Compassion is My Superpower

I am an empathetic person. I cry during movies.  You might even see me shed a tear when a commercial pulls at my heart strings. I feel things deeply, and there's nothing I can do about it.

My empathy turned into a problem when I was a graduate student. I was told that I wasn’t tough enough to be to be a photojournalist. I’ve been shooting for fourteen years (albeit I prefer documentary photographer to photojournalist). My compassion allows me to connect with people around the world and to tell their stories.

Sometimes my compassion and intuition tell me to put the camera down.  I can feel if my subjects are uncomfortable and I am duty bound to do what is best for them. Sometimes I choose to put the camera down so I can share experiences over a cup of tea. There have certainly been a few lost photographic opportunities. But I'd choose human connection over a spectacular photo any day. And I appreciate a spectacular photo.

I spent the last few years working exclusively with nonprofit organizations. It’s a magnificent way to see the world. But there are heartbreaking moments in between. I have come to discover that my job is not just to show up with my camera. My job is to capture reality and stay within the bounds of human dignity. My job is building a story that does not reduce my subjects to one-dimensional sad victims of life. My job is to use the human connection to dig deeper into the narrative.

My method requires time. It requires cultural understanding, curiosity and being open to where the story leads me. My life is surprisingly similar to the people I meet. No matter what their life story. We are all just people living our lives. 

Even the most vulnerable people that I photograph seek understanding. They have the capacity to improve their lives, they simply lack resources. I believe that compassionate storytelling holds the key to connecting vulnerable people with those resources. I hope my stories will inspire others to act with humanity, kindness, and purpose.

I look at the world, and I realize that I lucky enough to win the genetic lottery. I get live where meals are plentiful, health care is available, and I go to sleep at night feeling secure. I’d like to think that it is because of my hard work. But I was born a leg up in the world. So I try to take all that I was given and give back in some small way. So I tell stories. I meet people. I strive to understand the world beyond my own reality. But most of all, I try to have compassion and empathy for all the things I can't possible understand. 

My empathetic connection with humanity isn’t a weakness. It’s a superpower.