Brian Hodges is an award-winning travel and editorial photographer based out of California and Australia. His work has been featured in publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, Photo District News, National Geographic Traveler, and GEO Magazine, just to name a few. In September 2017, Hodges joined PWB as an instructor on the School workshop in Sumatra, and will soon partake in his second PWB School experience. We chatted with Hodges on his experiences with PWB, his passion for storytelling, and his advice to fellow photographers.
PWB: At PWB, we recognize our members as more than just photographers, but also change-makers and activists. What makes you #morethanaphotographer?
H: A photographer is somebody who uses light to write with. In the early stages of the art, being a photographer involved knowing the darkroom process, preparing photosensitive plates chemicals, and setting up cumbersome equipment. Today virtually everybody is photographer. A photographer no longer needs to be a chemist or understand optics. Just push the button. No training is necessary.
There was a point early on in my career when I made the conscious decision to not be just a guy with a camera. Rather, I decided to call myself a photographer. For me, it was all about deliberately setting an intention. Once I claimed the title “photographer”, everything started flowing. I stopped just taking pictures and focused more on how I could make pictures. The quality of my work reflected this simple shift of consciousness.
My photography has taken me around the world. For me, being a photographer means being an ambassador, a humanitarian, a storyteller. As an artist, I’m constantly looking for new ways to interpret the world we live in. Photography has opened doors for me I never would have imagined passing through.
PWB: What about your photography work and travel experiences has shaped the way you see the world, and your interest in supporting NGOs?
H: Much of my work is travel portrait photography. I often set up a field studio and highlight my subjects in front of a white backdrop. The common theme of the white backdrop has the effect of putting us all on the same level. I consciously strip away any contextual information and force the viewer to just consider the subject. From burning man to Timbuktu… we’re all the same human beings when taken out of our cultural context. Portrait photography has allowed me to see the light we all share. Through my photography I have learned to connect across all languages and cultures to see the core values of humanity.
In my travels I came across a number of NGO’s doing excellent work in the field. As one can expect, they often operate with constrained budges and lack the sophisticated communications and marketing skills needed to reach a wide group of supporters. Having worked in the commercial photography world in Los Angels, I was able hone my commercial photography aesthetic.
The reality of being a commercial photographer is that often one devotes huge amounts of money and creative talent to promote products that have no real lasting value. I learned that I could leverage my commercial photography skills and my travel experience to benefit NGO’s. A few powerful images can go a long way to communicate an important message. Naturally, when I discovered that by doing what I loved - taking photos and traveling – I could benefit those in need; I realized I had found my niche.
PWB: You have worked with Photographers without Borders for a number of years now, both on program assignments, and as an instructor with PWB School. How did you first get involved with PWB?
H: Hoping to identify organizations I could assist, I contacted a number of NGOs working in areas of interest to me. I quickly discovered that many of these organizations lack the ability to communicate exactly what they needed in terms of photography. For many, the idea of working with a photographer represented a burden or even a risk. Even when I volunteered my time and energy, finding suitable NGOs was a challenge.
I stumbled across PWB with an Internet search and was delighted to learn that their specific mission was to connect qualified photographers with NGOs. Without hesitation I knew I wanted to support their work.
PWB: What is it about about these projects that keep you coming back for more?
H: My passion is making images. Often that simple vision can be drowned out by all logistics of travel and coordination with NGO's. PWB takes all the friction out of my travels allowing me to focus primarily on making images.
PWB: Last year, you joined the PWB School trip to Sumatra as an instructor. What was your biggest takeaway from that experience?
H: In many ways, I felt I learned as much as anybody else. My focus as a photographer has been primarily on making the singular compelling image. For me, storytelling has always taken a back seat to getting that shining image. PWB trains photographers to tell compelling stories with their images and in that respect, I learned a lot. I came away really impressed with the final work of the students. When photography brings tears to my eyes, I know it has impact. There were many tears.
PWB: This summer, you will be joining PWB again as a School instructor on the sold-out trip to Mongolia. What are you most looking forward to?
H: Mongolia is an extraordinary destination where travellers can see the traditions of the past still practiced today. Nomadic culture is still the way of life for those outside the city. How rare is it in this world to meet people that are not encumbered by their possessions? Seasonally, they pick up their entire camp and move (often with the help of just a yak pulling a cart) to fresh pasture. Mongolians are extremely hospitable; knock on the door of a ger anywhere and you will automatically be greeted with hot tea. I travelled to Mongolia for two weeks in 2013 working on the “Gypset Living” book, and came to really appreciate sleeping in a ger. There is something pure about living in a room with no corners. I don’t recall ever sleeping better.
PWB will be traveling to Sumatra once again in the fall of 2018. Click here to learn more about our photography workshops and how you too can be inspired by instructors like Brian Hodges. The early bird deadline for PWB School Sumatra is fast-approaching, so register now to save!