Being a photographer means moving around in all layers of the society. You get to photograph the rich and the poor; you get to photograph the leaders and people at the other end of the ladder; you get to photograph those who are happy and those who are struggling to survive. For me it’s one of the huge attraction about being a photographer. Besides actually photographing, of course.
After having seen and photographed both the bright and dark sides of human life, you learn to appreciate whatever you experience of happy and good moments yourself—and I believe you start to see the world around you with more humility. Life is not one of the other, not for anyone. Some struggle more than others, and for some life comes easier than for others. There is no telling who will end up where—even when you are born on a bed roses.
Last week I got to photograph both extremes. First, I was fortunate enough to photograph the wedding of a lovely couple. A wedding is one of the happiest and most beautiful events in anyone’s life and for a photographer to be able to photograph this blissful moment in someone’s life is a gift and a blessing.
Some days later, I did a story about a horrible drug scene that has developed over time close to a rehabilitation centre. It was a place of sadness and misery. While I was interviewing and photographing some of the drug addicts, others were shooting up around me, some not being able to set the needle properly. Blood was flowing from a multitude of wounds. Just a few meters or yards away was a young guy completely passed out, laying across a staircase under a bridge. By the end of my visit, an ambulance arrived, this time it was a woman who had overdosed and needed to be taken to the hospital. The place was like entering Dante’s purgatory. In particularly that was true for an underpass. It was simply terrible. Rats were all over the place, it was filthy and full of garbage—and used syringes were all over the place. And then all walls tagged and littered. Not a place most people would want to stay.
Nevertheless, it’s really eye opening to visit and talk to the condemned of the society, to experience their heartbreaking and hopeless way of life, and then realize that they are just as much human beings as the rest of us, with the same dreams and the same desires.
It’s a quite a leap from the happiness of a wedding to the despair of drug addiction. Nevertheless, it’s all part of the human experience—if not for every single human being. Fortunately enough, one would add. However, being able to learn from the whole spectrum is often what makes working as a documentary photographer both fulfilling and such a learning experience.