Sunday, June 13, 2010

Zoriah Miller interview

Hello Zoriah, I would like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. We know how busy your schedule is.

1: Too start off with could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a photojournalist specializing in documenting the human side of conflict, crisis and disasters. I have been photographing on and off since I was 15 years old and have been shooting professionally for about seven years now. Before getting back into photography I was in the field of post-disaster humanitarian aid.

2: Could you tell us what a typical week is for Zoriah Miller?

That is pretty easy in that there really is no such thing as a typical week in my life. I have had periods in which I have been through seven countries a week, and other times where I might be in one location for a couple of months. The most noticeable difference in my schedule is between times when I am shooting and times when I am editing. When I am in the field shooting I am usually wake up around five in the morning and shoot for several hours as the sun is rising. Depending on the project I may shoot indoors during the harsh daylight hours. I shoot again for several more hours around sunset, transfer my images while having a bite to eat wherever I am staying and then go to sleep so I can repeat the cycle again.

During times when I am editing I usually stay up most of the night listening to music and working on the images from my last project. I sleep late, exercise about two hours every day (which keeps my body ready for the next project) and eat lots of good food. It is so wonderful to slow down and edit after an exhausting project, but it quickly gets boring and I find myself excited for the next adventure.

3: In previous posts on your blog at you had stated that you listen to “This American Life” which is hosted by Ira Glass, which is on PRI (Public Radio International out of Chicago). Can you tell us what inspirations you get from this broadcast and what your overall opinion is of it?

Ira Glass is probably the best storyteller and journalist that has ever lived. He has come up with an ingenious way of educating people and bringing news and critical social issues to light . By letting individuals tell their own stories, he has effectively brought a human face to issues that we may otherwise remain completely detached from. Every episode of his show is filled with emotion, humor, information and life. He is a perfect example of the right way to teach people, he makes things interesting, even those things that we would rather turn our backs on. It inspires me to try to do the same with my own work.

4: Can you tell us about some of your experiences in Iraq, both good and bad?

The situation in Iraq when I was there was so incredibly difficult. The death and misery was beyond measure. I learned a lot in Iraq, probably more than anywhere else I have ever worked. I learned a lot about people, both their good sides and their ugly sides. I think the most important thing I realized there was how similar all people really are to each other. We think we are so different but in reality we are all striving for the same thing, a good life for ourselves and those who are close to us.

5: What approach do you use to be able to get up and close personal photographs of your subjects? What allows them to trust you?

I think I just try to be human. Experiencing things with your subjects, showing them that you care about them and what they are going through goes a long way in gaining their trust. I often live with the people I photograph, spend my days with them, eat with them and their families, share stories and experiences together. I think the main thing they don’t want is some guy to drive by in truck and shoot a picture out the window for their assignment. Everyone has seen this kind of thing, and of course it is one way of going about journalism, but I am more interested in going beyond that and really capturing people’s lives and struggles.

6: For a person that is an aspiring photojournalist what advice would you give them?

There is probably a lot of advice that should be given to someone making this decision. I think the most important if for people to really consider the lifestyle they are choosing. It is more than just a job, it becomes your life. I think aspiring photojournalists need to also accept that it might be different than what they picture in their minds. It is hard to really imagine what it is like to do this job, even for someone with a pretty good imagination. You wont know how it affects you until you actually do it.

I also urge people to keep themselves in check. There is a lot of unhealthy behavior among photojournalists, alcoholism, drug abuse, sex addiction, lots of failed marriages and relationships, PTSD, depression etc. I think people should have a life outside of the world of journalism. It seems that those who live completely in this world, with all of their friends in the same industry, end up a bit closed-minded and jaded, but that is just my opinion and of course there are many examples that prove otherwise.

7: What we do defines us, what do you think are some of your most definitive actions in your life?

I think the fact that that I don’t steer away from controversy has had a major effect on my life. In the short term it makes life quite difficult, sometimes nearly impossible. But in the end, if you stand by what you believe in, it seems that people respect your decisions, even if they may not agree with them.

When all is said and done I would hope that my most definitive action would be my decision to help people. I hope that the photographs I take are able to educate and inspire people and that in turn benefits all humankind.

8: What kind of equipment do you use? Also what does a person need to start out as a photojournalist?

All you need to start out as a photojournalist is any device that can take a photo, including cell phone cameras, disposables and budget digital cameras. I started off my professional career with a 6-megapixel consumer camera and you can still see many images I took with it in my portfolio. People need to spend more time working on their skills as photographers and less time buying equipment. Once you start making money with your pictures, go out and buy the best gear you can afford, but until then, don’t blame your camera when your shots don’t come out good.

9: Who was your mentor growing up? Who inspired you to be who you are today?

My photographic mentors have been Chris Walton, Ami Vitale and Chadwick Tyler is now helping me with a new direction in my work. I think we should all have as many mentors as we possibly can, and be mentors to as many as we possibly can.

10: What was your first camera?

Nikon FG

11: If you were a Sports Photographer, what sports would you like to photograph?

I am not at all a fan of sports, except the more exotic ones which I like to participate in but really don’t like to watch. I enjoy skydiving, scuba diving and motorcycle racing but have never photographed any of them seriously.

12: You use a Mac or PC?

I can use both but I own Macs and recommend them to anyone and everyone.

13: Who are some of your favorite Photographers of today, and who are some of your favorite Photographers of the past?

My favorite photojournalists are Nachtwey and Salgado, for art/fashion photography I adore Merkley??? and Chadwick Tyler. I like contemporary photographers much more than those who shot in the past. Although there are some amazing photos taken over the decades, I think photographers now are much more prolific and produce much more interesting work.

