Photojournalist Mithila Jariwala never thought she would take up photography. But a road trip around the USA as an exchange student with her first digital camera not only changed that, it also launched her on another journey, that of a photojournalist. She shares her experiences thus far and what it takes to become one.
Children of Dras, Kashmir
When I started working professionally in 2010, I was a travel photographer. As I travelled and documented my journeys, I wanted to know more about the people I met along the way. I wasn’t satisfied with just scratching the surface; I wanted to dig deeper and document stories of individuals. I realised that I was turning into a documentary photographer. With time I was becoming confident and extremely comfortable capturing people anywhere, speaking any language. I didn’t have to speak a language to capture stories – I had learned that art through my camera.
A Bhutanese refugee in Nepal
What’s your favourite subject to cover and why?
I am not a feminist, but I have seen extreme gender inequality, especially when I met and interviewed women who go through the worst kind of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Sudan and many other countries. Ever since then, any subject related to gender equality has been of the utmost importance. But other than that, any story that I come across and feel strongly about, I try to cover them. It is very important to feel strongly and care about the people/issue, only then you can do justice to the story.
What compels you to cover these issues?
I have been told that one needs to be very detached to be doing this. But for me, it is the sensitivity and emotion each story brings [out] that compels me to cover these issues.
Child and mother in Kassala, Sudan
Which was your most challenging story?
Each story has its own set of challenges; emotional, psychological, financial or publishing. It’s hard to pick just one, but I would say that right after the Nepal earthquake in 2015, I covered some positive stories from the epicenter and it was very challenging to sell a positive story to the media. It was then I realised that nobody is interested in publishing positive stories. Everybody wants drama.
Post-earthquake conditions in Nepal, 2015
What are your tips on capturing images that get to the heart of the story?
Firstly, it’s important to feel strongly about the story you are covering. Then it’s important to be empathetic and understand the story and the people in the story, give them some of your time, treat them as fellow humans and not subjects and only then you can portray their real story and get to the heart of it.
Which camera and lenses do you use during assignments?
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, mainly with the EF50mm f/1.4 USM prime lens and an EF24-70mm f/2.8 II USM lens. These are always a part of my kit, [but] I’ll add other lenses depending on the topic of my shoot.
A child of the Bateq tribe in Malaysia
What’s your advice to aspiring photojournalists?
If you’re passionate about taking up photojournalism, if you’re a visual storyteller and you’re not scared to take on challenges, then don’t think twice. Go for it. It ain’t going to be easy, especially in today’s digital world, but it will be very satisfying.
What does one need to become a photojournalist?
Passion, compassion, hard work and believing in oneself.
Finally, what do you hope to achieve with your photos?
I hope that I can bring out an emotion from my images so that my audience can feel the depth of the story I am trying to tell.
Living condition of a Bhutanese refugee in Nepal
Profile of photographer
Technically, photojournalism means photographers who capture journalistic, newsworthy stories, which I do, but I’d rather call myself a social documentary photographer. As I mainly capture human stories, with a focus on newsworthy social issues, they are not timely hence they don’t make headlines. I have worked on projects with organisations such as UNICEF, UNDP, USAID, Chemonics, Kidasha. Currently I am working on typhoid-related stories for Sabin Vaccine Institute, an organisation funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.