Ed Wray (@ed_wray) is a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Jakarta, Indonesia. A former chief photographer with The Associated Press, his works have been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, Time Magazine, and many more. Ed’s photographs not only capture everyday moments in the lives of ordinary individuals, but also provide hints of deeper webs of narratives revolving around their existences.
Ed generously shared his take on photography, life advice, and career experiences with us.
How do you approach a story?
Firstly, I research. I read as much as I can and try to speak by phone with people about the story and ask questions to find out what the visual possibilities are, what contexts the story is happening in and in some cases to arrange access. These days I find Google maps a real help in looking at locations where I may be shooting.
Secondly, after spending a bit of time shooting and speaking with people in person, I ask myself some questions about what kinds of images will best tell the story: quiet pictures of the story environment, portraits, black and white or color. I try to include images which are not necessarily the main point of the story but which give context.
Tell us about your most memorable/interesting assignment.
A lot of my most interesting stories have been self-assigned, just things that I was really interested in, but assignment-wise; I think the first time I went to Afghanistan really made an impression on me. So much had been written about Afghanistan over centuries really, that to actually be there and see a society that in a lot of ways lives apart from time was stunning. If you go to rural Afghanistan, you are seeing a society that has changed very little in hundreds of years and that kind of permanence really struck me. Plus I found I really liked Afghans – stoic, and with a sense of presence that is both straightforward and friendly.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt through your photojournalism career?
Well thankfully there’s been more than one biggie – but I’ll limit myself to two.
Humility is essential. It’s easy to fall into a kind of role where you see yourself as an important link to getting a story told, but that leads to a kind of stiffness both in your rapport with those you are photographing as well as with how you approach telling a story. A certain amount of self-assuredness is necessary, but really you are just a guy with a camera who’s lucky enough to be witnessing someone else’s extraordinary story.
That it’s important to have a community. Photojournalism is a solitary pursuit in some ways; although you are constantly meeting and interacting with people which is one of the really great things about this kind of work, you are mostly working on your own without a team or assistants, so it’s vitally important to have a group of people with whom you can discuss and show your work, get inspired by and just speak with people who are involved in the same pursuit.
What do you hope to achieve through your photographs?
Other than grabbing your attention your attention, I hope in some of my more in-depth work that people come to understand and appreciate the variety of what it means to be human. I also hope that at least some of my images in addition to the tragedy that seems sometimes to be the most consistent form of photojournalistic story telling provoke a feeling that we live in a wonderful world that can encompass such hardship, joy and beauty in so many different guises.
What advice did you wish someone had told you earlier in your career?
You have to look at your career not just in terms of what you can see and communicate, but also look at it as a business. Although the work of photojournalism is mainly about pursuing stories which you hope will make people aware of situations that are in need of attention, it’s also important to think about what you are doing from a business standpoint. You have to have an understanding of what it takes to run a business: Having a marketing plan, making financial goals and understanding what your real costs of doing business are. It should be self-evident, and I’m sure many working photojournalists have from the beginning understood this, but too many, my younger self-included, ignore basic business thinking and work for rates which are not sustainable.
What advice would you give to aspiring photojournalists?
Make sure you are getting into the field for the right reasons. For me, the core reason is simply being curious about people and the world we live in and wanting to find out the why and how of things and to share that with people. I think there are more effective ways to change the world, make money, become well known, but if you are motivated by curiosity, you’ll rarely be dissatisfied.
Ed shot all the images above with the OOWA 75mm and 15mm lenses.