers create images by designing what’s in the frame – sets, models, lighting. For me I love the challenge of not changing a single thing and working hard to capture what is happening in front of my lens. Photography is the way I see and feel the world, for me it’s a way to experience people lives so that I can feel what they’re feeling. The moments are endless, and the challenge to capture them authentically and beautifully is always there. I want to capture what’s out there and sharing it with others around the world in a way that is honest and true to what I’ve seen and experienced. That is photojournalism for me.
RK : What do you think is the primary objective of a photojournalist.
Georgina Goodwin : For me the primary objective of a photojournalist is to use photography and journalism to document the world around us - whether that is a particular event, a story, daily life - in an authentic and non-biased manner. For me being a photojournalist is not only about a duty to inform the world but it provides a form of accountability and adds content to history.
RK : How did photography play the pivotal role in documenting these aspects and show them to mainstream public?
Georgina Goodwin : For me photography plays a vital role in our world because of the way we can show to millions of people at one time what is happening right now, and we can do it immediately. Photography is a way not only where we can record history moment by moment as it unfolds but it brings accountability to the actions of those causing atrocities, destruction and pain.
RK : The images you’ve made are consistently engaging, both in compositional style and through the sheer intimacy you portray. Talk briefly about your photographic goals in Kenya, what do you want your viewers to take away from your pictures?
Georgina Goodwin : I take my role as a photographer and photojournalist very seriously, I really want to be able to share the work and stories that I cover in a way that allows people to learn something they might not already have known about other peoples’ lives, about animals, and about the environment. Through my work I want to engage people to understand a little more about what’s out there, to be more interested in the world and to give them an opportunity to see more, to feel more and possibly even to care more, in the hope that ultimately they might make changes in their lives that help others, the planet as a whole event if that be just simply being more open or more tolerant.
RK : Let’s talk about your story ‘Through Dust & War’ where you have photographed the women and girls in Somalia, who have been suffering Civil war for more than two decades, in spite of that, they have been trying their best to keep their families alive. Tell us more about the story here, and about the challenges in photographing such an emotionally charged story.
Georgina Goodwin : Photographing in Somalia there is always the added known and unknown security risks which make assignments more difficult and more expensive, which in turn often means less time on the ground to shoot. You must be incredibly aware at all times and be ready to move to leave that location within a minute. Working in Somalia as a woman I must have my head covered, I wear long light cotton robes to adhere to stricter dress codes but of course It’s not as easy as trousers to work in! Apart from thank you and hello I do not speak the Somali language. Arranging and working alongside a translator, one that you can trust to give me correct direct translations and to help bridge the culture gap, is important.
Somalia is one of the world’s most impoverished nations. Civil war has raged in the country for more than two decades, and climate change has, in recent years, brought increasing drought and food insecurity to the region. More than 2 million Somalis are currently displaced, 1.5 million of which are internally displaced, as a result of drought and conflict, the rest are in refugee camps in surrounding countries. Extreme environmental degradation, a burgeoning young population, political instability and extreme drought have had profound negative impacts on the Somali people, and it is the women and girls who bear the heaviest burden. For this story I visited Dollow in Somalia’s Jubaland a region that was undergoing severe drought with around 41,000 displaced people. I wanted to document the women and girls lives have become increasingly harder due to conflict and drought, and yet they continue to do their best to keep their families alive.
Being a woman I felt helped me to connect with the women and girls. They shared how they have to walk longer distances to fetch water, either carrying the heavy Jerri cans on their backs or on the backs of weak donkeys, in some areas they walk for eight to ten hours to the closest water source leaving early morning and getting back at night to collect water points leaving them exposed to gender-based violence along the route. They told me how water scarcity also compromises hygiene especially for girls and women as the little water available is prioritized for drinking and cooking. As primary caregivers to their children, siblings and other family members that fall ill each year from water-related illnesses such as cholera, women and girls are less able to work or go to school.
