A picture may say a thousand words, but the photographers themselves rarely get to say any.
Over the course of our first year, Rest of World’s articles have come to life through beautiful, striking, and often harrowing images captured by many of the top photojournalists in the business. With much of the world stuck at home because of the pandemic — including many of our reporters — photos have served as a medium to communicate scenes that were otherwise inaccessible.
We wanted to give our photographers the opportunity to take us behind the scenes of some of our favorite shoots, from the bustling alleyways of Istanbul to a frozen tech utopia in Russia.
As readers, we often get to see only the perfect shot that makes the final edit. For photographers, capturing the right images often takes months of planning and collaboration. With Rest of World’s focus on technology, many of our stories are happening inside an app or behind a screen, so we asked the photographers to help us understand how they approach their assignments and what they learned along the way.
Capturing the moments of humanity in the migrant caravans
Photographing “Misinformation and spam are rampant in Honduras’s migrant caravans.”
I have been covering the immigration beat for a while now. Still, when I learned that around 8,000 Hondurans were forming a caravan earlier this year, it blew me away. When you have these movements, it’s easy to focus on the mass — the vast humanity in motion. But with my work, I try to find the moments that happened in between without losing the story: thousands of Hondurans walking, hitchhiking on the backs of pickup trucks that look like they’re out of Mad Max, and doing anything they can to get to the United States.
Being Honduran myself, I’m culturally fluent. I know that they’re not leaving because they hate Honduras, but because Honduras has failed them. I want to capture this mixture of feelings in my photos: hope, anger, and camaraderie. Every single human emotion is on display. Through these expressions, you have a mosaic of what it feels like to be a Honduran right now.
For this story in particular, we were focusing on the technology that people use. I was at the starting point of the caravan in San Pedro Sula. A lot of people still had their phones and were livestreaming, video chatting, and communicating through their recruitment group chats. That’s something I had never seen before — the real-time-ness of it all.
In truth, we were documenting the documentarians themselves. They were creating these artifacts of history, and they were often the only photographers on the scene. In my photos, I tried to reflect the value that cellphones have for migrants as a lifeline. Their phones end up being their most valuable asset — not just for planning but also because it’s where they have pictures from the past. I would often be chatting with someone, and they would pull up pictures of better times; when they didn’t have lacerations on their feet. Maybe it’s too romantic of a thing to say, but the technology is a physical manifestation of nostalgia in their hands.
Surveilling the surveillance state in Israel and Palestine
I’m a dual national: half American, half Jordanian. I went to high school in Jordan during the Gulf War. Just from the geographic proximity, I started hearing competing narratives of what was actually happening. I was fascinated by how key elements of conflicts in the Middle East were being framed — especially in regard to Palestine.
I worked in traditional journalism for a while and was dissatisfied by the requests and depth of the assignments. I decided to take a more multidisciplinary, creative approach to telling stories: working collaboratively and having the people whose story I was telling actually have a voice within the narrative.
That’s what excited me so much about this story — getting to the heart of the issue of weaponry and surveillance technology, where the Israeli army and tech companies have a captive population to try their products on before selling them abroad.
It was intimidating as hell, because what needed to be visualized is not easily accessible. I ended up traveling down Route 443, a slash of road that goes right through the West Bank. There are cameras everywhere. As we drove, I would get out and photograph these giant robotic eyes that follow you as you move.
In the West Bank and the Old City of East Jerusalem, I experienced these weird wedges of Palestinian existence that I would never enter and witness otherwise. I almost acted as an extension of the surveillance system. I tried to capture this vastness of the occupation. It often is not human. It’s structural and bureaucratic — these forms of oppression through technology that you often cannot see or touch. There is a specific psychology to not knowing when you’re being watched. That inner fear almost regulates you more than the actual borders of your occupation.
Finding the images behind the screens in Istanbul
Photographing “Delivery wars” and “The cleric has uploaded a new video.”
One of the most important elements of photojournalism is the context. Working on tech stories for Rest of World was a welcome change, because it forced me to think differently about the pictures I was taking.
