Kate Holt: capturing photo variety in audio slideshows

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British photojournalist Kate Holt’s work takes her into harsh situations where people are living with the effects of war and violence. Often dealing with uncomfortable environments and security restrictions, she works quickly to gather recordings and photographs for audio slideshows that are later published by NGO (non-governmental organizations) and leading media outlets. Her stories from East Africa and Eastern Europe have influenced public opinion and forced changes in public policy.

In this Part 2 in a four-part Soundslides interview, Holt describes the kinds of photos she seeks in order to tell a complete story.

Powerful subjects

Every situation has its own learning curve, Holt says. She gains access to the places she documents through connections from the NGOs who sponsor or hire her, but that access can be severely limited. For example, she might have only 20 minutes of free movement for the photography, or she might be wearing hot body armor that makes it tricky to move about.

The scenes she encounters are some of the most aweful a human being can endure: a mother coaxing a famished child to keep breathing, a teenage girl recovering from multiple rapes committed by the armed men assigned to protect her, a doctor drawing on every skill and bit of energy to restore health among struggling refugees. But also, many of her projects document progress — for example the efforts that individuals are making to improve their own lives, or efforts made by NGOs to collectively ease the difficulties of others.

Photography of daily life

On top of capturing images that reveal the essence of a situation, she’s also seeking details that will round out the story.

“I’m looking for a variety of pictures,” she says, “landscapes, portraits, architecture shots. I’m looking for things that are going to engage the viewer. I shoot wide portraits, close-up head shots, photos of what they’re holding in their hands, so you’ll get an overriding view of a person in his or her life.”

As she enters a place, she scans the scene.

“I’m looking for context — elements of their lives that make up a whole,” she says. “You want to bring back to the viewer the tactile, the day-to-day details. Daily life, whether it is in Mogadishu, Tanzania or London, can be quite dull.” She’s looking for how to capture the day-to-day objects and actions in such a way that they convey feeling.

Slideshow example from the field

In this slideshow for The Guardian, she documents work by the NGO Medair to improve access to safe drinking water in Afghanistan, where more than 92 % of the population lives without proper sanitation and 80 % of people have no safe drinking water.

The objects in these photos convey both the details of place and the daily rituals and rhythms of human beings. Note the crusts of bread arranged on the floor for a meal, a set of abandoned shoes, the important red buckets, the rubber end nubs of crutches. These objects do as much work telling the story as do the interview comments and wide-angle scenic or action shots.

Learn more on Kate Holt’s Facebook page.

Stay tuned for the Soundslides Kate Holt interview parts 3 and 4 in December.

 — Interview and story by Laura Read


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