“Photography is a powerful tool that can be used in a very powerful way, but only if you’re committed to your ideals, if you’re committed to your passion. Not if you’re just doing something because you think that’s what everyone is going to underwrite or pay or hire you for.”

Karen Kasmauski is a photographer, director and filmmaker who produced 25 major stories for National Geographic Magazine over two decades, on topics including Human Migration, Viruses, Aging and Genetics. Most were based on ideas that she originated and proposed.

Karen’s book “NURSE: A World of Care” explores global issues facing the nursing profession and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her previous book “IMPACT: From the Front Lines of Global Health” examines the causes of infectious diseases throughout the world. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote introductions for both books. Karen was a director on the 2015 documentary film “Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight—The Japanese War Brides” aired globally on BBC.

Karen’s travels have taken her from the rainforests of Malaysia to the megacities of India to the North Slope of Alaska. She has covered earthquakes in Japan, been arrested in Africa and exposed to radiation in Russia.

After receiving a Getty Images grant to produce a video on the struggles of an environmental nonprofit group, Karen was awarded a Knight Fellowship to study at Ohio University, where she received an MA in Visual Communication.

As an educator, Karen leads photography tours for National Geographic and other clients in locations ranging from Antarctica to New Guinea to the Galapagos. She teaches classes on video storytelling, photojournalism and news writing at George Washington University, The Corcoran School of Art and George Mason University. She frequently speaks to corporate and non-profit organizations on global health issues. Karen’s photographs have been exhibited at the United States Congress, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Academy of Sciences, Emory University and the National Geographic Society.

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SELECT QUOTES

On being a photographer

“I’m not an outgoing person, I’m fairly shy, and the camera gives me permission to enter people’s lives.”

“The main qualification to be a photographer is that you need to be curious about the world and the environment around you.”

“Photography needs to mean more than just recording the world. Photography needs to mean something to the photographer.”

“Photography, for me, is not about becoming famous or about becoming popular or becoming an Instagram hero. It’s about using a tool to understand the world around you. That’s what photography is for me, and photography’s a great tool to do that, because it really helps to connect you to people in a way that is usually nonthreatening.”

On working for NGOs and making a statement

“Working for an NGO is not where I go to make my statement. I am working for a client.”

On photography as a tool for change

“I’ve never had a real ego thing around my photographs, I see them as a tool in which to do what people need done, and also to tell stories that could possibly help.”

“How do we reach other people who are not the choir, who really need to have their dial moved on certain issues? How do we do that? That is a question we need to all think about and we all need to try to figure out how we can reach people who are not fellow conservationists, fellow people who think racism is bad. “

“We need to become much more ethically focused and more introspective about what we do, and we need to think about how we are using this incredibly powerful tool, which is the image.”

“The trouble with photography is that it’s not really quantitative. You don’t really know what the impact is.”

“In this day and age more than ever do we need young people to go into not just photography but writing and journalism in general.”

“Photography is a powerful tool that can be used in a very powerful way, but only if you’re committed to your ideals, if you’re committed to your passion, you know. Not if you’re just doing something because you think that’s what everyone is going to underwrite or pay or hire you for.”

On encouraging disaster porn in photography awards

“At one point you couldn’t win the World Press Award unless you had a body somewhere in the coverage.”

On finding and pitching stories

“It’s always about pitching an idea … yes, you may be good technically but you have to have an agenda, you have to have an idea, you have to have something you want to do.”

“If you are looking at those ideas they are already happening – they are already here. So, a story is something that you need coming down the road. It is a trend that is happening a year from now, or two years from now.”

“What I tell my students is, you not only have to be a good photographer, you have to be a pretty good writer.”

On the dangers of photography colonialism and stereotyping

“When people photograph poverty, they tend to make it very dark, and gloomy, and underexposed, and things like that. And people are always eating spaghetti and wearing wife beater t-shirts, and children are walking around with diapers hanging down off their pants. Yeah, there are people probably that exist like that, but for most of us who are raised in impoverished situations, that is not our story.”

“We, and our fellow photographers, and all these young people have money. We have the ability to travel. We have photography. We have a point of view that we think we want to show, and we go out there, and we use these poor people internationally to do it.”

“A lot of young photographers feel that they have to go out and get a poor impoverished African person in their portfolio.”

“I try to really get to know who I’m photographing, if I can. I try to figure out who those people are, what really defines them as people living with dignity … and try not to fall to the stereotypes.”

On the importance of collective work

“I think groups like the International League of Conservation Photographers, where you have these collective things going on where we can all work on the same cause, is really more important than individuals going out and doing it.”

 

“To be able to be amazed on a regular basis – it’s not easy, but you can work on this, you can work on that garden in your mind.”

Matthieu Paley is a National Geographic photographer living between the remote and a small village on the Aegean coast in Turkey.

For the past 16 years Matthieu has embarked on assignments for various magazines all over the world, from the base camp of the highest unclimbed mountain in the world in Bhutan to Nauru, the world’s smallest republic in the middle of the Pacific ocean. He has published numerous books including a book on Siberia, a monograph on Mongolia, a commissioned book about Nomadic America and a crowd-funded book on the Evolution of Diet which started as a National Geographic assignment: documenting the lifestyle of self sufficient communities all over the world. His longest book project, “Pamir, Forgotten on the roof of the World”, lasted 12 years and began unexpectedly in 1999, on a high mountain pass on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Matthieu’s images have been exhibited in private galleries all over the world. He is a member of The Photo Society, a group of contributing photographers for National Geographic magazine, and is represented by National Geographic Creative.

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SELECT QUOTES

On being mindful and present

“You have to be mindful of what makes you happy. I knew that, for example, with social media, there’s aspect to it that kind of make me feel that I’m not doing enough as a photographer. Of course, if you look at Facebook feed and you see all this poppy, beautiful news of everybody winning prizes, and you’re sitting there in your village in Turkey, you can feel depressed. You need confidence and strength to be able to just remind yourself that this is not the case. You need to just be mindful if it affects your mental state.”

“This whole thing with Social Media, people are spending more time promoting themselves than being themselves. It’s kind of ironic.”

“Living in the moment is very difficult and it seems everything has been worked out now with technology to make you live forward and backward but not in it. “

“To be able to be amazed on a regular basis – it’s not easy, but you can work on this, you can work on that garden in your mind.”

“I learned to, when I’m home, be really there.”

On the element of surprise and pushing the limits

“I don’t think it’s good to know your equipment too well because you can’t surprise yourself visually.”

“If I surprise myself with the image I know the viewer will be surprised too, and that’s a good thing. I like to shoot in this situation where the camera is at its limit, in terms of technology or aperture, where there is barely any depths of field and you have to work with that.”

On storytelling and feeling

“It’s never a one-sided story. There’s always the other side. And it’s too easy to comply with what people want to hear about violence.”

“This job I did in Pakistan that was published three weeks ago, I shot it with a camera that cost 500 euros. It’s a little point and shoot. The point is the story. The point is not the equipment.”

“Your images should be drenched in feeling, I think, really drenched in it. From all levels, from whatever you are photographing to the way you prepare it.”

“I tend to pre-visualize a lot, even if I don’t know the place. Usually in bed at night before I fall asleep I start to see things.”

On earning the right to be an eye witness

“You know, it’s not only about getting the beautiful picture. It’s also about feeling that you deserve to be here and a witness of what’s going on. And to be able to live with it and not feel you’re raping or stealing that image.”

“I managed to slowly make my way into people’s hearts and people’s homes by being myself really.”

On overcoming self-doubt

“That doubt that I had at the beginning, as to whether I could really make a living out of it … my passion was replacing the doubt, slowly.”