14: In your opinion what would bring peace between Westerners and groups like ‘Taliban and Al Qaeda?

I think the whole “Do unto others…” way of thinking may help a lot. Generally speaking, war does not usually bring peace.

15: You have seen some amazing things in your travels, what are some of the most impressive things you have seen?

Probably the most impressive thing that I have seen and continue to see is the kindness and generosity of those who have absolutely nothing. Seeing people take care of their neighbors when they are in need is so inspiring. I think there a lot of important lessons that have been lost in western culture.

16: You have seen some horrible things in your travels as well, what are some of the things you have seen?

Death, violence, anger, revenge, hate. I think watching people starve or people stuck in impossible situations is the worst. There are so many horrible situations that in my opinion are worse than just going in and killing people, hunger and lack of medical care being the worst and most unacceptable in my book.

17: Once you arrive in a country what is the most common way your travel?

Once again, it is different with each project. Mainly, once I am actually where I need to be, I just walk. I think being on your feet and just walking around for hours is the best possible approach to photography. You miss things in vehicles and they separate you from your subjects, both of which are counterintuitive to taking good photographs.

18: Do you stay in hostels, or do you stay with locals?

I often stay with locals, in refugee camps and for the past two years have been very active with the project, which I cant recommend enough. Of course I do stay in hostels and guesthouses too, but usually the more local ones not the tourist spots.

19: When you wake up in the morning what motivates you to keep being Zoriah the ‘Photojournalist’?

I have tried being Herman, Melvin and Oliver but none of their clothes fit so I usually just end up being myself. I am half kidding there, but the other half would like to point out that I really don’t know how to be anyone else. I think my motivations are capturing images that change and effect people. I want to produce art that makes people aware and hopefully inspires them to be better people, this is my biggest motivation.

20: Are you a five-year planner type person? If so where do you see yourself in five years? Or are you the fly by the seat of your pants type of person?

I am more of a five-minute planner type person…on a good day. I think it is important to have goals, but also to realize that things change, we change and things change us. It is good to be flexible and follows ones heart, wherever it may point that particular day, week, month, year etc.

At the moment my goal is to continue my photojournalism, but merge it more with art, fashion etc in order to make it more interesting and accessible. I have always thought of my work as more art than journalism, and I want to continue in that direction and explore new ideas. When all is said and done I hope that I have left something behind that is truly unique.

21: We know that you dignify yourself with showing the truth with your photos, what made you decide to be different and not like everyone else?

I think most photojournalists goals are to show the truth, at least they should be. For me it was more a matter of showing what was important to me instead of what was important to a publication which exists as a commercial enterprise. Usually what I find in the field is far more interesting than anything I could have thought of on my own, so I try to just go and document what exists, not my preconceived ideas.

22: What are some of your favourite publications that you like to read? (Online or magazines)

I don’t read any print publications regularly. I look through the pictures when I am on an airplane and that’s about it. Online I explore lots of different sites and like to just explore all things new and interesting. I will usually have a favorite for a month or so and then find something else I like. During the last year I have really enjoyed visiting the PhotoPhilanthropy site. They have done such a good job and it seems like every month they are expanding their boundaries and doing new and amazing things. I recommend that anyone who has not yet visited the site go and spend a couple of hours exploring it.

23: If you had to do it all over again would you change anything?


24: What are your top 5 photographs that you like? (Doesn’t have to be your own photographs)

I would have a hard time choosing five photos. If you take a look at the photographers I mentioned about, you will find at least five from each of them that I truly adore.

25: What are some of the most difficult photos you have had to take? (Emotionally or physically difficult)

Photographing people who have just lost loved ones is always very difficult, as is photographing people who are dying. Physically every project has difficult physical aspects to it, from trekking into remote regions to navigating rubble and dangerous areas.

26: What do you have planned for your near future?

I am teaching several workshops in the fall and have a few projects of my own that I am working on. There is never a lack of work or ideas for new projects, so I will just continue to follow my heart.

27: Why are you a Humanitarian Photographer? Besides making a living at it, why do you do it?

Well I sure don’t do it for the money! I think I would probably make more working at McDonalds than I do doing this, if you look at how much time I put into it and how much money goes into plane tickets, equipment etc.

I do it because I believe that it makes a difference. I believe that the people I shoot know that I am there to tell their stories and to help them, and they find comfort in that. I also think that people are affected by the images. I get a lot of emails and positive feedback that people are affected by what they see…this keeps me going.

28: Have been met with so many obstacles that you feel like giving up?

Yeah, sometimes daily actually. In the end though it seems like too much work to give up, then I would have to do a bunch of interviews talking about why I quit. For now it is easier to just keep going. Ha!

29: What is the most disgusting thing you have ever had to eat?

Oh, I think people are most grossed out about the partially formed duck fetuses they have in Asia. Sometimes I can eat them with without problems but the last time I tried I gagged and threw it in the street.

30: Where is your favorite place to eat?

Well, they just went out of business a couple of months ago, but Doyers in NYC was always my favorite place. I was lucky and ended up there on their last night in business and took a bunch of photos of the owners and everyone that worked there. It was like home for me, even when I went away for two years straight once they had my table for me when I came back and remembered my order.

I also like Rice a lot in NYC. They have some of the most unique, delicious and healthy dishes I have found anywhere.

I would like thank Zoriah for taking the time to do this interview, and I wish him all of the best for his future endeavours. To read more about Zoriah goto

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