Often their men have migrated away with the livestock in search of pasture and water, leaving women behind with all family responsibilities and very little in terms of resources such as livestock. Livestock deaths and poor livestock conditions mean less milk for children. Skipping meals and reducing portion sizes have become coping strategies. Those who get one meal a day are lucky and that often lacks any nutritional value. I hope that this story brings some awareness to how incredibly hard life for Somalia’s women and girls has become as a result of years of conflict and drought. We must not dismiss or forget them but do our best to find a way to address the challenges they face.
RK : Being an African storyteller, you have witnessed not only to violence and conflict, but also to surreal beauty and the enduring power of the human spirit.. Have you ever gotten emotionally involved during an assignment?
Georgina Goodwin : I am emotionally involved every time I’m on an assignment, every time I carry my camera. Not being emotionally involved in what I’m shooting would mean for me that I wasn’t caring, that I was just shooting for the sake of shooting. That’s when I would know to give up this job! One must be emotionally involved but as a professional and as a photojournalist you must not let your emotions affect how you photograph in order to give the best chance of documenting things accurately and fairly. if I have a point to make, a particular angle I want to share then I would shoot with that in mind but very necessary is to make this clear to my audience, but clearly, true photojournalism does not have an agenda, it does it’s best to be impartial and simple document facts.
RK : When you are working on your projects such as ‘Kenya Crisis 2007/08’, ‘Between Hope & Hell: Africa's Refugee Crisis’, ‘Through Dust & War’, was there ever a time that you felt the need to stop being a photographer and be a human first and make genuine connections with the people you are photographing?
Georgina Goodwin : Documenting all stories especially those with gravity such as famine, conflict and refugees, being human must come first before being a photographer. Being human first allows me to feel, to have emotions, and connect to the situation and people I’m documenting. It is through feeling and emotions that I can access that place of humanity. Photographing from that place is how to capture authentic images where reality and emotion are found. I remember photographing during post-election violence outside Masaba Hospital when 3 young people were brought by their families, they had been shot by police and were lying motionless in the back of.a pickup. This is absolutely one of those moments when I had to put my camera down, to feel the weight of the moment, to feel how my country was falling apart in front of my eyes, to feel the absolute pain and anguish the families were feeling. It was ultimately just as important however that that moment was documented, for history’s sake and to have evidence and make those accountable for their actions, so then I picked up my camera and made sure I did my best to photograph the moment with integrity, with duty.
RK : How close you seem to your subjects? What are the challenges of gaining the trust of the people and groups you photographed? How do you come to be accepted ?
Georgina Goodwin : A lot of the work that I do is with organisations that have been ‘on the ground’ for months if not years, and the people I am photographing have benefited from the project. This does mean they are more willing to be photographed and interviewed. There are times however, in particular for new stories, when no ground work has already been done, and these are the times when finely tuned techniques are most helpful!
Approaching with honesty and integrity, being very relaxed, smiling, being very nice, having my camera showing at all times so there are no surprises for anyone that I have a camera and will then want some to take some photos later. I make it very clear who I ‘m working for, why I’m interested in their story, that the story and their photograph will be used to share their experiences with others so that they can learn and see how life is in other parts of the world. Wherever I can I speak as much of the local languages as I can, I make an effort to learn hello, goodbye and thank you in the local language and to understand basic customs and respect. I always have my shoulders and legs covered even its 40 deg C. In muslim countries I wear my own Arabic dresses especially made for these locations which reach down to my ankles and wrists with head scarves. It takes a lot to be trusted and accepted – behaving well, to the customs, being patient and honest are key to giving you the best chance.
There are two sides to every story. Tell us some of the more difficult things you have to deal with in your line of work that we might not see from the images you take?
Georgina Goodwin : Getting to some of the places I’ve photographed is extraordinarily difficult. From a photograph it is not possible to know that it might have taken me hours sometimes days of travel to reach that remote location, sometimes in conflict zones with convoys of security and sometimes with very little security. Being a woman is quite often useful because it allows me to access private and intimate spaces where women need to feel safe but on the other hand, security is often an issue, carrying a camera and in many countries and situations the women and men spend much of their time living very separately so documenting amongst men can be difficult and stressful.
