ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Questions with a Pro: Alison Wright

New Ireland, Papua New Guinea © Alison Wright

This week’s Questions with a Pro features Alison Wright.

Alison is a New York based documentary photographer that travels the globe to capture a wide range of cultures and relevant issues in her images. She is represented by National Geographic Creative and has been published in numerous magazines including National Geographic, The New York Times, and Forbes. She is not only a photographer, but has published many books and is the founder of the non-profit organization, Faces of Hope. Here she tells us a bit about her start as a photographer, her life changing experience in Laos, and the initiative of Faces of Hope.

We asked: How did you kick off your career as a documentary photographer?

Alison said: My mom was a flight attendant for Pan Am so I obtained my wanderlust in utero. I was the kid on the high school yearbook and newspaper. My English teacher took me aside and told me that I could actually make a living as a photojournalist and from the first time I heard that word at the age of fifteen I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I went on to major in photojournalism at Syracuse University. When I graduated I hitch-hiked around North Africa and the Middle East with my camera. They were my first third-world countries and seeing those glimpses of poverty, children in need and refugees was a defining trip for me. I knew that I wanted to spend my life documenting and trying to help and create awareness in some way with my camera. I came back home to California and cut my teeth working for newspapers, back when there actually were newspapers. I got my first real oversees assignment photographing for UNICEF in Nepal. It was meant to be a three-week assignment and I stayed for more than four years. It’s been my second home ever since. Everyone has his or her own path. You have to listen to your inner voice, be assertive and take advantage of every door that cracks open to you.

We asked: What marketing strategies have you utilized in order to become involved with organizations like National Geographic and the New York Times?

Alison said: There are outlets you work towards. I’m a huge advocate of personal projects. It’s the photography you’ll be most passionate about and where your work will most shine.

We asked: How did surviving the horrific bus accident in Laos change your outlook on life and your career?

Alison said: I not only barely survived on that remote jungle road in Laos but had more than thirty surgeries and had years of rehabilitation to get back to doing this job that I love so much. It’s brought a whole new empathy to my work, especially working in post/disaster conflict areas. I truly know what it means to suffer, to fear for your life. It made me want to do more than make a photo, I wanted to make a difference, to give back. I am alive today because of the kindness of strangers. I feel grateful for that every day.

We asked: Please describe the initiative of Faces of Hope. What inspired you to connect photography and philanthropy?

Alison said: I started my non-profit Faces of Hope to give back to the communities that I photograph, to help women and children in crisis through medical care and education. I experienced first-hand what it means to nearly die from lack of medical care. The first thing I did was bring five American doctors and ten thousand dollars worth of medical supplies back to help that little village in Laos with a medical clinic. I was able to raise thousands of dollars for tents for Haiti and Nepal after their earthquakes, help Burmese refugees, women in the Congo, send girls to school in Africa and India. A little amount of money can do so much in these countries.

We asked: Did you always see yourself running such a diverse business that produces photographs, books, podcasts, and participates in philanthropy? How does having all of these entities impact your business?

Alison said: Yes, I had a very clear idea that I wanted to do books when I started out, that was always my dream. Most of my personal work is an in-depth look exploring how we are universally connected, even in my memoir, “Learning to Breathe.” I’ve just published my tenth book, “Human Tribe,” a monograph of global portraits celebrating our diversity, connectivity and unique visual human tapestry. Podcasts, social media, all that didn’t even exist when I started out, but you have to embrace new outlets. A book after all is just a dead tree until you bring it to life. Philanthropy is an important part of my work. I am alive because of the kindness of strangers. Everyday I ask myself what kindness would I do for a stranger? What would you do?

Find more of Alison’s work on her website.

If this article was of interest to you, take a look at some of the other articles in the Questions with a Pro and Questions with an Educator series.

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