Interview: Human Rights photographer Josh McDonald

Interview: Human Rights photographer Josh McDonald


Having grown up in a very small town on the east coast of Australia, one of the primary influences of my youth was party culture. Fortunately, while I was still young I began to notice the ways these surroundings were detrimental to my overall development, and at the age of fifteen I decided to move away from home. While this was a young age to be seeking full independence, I am extremely grateful that my family allowed me this freedom, as it is exactly what has paved the way to my developing into the person I am today.
At the age of seventeen, I booked a one-way flight to Paris and began to explore, with the intent to pursue photography and, more specifically, human rights photojournalism on the forefront of my mind. During my travels, I have covered a variety of human rights and health issues in diverse areas, such as the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and other far-off corners of the world. Experiencing frontline fire, oppression of the masses, brutal working conditions, and dramatic political turmoil has only further solidified my drive to use photography as a means of communicating these tragedies.

Thinking back to my childhood self, and how there are so many others who are growing up in a similar fashion to how I did, I can see clearly how dire the need is to communicate these issues more clearly and openly. Through photography, I aim to establish a connection, to forge a visual language through which more barriers can be broken, and ultimately to help the human race better understand itself.

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

– How and when did you become interested in photography?

I have been interested in photography since I was very young, as I grew up in a family of photographers. The first photos I ever took using a canon A1 was of my mother and I sitting in front of the mirror, as I grew older I became increasingly fascinated by photography. When I turned 15 my eldest sister gave me my first serious camera: a Canon 7D and taught me how to use it.
My family is also a very worldly family; they have travelled extensively, so naturally my interest in photographing abroad came from my curiosity of other cultures, wanting to show what life was like in in a different place. It was only a matter of time until I decided to use my propensity toward photography for good by photographing human rights issues that go largely discussed.

– Is there an artist or photographer who inspired your art?

There is many and for different reasons. But it was after seeing images taken by Sebastio Salgado and Don McCullin that I realized this is definitely what I want to do. It shifted from being something I enjoyed doing to something I felt I needed to do.

– Why do you work in black and white rather than color?

While I do also enjoy color photography, in my opinion, black and white allows for greater utilization of negative space without colors distracting from the focal subject matter. This allows greater emotional expression. Black and white photography has a timeless quality to it, leaving some interpretation to be performed on the image. It requires the viewer to pay great attention to the details of the photograph to really understand what is happening in the photo and what the events suggest. With my photography, I want the viewer to take some time to think about the image, not just skim over it with a glance.

Additionally, some of my favorite photographers were taking photos before the development of color photography, such as Henri Bresson, Sebastio Salgado, Margaret White, James Nachtwey, Robert Capa, and Ansel Adams. This undoubtedly influenced my taste in photography by the simple fact that black and white images have long been those that I have most enjoyed.

– How much preparation do you put into taking photographs/series of photographs?

There is so much more to capturing a moment than just taking the photo. For one to capture the desired image, the subject needs to be comfortable with the photographer. Last year, I spent a few months doing a story on a disease known as CKDnT (Chronic Kidney Disease of Non-Traditional Cause) that was—and still is—wiping out a village in northern Nicaragua. The village is inundated with death and grief. It took a long time before the people in the village would trust me. I would take the kids to the circus, cook families dinner, and stay over for nights at a time just so the people would be comfortable enough with me for me to take some photos. Once I even spent three days cutting sugarcane with the locals in 40C heat just to take a dozen photos at the end.

– Where is your photography going? What projects would you like to accomplish?

I recently covered the war against ISIS in Iraq, this was the first warzone I’ve worked in. Unfortunately, there are thousands of horrific yet untold and worthy stories that I want to share. I am currently studying Arabic and undergoing combat awareness and medical assistance training. Once I complete this I will focus my photography on human rights and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. I will continue this work for as long as I possibly can.

My final assignment will be a personal journey through the coldest climates on earth. While this may not be as urgent of a project as human rights, I find the cold fascinating. I would love to spend my older years learning about the weather, the nature, the wildlife and the people that thrive in these extreme conditions. And of course, photographing everything along the way.

Website: jmcdonaldphotography.squarespace.com

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald

© Josh McDonald


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