Documenting the lives of people who have very little, documenting events where people have lost their lives – both of these situations present a space where I have to be expressly ethically in my approach. To obtain permission to photograph at these difficult times is paramount - either by asking with my eyes, hand gestures or actually asking verbally - but how to balance this when a grieving family member may not want a photograph taken? I believe my duty is to document and have evidence of atrocities and crimes committed so it is of utmost importance that I document these situations however difficult. For example during post-election violence and after Westgate terror attack, photographing the bodies of those who have lost their lives.
RK : You have received awards from almost every high profile contest including Siena Photo Awards, International Photo awards and many more. Also your work has been published by NY Times, BBC, CNN, AFP, Reuters, UN, World Bank and many others. What do these mean to you? In your opinion, What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice ?
Georgina Goodwin : Receiving awards and having my work published by high profile publications and organisations is important because it allows my work to be seen by a large number of people. That means the stories that I’ve covered, the people I’ve met, their voices are being heard, and the world is able to see and possibly something that perhaps they did not know beforehand. Getting my name ‘out there’ increases the opportunity of actually getting work which of course is income to live and continue documenting and working on the stories that I feel are important.
Key to developing your photographic voice is to have passion, Having one’s work seen by experienced professionals in the photography world is important, to see how your voice is developing, to keep ‘checking in’ and see how your work and your voice is being received.
RK : What advice do you have for the next generation of photojournalists trying to establish their vision and craft?
Georgina Goodwin : Photography is a very rewarding but also very unforgiving career. I’m one of the lucky people on the planet whose way of earning a living is also their passion. This passion is actually critically important to have because without this passion it would be hard to keep the motivation, inspiration and drive going that is needed to actually be able to earn enough money to live off! It’s certainly not an easy job. As a photographer and photojournalism these days, in order to become known in the industry, to get the jobs coming in, one cannot afford to stop working, pushing, hustling for a minute. If you don’t have this drive the industry continues on regardless and you will get left behind with many clients just hiring the next photographer. I’ve spent 12 years pretty much non-stop working hard to get my name out there, and still big magazines, companies and global news agencies hire the American photographers who live in Nairobi! It’s hard graft, the constant effort to be seen and be relevant in the industry is a challenge but it’s also exhausting.
Recently I got married and we are starting a family, it is not an easy career as it is, even without having to plan life with a family. Throughout my career I have been mostly photographing for other people’s agendas. I now will be slowing down, re-connecting myself with what’s important to me in life and using that new-found strength to find stories that resonate the most, and go deeper into these.
RK : Apart from Documentary photography, you have also covered wildlife of Africa. How do you think Photography can change People’s attitude towards few endangered species / Wildlife?
Georgina Goodwin : Sight is our most powerful sense, and our society is becoming more and more visual. We consume millions of images a day, it plays a vital role allowing us to connect to places and experiences that we would otherwise not have a chance to access. With wildlife photography people get to see and experience the wonders of nature, of animals, I believe it is a huge opportunity where we can have a chance to understand more about what is happening to our natural world, how our planet is under threat because of our actions whether unintentional or deliberate. We get a chance to feel and to care about these things, and even to make that step to change our lifestyle, to donate, to support, to do something to change critical situations for the better. The more we can share images and stories from the natural world, the more people have a chance to see how amazing it is and to care to do something to save it.
RK : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundary can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.
Georgina Goodwin : The idea Retro Kolkata has to build one single stage for all artists provides one unique place celebrating the diversity and beauty of creativity. Creating is a place of harmony and beauty, when we create we are not destroying. It is a place we humans need to spend much more time in. Here we have a chance to connect with our world, to connect with other people, and when we connect we can begin to feel outside of ourselves, to better understand and create for ourselves a better world. I encourage all of us to support Retro Kolkata’s artists platform, as it is a way we can help each other, through the art of creating, through artists.