Elizabeth Herman, photographer, Fulbright Fellow, and one of the 2012 Jezebel 25, has been busy collecting over the last two years. From Boston, Massachusetts to Hue, Vietnam; Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ajmer, Rajasthan, India; Cairo to Northern Ireland, Elizabeth has been photographing women involved in various conflicts around the world. After graduating from Tufts University in 2010, Elizabeth spent a year doing research as a Fulbright Fellow on the Liberation War in Bangladesh, continuing photography in her spare time. After a number of other trips abroad, she’s now back in the US, living in New York, freelancing and working as the International Picture Intern at TIME Magazine. Her research and photography have been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian and NPR. And for the first time, she’s exhibiting her ongoing project “A Woman’s War” at the United Photo Industries Gallery in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The Nation sat down with Elizabeth to talk about the transition from high school darkroom to photojournalism, how “A Woman’s War” came to be, and where she’s headed next. To hear more from Elizabeth, check out her talk this Thursday, November 29th at 7:30pm at the United Photo Industries Gallery. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Hasina Begum. Sirajganj, Bangladesh. August 2011.
How did you begin taking photographs?
I took darkroom photography all four years of high school. I didn’t want to go on to study photography in college but I wanted to continue doing it. So when I got to Tufts [University], I ended up getting involved in EXPOSURE [which is Tufts' human rights, documentary studies, and photojournalism student-run club, under the umbrella of the Institute for Global Leadership, which is directed by Sherman Teichman] …With them I learned more about documentary photography. In high school I’d done more art photography, like classic high school darkroom, taking photos of your friends with makeup on their faces, that kind of thing. Then when I got to college, I learned how to take photographs to tell a story. I did workshops with EXPOSURE, then once I graduated I moved to Bangladesh and had a research fellowship there and ended up working on documentary photography on the side, just by myself.
Katerina Kaltak. Ilidža, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What projects did you work on with EXPOSURE?
We did some local projects in the Boston area. And then we ended up doing these one or two week-long intensive workshops where you went with professional photojournalists abroad and worked on a single story. I first went to Siem Reap, Cambodia and then Ajmer, Rajasthan in India, Hue in Vietnam, and Houston, Texas. The first one that I did was [during my] sophomore year. You apply to the workshop with a vague sense of what the project will be, but you develop it over the course of the year. EXPOSURE works with the Aftermath Project, an organization that tries to promote photographers that do projects in the aftermath of a conflict. We also worked with VII Photo, which is a photo agency specializing in conflict photography… Aftermath is run by Sara Terry and VII Photo was co-founded by Gary Knight. Both Sara and Gary ran workshops with EXPOSURE students over the summer, and I took two workshops with each of them, which was wonderful in that it provided two very different, yet complementary approaches to photojournalism — studying with each of them, and then going out and doing my own work allowed me to develop my own style and sensibility.
Was there tension between the approaches?
They both offer very different perspectives on photography … And each of them was very good about saying this is my take on photography, which is going to be very different from what another person will say, rather than, “What I say is right and what they say is wrong.” It allowed me to pull different elements from each.
Aya Mohsen. Cairo, Egypt. May 2012.