What was your first photo job?
I began working as a photographer for a small local newspaper in Gambia, when I was still a university student studying international politics and conflict studies. I think my first job at the paper was to photograph the “Miss Black USA beauty pageant” that was held in Gambia in 2007. At that time, I was not a professional photographer and didn’t know anything about photography. I was just following local Gambian journalists everyday and visited many different places. But working in this small place, which rarely become international news but has lots of interesting stories taught me the value of detailing and exposing overlooked but visceral and powerful details of life.
If you could have been present to photograph any event in history what would it be?
At the end of 19th century during the Meiji restoration when Japan opened up the country to the world so I could experience and photograph the dramatic social, cultural and political changes.
Who is your biggest inspiration (doesn’t have to be photographic)?
My 93 year-old grandmother, because she has always been a stoic and independent woman whose ambition and drive seeped into my consciousness from a young age and I think this gave me the impetus to embark on a career in this field.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
When I was a child, I wanted to be a dancer or interior designer, something creative and a way to express myself or an idea. I always had a creative streak and bringing an idea to life, just like in photojournalism is really exhilarating.
What photograph do you wish you had taken?
I wish I had documented my dog’s life when I had the choice, prior to his passing five years ago when he was 17 years old. I grew up with him and felt he was a true part of the family, his absence has been heavily felt and I think that being close to an animal or pet from a young age has really made me into the animal lover that I am today.
What’s in your kit bag? and your most important bit of kit you have – other than camera?
I have all sorts of things, from my diary to small Japanese snacks to a beverage of some sort and my cell phone. Depending on where I go, if it’s to a developing country, then I have learnt that a great addition to my kitbag is toilet paper!
What’s the stupidest thing a client has ever said to you?
I can’t think of any particular quotes exactly, but I’ve met several situations where my being a petite Asian woman has created a few preconceived obstacles I’ve had to overcome.
What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?
Try anything that you are interested in and don’t talk yourself out of it through cautiousness or doubt, because some of the most rewarding and character building experiences are those that challenge us when we find ourselves outside our comfort zone.
What keeps you awake at night?
Dark Chocolate, coffee or waiting to make contact with a client or friends in different time zones.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? and do you most deplore in others?
In myself – irresolution
In Others – People who manipulate others for their own gain
Are you a lark or an owl?
Definitely an owl
What do you think you need to be a successful photographer?
To keep discovering your own style of photography
What frustrates you about being a photographer? What do you love about it?
Sometimes there are times when I want to just enjoy the moment, organically, with no process involved and it’s those times when I just want to put the camera down, such as at my friend’s wedding.
What I love about photography is that it gives me a chance to get to know different culture and people so intimately, whilst traveling and no two days are the same.
Do you listen to music when editing/working on images? If so what?
No, I don’t listen to anything whilst looking at my images…
Who’s your team? What other people do you regularly ask for advice and feedback and to share inspiration?
I would like to mention a Korean photographer Jean Chung, Damir Sagolj, James Whitlow Delano, for all the advice and support they given me, especially when I was so fresh to photojournalism. They have helped me countless times in exchanging ideas and keeping my motivation level high. Every small thing that they taught me was extremely helpful.
Working with David Guttenfelder for several month was also inspiring experience. My friend Andy Williams who has always given me honest and thoughtful feedback since I was just taking pictures as a hobby when I was a student.