Heber Vega is an editorial and humanitarian photographer. Originally from Chile, Heber has been based in northern Iraq since 2003. He specializes in documenting the work of humanitarian organizations and also in portraits of people through editorial photography. Heber works primarily as a freelance photographer, working on assignment. He has been commissioned by various organizations, and lately by magazines as well. He is on Twitter and Facebook. You've got to follow him.
Photography is for the soul. It is therapy for the heart.
Zack Arias: Yes, the well known photographer that we hear a lot of these days. I respect him deeply and consider him an online mentor to many of us. I appreciate his generosity, sharing his insights of this industry, and building a community. He once said: “Those of us who make a living with a camera aren't curing cancer”. Actually he’s said that many times… and I totally understand what he means. Sometimes we take everything in this field far too seriously.
Without taking his words too far out of context, I want to propose the idea that photography can heal our own souls and the hearts of others. Photography can help us rise up out of whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
I love photography; I always have. But I’m from Chile, and the Chile of my childhood was a third world country. I never had the necessary resources to own a camera. My best option was to borrow any that I found. Once I became an adult, I totally forgot about those childhood dreams of becoming a photographer. I moved to northern Iraq (Kurdistan) nearly 9 years ago, and began to live and experience life as a humanitarian (NGO) worker.
Kurdistan is an autonomous region filled with people who sadly know too well the meaning of words like pain, genocide, persecution, death, gas attacks, etc. These people have been under every imaginable hardship, yet have been able to survive. Resilience is what has formed their character as a nation and today that resilience has allowed them to create a new era filled with peace and hope, where they have become self-sustainable and finally respected as a nation. The experience of learning about the Kurds, just like experiences I had back in South America, introduced me to the stories of people and places worthy of filling hundreds of books. The frustration of coming across so many important but untold stories led me back to photography. It has become my tool for telling stories, for expression, for giving dignity and for giving (if only for a few minutes) freedom to people with chained souls.
Since then I’ve been pursuing this passion. I’ve been able to work for other NGOs and charities in Iraq, as well as my home country of Chile. Today I’m specializing in portraiture as a way to understand and reveal more of the souls of my subjects. A year or two ago, I had a dream of using photography for people trapped in difficult situations. Why? Because through the years I’ve witness the power and freedom that a camera can give, in the right hands.
This dream led to the creation of The ONE-SHOT Project. I regularly see the healing that can happen. I want to share some of those untold stories and give you the chance to experiment yourself, and perhaps to help empower someone else with the liberating
experience of owning a camera. The names below have been changed, but the stories are very real.
Felipe: I met him through the internet; he was desperately looking to own his first camera. I helped him, gave him some advice, but then I asked the important question “Why? Why a camera?”
His answer hit me. He said, “I’m a cop and I deal with a lot sh** every single day. I’ve been severely depressed for 2 years, and I need to focus on something else. I need to breathe; I need to find myself and spend some time alone.”
Within a few weeks, Felipe got his first camera and is doing much better. He’s taking weekends off and spending them making landscape images…
Muhammed: He is one of the children we have worked with through the ONE-SHOT Project. He’s an orphan and dealing with a lot of pain from his past. Muhammed took part in a photography workshop with us for a couple months, and during the closing ceremony he approached me to speak in private. “Am I good enough? Am I good at all? Did I do a good job? Am I good enough?” He was so insistent that I had a hard time answering back. Why? Because I knew he’d been labeled as a “problem” many times in his life. He struggled at school and was probably a difficult child to deal with. But you know what? Over the months of the workshop, he was one of the most talented students….
A camera, an opportunity to explore and express his curiosity, plus the therapy that comes with caring was all he needed to do well. That day I told him honestly “You are brilliant! You’re one of my best students. You did an incredible job!” Those words are still resonating with him today, in part because he’s so rarely heard those words.
Rasheed: He was a problematic child, more than anyone in his class. I thought it was going to be difficult to keep him in the class; he didn’t pay attention, he was constantly moving, and sometimes was aggressive with the other kids. After a few classes with a camera in his hands, he found focus. He was all about photography: creative like no one else, finding new angles and perspective that only an artist could see. A camera and the experience of making images has made him into a new child. He went from being the most problematic student to the one that arrived 30 minutes before each class, organizing the space so that everything would work well…
Ana: She’s a beautiful person, but after knowing her for a while you can tell that she’s been dealing with a lot of baggage from the past. Behind her warm, candid smile and all the friendship she’s able to share with whoever may happen to need company, she hides pain and problems with self-esteem. Photography for her has been huge. She now advocates for other people with the same problems, especially women. She’s been using her camera to empower people, and today she’s able to share her story knowing that it may help others as well. Step-by-step she is learning how valuable she is for the rest of us….
Myself: For years I wasn’t able to speak in public or a class. I was frightened about what other people would think of me. I was afraid to try new things; afraid they would become the next new failure in my life. I had very poor self-esteem and was incapable of believing that difficult things could be made possible. I was deathly afraid of meeting new people, engaging in conversation. In some ways this is still me, but more and more it describes the stage in life before using a camera broke down those walls.
We are all dealing with a lot stuff. That “stuff” is reflected in our daily lives, in our businesses and in our relationships with the rest of this world.
My call today is to grant you permission to allow your camera to lead you into new situations, and to push out the boundaries of your own life; to allow yourself to experiment with life in a new way. I know that cameras don’t talk, but our souls do. Take a moment (an hour, a day, a week), GO ALONE with your camera, and let it go free. Unleash the talent in your heart. Go somewhere else, maybe the other side of the world as in my case, and allow that camera to discover your surroundings. Allow that camera to discover your true self. Don’t let fear drive you. This is time to connect with ourselves, and to live in the moment with a new pair of eyes.
Travel, seek, analyze, observe, connect, admire the world around you. If you step out so far that fear fills you again, HIDE! But hide behind a viewfinder, until you gather the courage to try it all again. Keep your eyes there, gazing through a lens… and breathe. Breathe deeply.
Ask questions, ignite your curiosity, be gentle and keep doing this, day after day. Don’t worry about all the technical details; learn how to take one photo at a time. Then add something. Ask the next question of your subject; challenge yourself with a new technique or experience. Before you know it you will be immersed in this new world of frozen moments, a world of beautiful details, a world with a window to the souls of those you meet. Photography is a license to get rid of fear. Photography cures, not cancer, but our souls.
Be the next story on the list. Be who you really are![blogshow id=9d17 player=1 autoplay=0 toolbar=1]
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