Andrea AbrilAndrea Abril

Interview with Heidi Levine, war photojournalist

I am working in an essay called Women Photojournalists at War, which reviews the work of two female photographers that I admire: Gerda Taro (Germany 1910 – Spain 1937), who covered the Spanish Civil War with her film camera and who was the first female photographer that died in the battle field and Heidi Levine, an american expert in the Middle East who began working as photojournalist when she moved to Israel, and who is still documenting with her digital camera the conflicts that are happening in this area.

During my searching, I could not find certain information about Levine so I ask her for an interview and she answered to all my questions. Thanks Heidi for giving me your time!

Interview with Heidi Levine. Date: 24th February 2014.

Why did you start covering conflicts through the camera? 

I grew up in the Boston area and The Boston Globe newspaper was a great newspaper and very passionate about photojournalism. My father was into photography and managed a camera store when I was a child. He gave me my first camera when I was 16 and we used to go out and take pictures together. I did a lot of volunteer work with mentally retarded children, worked as a nurse’s aid with the elderly, on a suicide hot line and also took a course in high school that brought me out of the classroom twice a week and into the different neighbourhoods, many that were at a disadvantage. So I believe I have always been interested in helping people and hearing their stories. I believe that I embraced the power of photography to be the best way to give the people I meet a voice and expose and educate the outside world to the different people I have documented with my camera.  I believe I have embraced the power of photography as a tool, to document and capture images that can be understood universally .

Did you start shooting with film?

It was really by chance that I ended up in Israel when I was 21 years old and the longer I stayed, the more I was confronted by the numerous conflicts and wars that have engulfed the region and beyond. I believe, it is not for everyone and one should never feel ashamed to be scared or feel they are incapable of it. I do believe I am capable, and able to confront such circumstances and have always been drawn to trying to help people in need. Although I can not always bring about a change, I do believe it is best described as a sort of calling to make an audience aware of what is happening.

What changes bring the digital camera in the photojournalist at the battle field?

Yes, I did start out photographing with film and that meant either processing the films, trying to find a lab and then scan the image and sending the images myself or sending the films by plane to my agency in Paris. Today, I can capture images and almost immediately send them as quickly as I need to. I also have greater control over my edits because I am the one editing my own work. It can also be exhausting and overwhelming too because today, a photographer working this way is doing the job of what used to be by many in the past. Instead of trying to find a phone line to connect a computer modem to, a photojournalist in the battlefield can send their images using a satellite modem, or by an Internet connection if there is one available. I feel the negative side of working this way is that at times I often feel rushed to send my photographs especially if I am surrounded by others who are filing. I want to remain competitive but at the same time, I do not want to miss anything and that can happen. It is also exhausting to be up all night editing, and filing photographs especially when the connection is very slow instead of trying to get a proper night’s rest for the next day. But that being said, the speed and capability to deliver in nearly real time is a true advantage when covering breaking news. At times I do feel that a bit of my soul has been lost to all this technology because as I said before, it can make you feel rushed.

Which are the cameras you use and the lenses that you like the most?

I have been using Canon 5D Markll and a 7D. My equipment is rather trashed and I hope to get a Canon 5D Mark III in the near future. While covering conflict I used the 24-70 mm 2.8 a lot but try to use fixed lenses as much as possible when shooting a feature story.  I think the 50mm has become my favorite but not when there are too many photographers around jumping into my frame. When needing to take a safer distance in conflict zones 70-200 2.8 although with all the gear and weight I would be happy with a 70-200 F4. I love the 135mm too!!

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