After graduating from high school, I enrolled in photography school in a last-ditch effort to go to college. I barely knew how to use a camera, but I hadn’t been a good student in a traditional learning environment and wanted to find a way to channel my curiosities. I didn’t become a much better student, but I grew to love photography. It allowed me to be an observer, get out and talk to people from different walks of life, and ask lots of questions.
A year after I finished photography school, I received a one-year fellowship at Fabrica, a communications research center in northern Italy. I moved to the small town of Treviso and worked with artists from all over the world. This is when I began interviewing my subjects and noticed that, unlike many of my peers, I was just as concerned with the interview process and the writing as I was with the photographs. I saw each component as an essential part of the portrait. Though I didn’t have any formal training in interviewing, I became better at getting people to open up, and I started to feel like it made the work stronger and more comprehensive.
After Fabrica, I started my career as a photographer in Italy, fascinated by small communities and groups of people that were brought together by a simple common thread. For my first personal project, I traveled to a village in the Dominican Republic populated entirely by migrant sugarcane workers from Haiti. I took 14 portraits and interviewed each subject to include a caption that gave some insight into their lives. The story sold immediately to a magazine for which I had always dreamed of working. I wasn’t paid enough to cover the expenses that I had put into it, but it was a deeply satisfying experience that became the start of something crucial to my development as a photographer. I realized I could learn about people’s lives just by asking them: the world became both larger and smaller.
Since then, my work has taken me all over the world. I did a story about voice actors in Rome who dub popular Hollywood films into Italian. I went to a town in Alaska where nearly everyone lives in a single 14-story building. I tracked down 16 people in Vietnam 45 years after an American soldier took their picture in a village outside of Saigon. I spent three weeks in Tokyo covering a story about retired sumo wrestlers. My work has been featured in National Geographic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, TIME magazine, NPR, Wired and The Guardian.