Andrew Dickinson is a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is originally from Kansas City, but has spent most of his time living in Nebraska since he started college. Check out more of his work here.
Why did you go to India?
I went to India along with a group of three professors and 10 students as part of one of the many international photo-documentary trips run through the college of journalism at UNL. We are very fortunate to have some generous donors who make two international trips per year possible. As students, we have to pay for tuition and food and that’s about it. The only condition of the endowment is that we report on issues of wealth disparity or poverty within the countries we are traveling to – I worked on a story about homeless injecting drug users in New Delhi. Other stories in our group included one student who spent time with the last elephant trainers of Delhi; another student traveled and lived in a leprosy colony.
What was the biggest challenge while you were over there?
The biggest challenge was simply adjusting and getting over the shock factor of walking into a two square mile area where anywhere from 800-1,200 addicts are constantly shooting up. The first day that I went to the Yamuna Bazaar, where I spent nearly all of my three weeks in the country, a man died. So going from covering news in Lincoln, Neb., to seeing a man die and users surrounding me – shooting up, smoking heroin and sniffing glue, some in their 60s, and the youngest users I saw were probably 10 or 12 – was a huge adjustment. Once I became friends with some of the guys, it all became easier though. They’re really nice people, they’ve just found themselves in a very unfortunate situation that’s nearly impossible to escape.
My access wasn’t a problem, mainly because I knew the right people. I have to give credit somewhere here to Enrico Fabian, who is doing great documentary work on the same issue in India. I was fortunate enough to meet him at the Eddie Adams Workshop last October, and I contacted him a few months before the trip and he set me up very well. He helped a lot of the other students out as well. Without him, I would’ve struggled to find access.
What do you hope to accomplish with your project?
Starting with our Kyrgyzstan trip (which was from Dec. 2011 – Jan. 2012) we, as a group, host an event at UNL’s movie theatre where we show all of our multimedia pieces. For our Kyrgyzstan showing, we overfilled the theatre, and actually got into a bit of trouble with the guy who runs it because of that…but we’re hoping for the same outcome with our India stories. The Kyrgyzstan showing was kind of a test run; we didn’t know how it would go, so we weren’t fully prepared to try and get donations or aid for the subjects of our stories. We did have some help go back to some of our subjects through other avenues, though.
But with our India presentation we are going to be fully prepared to have a way for those who are watching the pieces to give directly to either an NGO or an aid worker that we trust so that we know the money will get back to the subjects.
Do you prefer international work or stories you can do in your backyard?
I enjoy working on both. The international opportunities I’ve been given have all been around three weeks in length – which is frustratingly short – but you have to take what you can get. I did months of research and contact mining and e-mailing and calling and looking at work done on similar issues before my trip to India. That was a huge help. I also can’t state how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had to go overseas.
However, and this should go without saying, you don’t need to travel overseas to find and photograph a powerful picture story. Sometimes its much harder for photographers to find stories when they’re in a situation that they’re comfortable with. So, when I pick up and go to India for three weeks, everything seems new to me. That’s refreshing, but it can affect how you shoot…just because something is shockingly new to you, doesn’t mean anyone who views your work will see it that way.
There are stories everywhere, and I enjoy telling stories with pictures. I’ll go wherever the stories are – whether it’s down the block from my apartment in Omaha, Nebraska (I’m actually working on a story about my neighborhood!), or across the world.
What or who inspires you?
I’m inspired by a broad range of photographers. There are the obvious great ones – I remember looking at a lot of Allard (more specifically some of his India work) and Larry Towell before I left for India. I mention Towell because I really enjoy how he shoots personal photos. I think the personal approach to photography can be translated into work – maybe not the types of photos a newspaper would want to publish A1 – but the types of photos that are intimate and telling in a unique way. I feel that photographers make these photos without trying when they care enough about the subject they’re photographing.
I also have always drawn a lot of inspiration from the younger generation of photographers. People who I know are around my age level, but are doing work that I am blown away by. Photographers like Grant Hindsley (who, speaking of personal photography, has a great, never ending personal blog with a few friends at hereafterproject.com
), Brynn Anderson, Alex Matzke, Christian Randolph, Patrick Breen, Lauren Justice and many others have all done work I wish I could have done. Seeing my peers doing great work helps to push me to become a better photographer.
Has your experience abroad changed how you approach stories?
I’ve found myself in some difficult situations overseas. If nothing else, it’s taught me to be compassionate and understanding of people I’m photographing or trying to get access with. It’s such a blessing when a subject, whose life is incomparably different from my own, can feel a connection with me and allow me to spend time with them. It taught me to slow down and further the story by sitting and talking, not always with a camera in my hand.
What do you hope to do after graduation?
Make a living with my camera. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten on that front to this point! If I can accomplish that, life will be good.
To suggest a student or recent graduate for the Emerging Talent series, email Maddie at madd...@gmail.com