Photojournalist Paul Hansen

 ”I believe visual storytelling is a very strong way to connect people.”

Interview: Nezih Tavlas / August 18, 2021

(Courtesy of Paul Hansen)

Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?

Paul Hansen: I would more describe it that photojournalism found me. At first it was writing, I always loved to write and compose stories - but then my uncle gave me a camera. A simple Instamatic that changed my life. It gave me a ”ticket to the world”. I was very shy as a child but being the ”photographer” more or less always gave me access to meet people and move around in social circles that otherwise would have been closed to me. Of course later on, as a professional, the camera more and more became a tool for me to tell stories, stories thrust upon me as an assignment as well as self-initiated. I never forget the man I met on a street on my way to an assignment. I was weighed down with equipment, he looked at me and asked: “excuse me. Are you a photographer or is it just a hobby gone wrong?” I answered then, as I answer now. “Both”.

Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favorite lens/camera?

Paul Hansen: Canon cameras, my favorite lens is the 50 mm f1,2

Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/paulhansen64
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/paul_hansen64/
My website: www.paulhansenphotojournalism.com

Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?

Paul Hansen: Long before I put anything in my camera bag I do a lot of research. My research is in two stages, firstly I continuously follow the situation on a meta-level. If, like this week in fact, I am on my way to Gaza - I do a more detailed, up to date research. The when and where’s - on the ground.
There are, for me, three typical tasks.
1.  The everyday, routine assignment. Equipment: two Canon, one with a 70-200 mm and the other 15-35 mm. One microphone and sound recorder.
2.  The long term project. Equipment: two Canon, one with a 50 mm and one with a 35 or 15-35 mm lens. Microphone, sound-recorder, sometimes a tripod. Sometimes a drone.
3.  The assignment abroad: Equipment: three Canon bodies. One 24-70 mm lens, one 50 mm lens, one 70-200 mm lens, one 35 mm lens, one 15-35 mm lens. Microphone, sound-recorder, sometimes a tripod.

Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work?  What are you trying to say with your photography?

Paul Hansen: My style and what I would like to say are two separate things for me - even if they intimately are intertwined. If I have a style I would like to describe it as empathy and closeness. What I would like to say is based upon the context of the story. The baseline is to make people stop -  take notice, and hopefully read the story. Everything after that is a plus. If they are moved, emotionally, in some way I have succeeded.  My ambition is, always, to try to create a space in time where the reader, viewer, connects emotionally and is informed the same time. If my “style” is in the way of my storytelling I have failed. A colleague of mine once commented on the style of a journalist with the words: “he fills the motif with his own back”. I try to avoid that at all cost. There is (generally) no room for “me” in the stories.

Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?

Paul Hansen: Impossible to say. My longest projects have lasted many years. So, from a few exposures to thousands and thousands.

(All images © Courtesy of Paul Hansen)

Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?

Paul Hansen: Bangladesh, two months ago, and I am writing this from Jerusalem.

Q8. What projects will you be working on next?

Paul Hansen: Gaza/Israel and my stories at home - which are several. One, about a Jewish undertaker is very interesting, for different reasons. Covid has taken the lives of many holocaust-survivors and the woman I am doing the story about is married to a rabbi. They have been very generous in letting me into their private sphere. For me, insights into a strict religious and at the same time very modern and progressive family is fascinating.

Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favorite? What makes them so special to you?

Paul Hansen: This is a very hard question to answer. My favorite does not necessarily have to do with image impact or quality. On a personal level, the photo I took of my newborn daughter Emma. Otherwise there are several, one about a man, Izet Grebovic, throwing a bouquet of flowers toward his wife Ann-Christin’s, grave in Sarajevo - he could not go close due to sniper fire. It was a missile of love. One I took in Kiev, Ludmila Sirko I also like, she was a very brave woman, defying the police that were killing protesters.

Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?

Paul Hansen: It depends on the story. However the common denominator is always to inform people - to at least give them, the viewer, the chance to make informed decisions based on accurate information, , also so one aspect is also to make it hard for people to claim that nobody can say ”I did not know”. The overall ”message” - for me is to connect the story with the people, on a human level. Then it is up to the viewer to act, or not.

Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?

Paul Hansen: A very hard question to answer. Apart from the obvious: composition, aesthetically strong, etc - I would say content. The narrative. Story. A photo that tugs my heart.

Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?

Paul Hansen: To be straightforward, honest, and see my previous answer about story. It should tell a story.

(All images © Courtesy of Paul Hansen)

Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?

Paul Hansen: : Curiosity, about the world, and myself. Why are things they way they are? Why am I the way I am? But first and foremost I get very motivated by forces in our society that simplify things with an agenda. I hate bullies, on all levels, people that use their power and position purely for their own benefit. - And to expose the mechanisms and the consequences of that kind of policy/politics / behavior is a lifelong goal. I grew up around bullies and I have developed a strong allergy against it. Often people in power, or trying to get into power the same, creating false narratives, generalizing to deepen in the gap between ”us” and ”them” and capitalize on the fearful dark energy that is created.
In short, I believe visual storytelling is a very strong way to connect between people. Grab them by the heart and their minds will follow. 

Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?

Paul Hansen: The biggest professional risk was driving around in Bosnia during 1992-95. The risk-assessment was, regarding our equipment and in general was almost non-existent. But, fortunately nothing happened. But I was shot outside of Mosul in 2018. After that snipers took a sharp rise on my shitlist, and landed just below bullies.

Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?

Paul Hansen: Don´t have one. Being able to do what I do, on a daily basis, is a dream come true in itself. I love my hobby, and somebody pays me for it. I am very fortunate to be a staff photographer for a quality paper.

Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?

Paul Hansen: The same as any journalist. To be well read, be a social creature, like people, and travel in life with an open, curious mind. The visual storytelling tool / a camera / adds the need for some more skills like an aesthetic eye and to be patient, to be able to wait for the moment. Embrace the uncertainty of the ever fleeing moment.

Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?

Paul Hansen: I regard that the same way I regard a faked text. It is not allowed.

Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?

Paul Hansen: To not manipulate digitally. To treat people the same way you want to be treated. To have respect for the story. To respect the subject. Try to think yourself in their shoes. To be as objective in your subjectiveness as possible.

Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance? 

Paul Hansen: On the contrary, story driven visual journalism is more important than ever. Look at the successful news outlets like NYT - who clearly works a lot with photography, both stills and film. In a world where everybody blogs, tweets, and writes stuff on the internet - good literature and journalism is very important. Just because many more write doesn’t pose a threat to quality writing. It’s the same with photography.

Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?

Paul Hansen: Follow your heart. Do the story that connects with you, personally. Then don’t let go until it’s done. Look at the masters, in photography, literature. Read poetry. And, whenever you can, write the story yourself also - at least the captions. (And wear comfortable shoes)

Paul Hansen

Paul Hansen is a photojournalist based in Stockholm, Sweden. As a staff photographer for the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter his assignments and self-initiated projects, take him all over the world – Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan. His visual storytelling has, among many domestic and international prizes and honors, also awarded him “Picture of the year” two times and  “Photographer of the Year” in Sweden nine times. He was also awarded “Photographer of the year Newspaper” in POYi 2010 and 2013, “World Press Photo, 2012”, a second place in “Photographer of the year” in POYi 2015 and a second place in “General News” by World Press Photo 2016. In 2017 and 2018 he had two major exhibitions at the Fotografiska museum in Stockholm.

www.paulhansenphotojournalism.com