The first article I shot for Rest of World was about the delivery wars between two major companies in Turkey. I wasn’t going to simply photograph people making orders on their phones, because that isn’t the story — it was about how people’s relationship to screens is changing society around them.
I love shooting street scenes, especially in the frenzied corridors of Istanbul. For this story, I tried to capture the atmosphere of the shops that are slowly being replaced by these apps. One of the tech companies, Banabi, gave me access to shoot inside their tiny warehouse. I also wanted to follow around their drivers as they made deliveries on motorbikes. Banabi’s press person volunteered to drive me around in her car, although I knew there was no way we’d be able to catch up to the two-wheelers in Istanbul traffic. It ended up working out.
The other piece I worked on was about Turkish clerics who operate on YouTube. I wanted to shoot inside their studios, but access was difficult. Instead, I decided to capture street scenes to illustrate the story. I went to one of the most conservative neighborhoods in Istanbul, which is central to the main digital imam in the article. It’s a small area, consisting of just a few streets.
In these environments, being an Asian woman works to my advantage. If I had gone with a Turkish friend, or if I were a more Western-appearing man, I would have gotten more pushback. By nature of how I look, though, people sometimes see me as more of a tourist than a journalist. Sometimes it can be frustrating to work in this region simply because it is so difficult to fly under the radar. It’s a good kind of challenge though.
Inside a Russian tech-topia, one robot delivery at a time
Photographing “Fighting brain drain and creeping authoritarianism in Russia’s techno-utopian village.”
For most of this year, I have been covering the fallout caused by the detention of the Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny. In January, there were massive protests, which were met with brutal police crackdowns. It was a very depressing moment to witness.
I had seen so many people out in the streets, and I was curious what the unrest meant for them in their daily, professional lives. As Leonid Ragozin writes in his article, the demonstrations were led by the creative middle class, including tech workers. I jumped at the opportunity to shoot it.
I flew into Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan. I had never actually heard of Innopolis, and neither had the cab driver. It’s about a 40 minute ride through an empty landscape of snow fields, until what looks like a space station emerges in the distance. We looked in amazement at these newly built apartment blocks and university buildings. I wasn’t really sure what to make of the place.
Innopolis turned out to be a great subject for photography, mostly because of how compact it is. The town is really just a couple of streets with a few thousand inhabitants. You can just walk around and observe what’s happening — especially at night, when people leave their offices and the streets are suddenly full of life. That’s how I stumbled upon the food delivery robots. It was fascinating to see these machines driving around on their own, navigating their way around pedestrians and snow and hills, on their sloping, icy track.
I also got to spend time with Stas and Sasha, the protagonists of the story who are candid about their liberal views and Telegram organizing. Most Russians are open to being photographed but more cautious about offering political opinions. Stas and Sasha both offered up their full names and agreed to appear openly for the story. It was incredibly special.
How to shoot a tech story about the lack of technology in remote Pakistan
Photographing “The hills are alive.”
We were doing a story about the lack of internet in Gilgit-Baltistan, so of course it was almost impossible to actually stay in touch with the people we were covering. When I was planning the story, I wouldn’t hear from the subjects for days before they would get in contact and say, “Sorry, the weather was really bad.” It took almost two months of going back and forth.
I live in Islamabad and was finally able to get on a flight out to Gilgit. I remember the first night there was no electricity. The student activists fighting for internet access came over to where I was staying. They put the torches on their mobile phones so that we could actually see each other. It was just amazing to see how politically driven these young people were and how social media savvy they were. Even though they rarely have internet access, they somehow always know what’s going on.
We had to plan out all the logistics because you can’t exactly get in touch with people on the spot. We had to coordinate where we would be and at what times. Still, they have their own ways of staying in touch and getting around — they don’t need Google Maps. I really couldn’t have done the story without the help of those local students.
It was probably the most physically challenging reporting trip I’ve been on. I got to go on a hike with the students to these beautiful remote locations where they find internet signals. Besides the amazing food, Gilgit-Baltistan’s proximity to China has its advantages. Before the trek, I went to this market where you can find a lot of smuggled items. I bought some great hiking boots, and I still use them!