Kate Brooks began working as a freelance photojournalist in Russia at the age of 20 while documenting child abuse in state orphanages. The resulting photographs were published worldwide and used to campaign for orphans’ rights.
Following September 11 2001, Brooks moved to Pakistan to photograph the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the region and life in post-Taliban Afghanistan. In 2003, she covered the American invasion of Iraq and the beginning of the insurgency for TIME magazine. Since then she has worked extensively in the greater Middle East, photographing not only political events and violent conflicts but also documenting daily life. Currently based in Beirut, Lebanon, Brooks has distinguished herself in the field of environmental portraiture, received numerous international awards and is regularly published in American and European magazines.
If It Were Easy More People Would Do It
If you have a degree in what field is it? I was a Russian studies major, but left university in my junior year to freelance full-time in Russia.
What was your strangest assignment? It’s difficult for me to choose one assignment after having done hundreds. Generally the assignments in and of themselves are not strange, but for every story the working conditions are specific to the circumstances and peculiar in their own way. For example: I did a story in Chennai about medical tourism a couple of years ago. No sooner had I arrived than my neck went into spasms from a car accident I'd been in a couple of days before on another assignment. The next thing I knew I was in a neck brace and a patient of the doctors I was photographing. It should’ve been one of the easiest assignments I’d ever done, but instead ended up being one of the most difficult; I was photographing people who could barely walk after hip and knee replacements when I could barely move.
Which photographer would you like to meet? I’ve been pretty lucky, for the most part, to have met the photographers who have influenced me the most. However, I would’ve liked to have met Cartier-Bresson before he died.
What famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? The person who is alive that I would most like to photograph is Omar Khadafi with his female bodyguards.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? What I pack really depends on the job, but in this digital age, having a computer and communications is nearly as important as having cameras. In dangerous situations I like to have the option of wearing body armor; other than that, there are a few lucky charms, including a picture of my deceased Persian cat Pasha, that I take almost everywhere I go.
Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? I’m pretty old-school when it comes to retouching images. I believe that Photoshop should be used like a darkroom.
From where do your best ideas originate? My best ideas come from living and reading.
How do you overcome a creative block? As a professional photographer, I have to shoot despite creative blocks. Taking a great picture is always good inspiration to create more.
Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? I enjoy creative writing and have wanted to take up painting.
What music are you listening to right now? I’ve been revisiting classics from my adolescence like Echo & The Bunnymen, Cure, Joy Division and Billy Idol and listening to Iraqi oud music.
What's your approach to balancing work and life? I find balance through limiting my time on the road. Years ago I would leave home for months at a time. Now I generally try to come home between trips, even if only for a few hours. Being in my own space, sleeping in my own bed and spending time with my pets keeps me grounded. I have also learned to prioritize my family, friends and my own well-being more. I recognize that all of these aspects of life are important to long term preservation.
What’s your favorite quote? “Some people live to die. Others die to live.” —Benazir Bhutto supporter
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? When I was a freshman in college, my photojournalism professor, who was also a senior editor at National Geographic, sat me down to warn me about the hardships of the industry. He spoke about financial instability and how challenging it is for international photojournalists to maintain personal relationships. I listened carefully but I was so determined that nothing could have deterred me. Being a photojournalist is not a profession, it’s a way of life. You have to live it and breath it and sometimes even risk dying for it.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? That it never gets easier. I was warned that it would be difficult to sustain a career as a freelance photographer before I pursued it. Had I listened, I wouldn’t have become a photographer. I guess if it were easy, more people would be doing it.