Photojournalist Stefanie Glinski

Interview: Nezih Tavlas / May 12, 2021

“Breaking pre-existing stereotypes through my storytelling is a priority for me”

(Courtesy of Stefanie Glinski)

Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?

Stefanie Glinski: I’ve always been a curious person, interested in hearing people’s stories and visiting places to learn about dynamics on the ground. I’ve always strived to see things for myself, to investigate and to then share my findings. I started writing poetry and short stories when I was a teenager, and I was introduced to photography around the same age. My father is a keen photographer and he bought me my first camera and taught me how to use it. Photography had always been part of my life growing up, watching my dad take photos on his film camera (he’s still using one of those today!) When I was 16, my high school required us to do a weeklong internship and I decided to spend my week with the local newspaper. It seemed natural, there wasn’t really anything else I would have wanted to do. I walked into the office on the first day, terrified. I remember the editor-in-chief handing me a camera and sending me out on assignment. I don’t even remember what I was supposed to cover - but it was a small town local event. I was shy, young, and scared to fail. So I jumped on my bicycle and did that first assignment. I had no choice. It went well. A second assignment followed, then a third. I think I already knew back then that one day I’ll pursue a career in journalism.

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

Stefanie Glinski: I still mostly use my Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70 lens. For me it’s been the most reliable and robust camera no matter where an assignment has taken me. It’s taken a bit of a beating over the years, but still works perfectly. I’ve used it - among other - covering the Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone, the drought in East Africa, the arrival of Rohingya people in Bangladesh, the war in South Sudan, the Lebanon explosion last year and - of course - life in Afghanistan throughout the past 2.5 years. I also have a smaller mirrorless back-up camera and am currently using the Fuji XT3… but have my eyes on the Canon EOS R3 (hello Canon :) ).

Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?

Stefanie Glinski: I use Instagram and Twitter regularly.

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

Stefanie Glinski: Living in Afghanistan, I’m on assignment most days, so the bag is always packed! I travel light - usually I just bring my two cameras, a piece of cloth to clean the lens throughout the day, a couple of spare batteries, my notebook and a pen. Depending on where I’m travelling in Afghanistan, I dress more conservatively, which at times includes covering my face under a burqa. Travelling light is all the more important when visiting remote areas of the country as a big bag and lots of equipment might draw too much attention.

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

Stefanie Glinski: I document everyday life and everyday injustices. I hope my images don’t communicate what I have to say, but what people in my photographs have to say: what their lives are like, what they are thinking about, what their dreams and fears are. My main audience is probably UK and US-based and this means that the majority of people looking at my images likely haven’t visited the places I report from, but often hold preconceived notions and stereotypes (that most of the time are incorrect!). Trying to break any of these stereotypes through my storytelling is a priority for me, as is generally communicating to a global audience what is happening in a certain place at a certain time.

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

Stefanie Glinski: Hard to say and depends on the story. If I’m both writing and documenting a story in photo, I probably take less photos. If I can solely focus on my photography, I’ll take more. Let’s say I have an entire day to just work on the images for one story - then I’d probably take around 150-200? After post-production, I might end up with around 20-30 of those. That’s a rough estimate at least.

Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?

Stefanie Glinski: I don’t really take trips, I usually live where I work. For the past 2.5 years, I’ve lived in Afghanistan and, prior to that, I spent about two years living in South Sudan. Let’s take Afghanistan as an example: over the past years, I’ve been able to invest time in learning the language, built a community, established a network of professional contacts and, when not in the capital Kabul, visited the country’s provinces frequently. I’ve also seen the situation change over the past years. I prefer living somewhere rather than flying in and out of places I don’t know well.

Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?

Stefanie Glinski: I will continue my work in Afghanistan. The US has recently announced a full troop withdrawal by September 11, raising fears of a possible violent Taliban takeover or even a civil war. Afghans are scared; many have already left the country. I’ll continue my reporting from Afghanistan, focusing on news mostly.

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

Stefanie Glinski: Simple: I don’t have one! But I generally love portraits: They are more intimate, they might evoke more on an emotion. They focus on just one person. So I’d probably say that taking portraits is one of my favourite things to do.

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

Stefanie Glinski: Well, I guess each photo conveys a different message, but what’s important to me is that the person photographed feels that the image portrays them in a way that ascribes dignity - or portrays them in a way they would like and hope to be portrayed. I mostly photograph people, so each photo tells part of their story.

(Courtesy of Stefanie Glinski)

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

Stefanie Glinski: Many great images evoke emotion. Oftentimes, it really is about being in the “right” place at the “right” time - whatever that might mean in a certain situation. Photography happens on the go - I move and travel and meet people. Throughout my days, people share their emotions - their fears and aspirations - with me. If such emotions can be captured in a photo - and if those who look at the photo stop and think - or even take action - a great photo might have been taken. Then of course there are all the technicalities: the light, the frame, the aperture, the white balance etc. A great photo is a balance of both of these two aspects.

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

Stefanie Glinski: I’d answer this question exactly the same way I answered the previous question. :)

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

Stefanie Glinski: Ah, it’s so easy to stay motivated when you have the chance to meet absolutely incredibly people every day! I constantly meet inspiring women for example who tell me their stories of overcoming difficulties, success, hardship, opportunity. It’s incredibly motivating! I strongly believe that each person’s story needs to be heard and if I can use my job to help do that, I will continue to be motivated. Of course some assignments are more difficult than others. There are the big attacks for example - and too many continue to happen in Afghanistan. Documenting violence and brutality is difficult and devastating. Other assignments - mostly news - are very fast-paced because there are breaking stories every day. That can be physically exhausting, but the opportunity of being able to document news is again motivating, because it is so crucially important. And - lastly - of course I take breaks. I like to spend these in nature, going hiking or camping, playing music or working on personal crafting projects. Recharging motivates me too.

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

Stefanie Glinski: Just over four years ago I quit my full-time job and decided to move to South Sudan as a freelancer. I was scared, but I knew I needed to take the step to further grow professionally - and I also wanted to be able to understand what it means to work as a freelancer, having previously held staff jobs. It’s been a difficult but rewarding journey. It’s definitely a lot more hassle working as a freelancer, and I don’t think I’d like to do it for the rest of my life, but in terms of personal and professional development it’s been crucial.

Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?

Stefanie Glinski: Living and working in Afghanistan is exactly what I want to do right now. I believe that, for the rest of my life, I’d like to document and report on injustices. This can be done anywhere, of course.

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

Stefanie Glinski: I think you have to be able to step into unknown and unfamiliar scenarios. You have to be adaptable and non-judgemental, able to work alongside people with different working styles, able to change plans at the last minute. And well, you need to be able to operate a camera. Ha. A journalist never stops learning, it’s a constantly evolving process.

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

Stefanie Glinski: It’s not journalism.

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

Stefanie Glinski: I think it means involving those being photographed in the process. Share with them why the photo is taken, ask for their consent - this is obvious of course, but still figured it would be important to mention. Consent is one of the most important parts of journalism to me. I remember covering an attack in Kabul, heading to the hospital where the victims had been taken. The ICU was full - and doctors were scrambling to safe life. I stood next to the bed of a young man, his body attached to machines, warm blood dripping from his body, making a puddle on the floor below. The doctors said his chances of survival were slim. I felt deep pain - and I didn’t take the photo. He was in no state to consent to it.

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

Stefanie Glinski: It’s been significantly changing over the past decade or so, also because the world is better connected; a lot of people have access to a camera or a phone. A lot more reporting is done locally, then distributed internationally, which is great. At the same time I see an industry that isn’t sufficiently funded. There’s a huge reliance on wires and a maybe a shrinking number of photojournalists who have full-time employment. I don’t think photojournalism will ever lose its importance. Documenting daily life, uncovering injustices, drawing attention to violence - that’s all important.

Photojournalism News: What is it like to be a female photojournalist in a male-dominated field?

Stefanie Glinski: I mean… the stats speak for themselves. Male photojournalists are predominantly published, there is absolutely no gender balance in the industry, even though there are fantastic women photojournalists worldwide. Sadly, there also seems to be a lot more ego and arrogance on the male side - but of course this is not a generalisation; each person is different. Personally, I believe I often have better and more access as a woman. I’m able to photograph both men and women and with that, can communicate a more balanced image.

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

Stefanie Glinski: Practise! Honestly, that’s the number one advice I can offer! Go out, take photos, ask questions. Practise, fail, start again. Learn. Follow the work of other journalists, get in touch with them, ask questions.

Stefanie Glinski

Stefanie Glinski has been based in Kabul, Afghanistan for the past 2.5 years. She focuses on covering conflict, security, human rights abuses as well as urban and rural development. Prior to working in Afghanistan, Stefanie has covered breaking news worldwide, including the Lebanon explosion, the arrival of Rohingya people in Bangladesh, the East African drought in Somalia and Kenya, the Lake Chad Basin displacement in Niger, the Nepal earthquake, the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone and the Syrian war from across-the-border refugee camps in Jordan. She was based in South Sudan full-time for almost two years, winning the Prix Varenne for her photography work with AFP. When not in Kabul, she calls Istanbul her home.