Eduardo Martins is a documentary photographer from Sao Paolo, Brazil and humanitarian at the UN Refugee Agency. You may have seen his work in Vice, Le Point, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Telegraph. Captivated by the depth of his work, he shared what the work conveys about Martins’ perspective and experiences in the field.
It seems like you’ve been privy to some pretty frightening situations. How do you balance your role as an objective observer/photojournalist and wanting to help the people you are photographing?
During my work, there are many moments in which I spend time beyond the camera and end up getting involved with the people I’m photographing. Once in Iraq shooting a conflict, I stopped shooting to help a boy who was hit by a molotov, dropped the camera and helped get him out of the conflict area. In scenes like this, which are common in my work, I stop being a photographer and become a human being. I can not be impartial in these moments.
There’s a strong sense of humanity in your photos. I think particularly of the photo in Gaza with the man in the damaged Audi and also of the barely-visible eyes of one of your female fighters. Do you talk to people before you take their photos or do you prefer to be candid with your photography? Why?
I always try to talk to people, to be able to shoot properly. Sometimes, in certain types of situations, I have to act immediately, so we can not have this kind of communication. But when I can talk and try to know the story of each one, it changes my perception of how I set the scene and shoot.
Which area out of all that you’ve photographed did you find most difficult to be in and why?
The most difficult and dangerous place that I’ve photographed was Syria, because it is a place that is constantly in this very serious civil war. It is very hard to work there; the risk of life is imminent. Once, in a conflict between the Free Syrian Army and the opposition forces of the Bashar government, I took a glancing shot. I believe, without a shadow of doubt, the most dangerous place to be right now is Syria.
What initially inspired you to take up photography?
I always liked to photograph, then I had a serious illness, so I was unable to work for years. When I was healed, I decided to invest in my humanitarian and photographer side and moved to Paris and started working in the NGO Children’s Safe Drinking Water. From that moment on, I started to travel to places with social problems where I started shooting this reality. I joined the humanitarian work with photography, which ended up working very well.
What is your favourite photo you’ve ever taken? Why is that?
It is difficult to highlight a favorite picture. I have several, but they are the ones that took the most out of me while shooting. Not only the final result, but what I went through to be able to transform the scene into a photograph that conveys something to the viewer. I like a lot of my work in the Gaza Strip, have a great identification with the Palestinian people, and because of that I do my best to do a good job.
What is your definition of what constitutes a good photo?
What makes a good photo to me is the power it has to touch the viewer, I believe it’s crucial to bring the feeling in photography, and I try to portray faithfully to the public what I see and feel by clicking a situation.
What are your thoughts on photoshop and editing programs that so many photographers currently use? Do you think that these programs contradict the purpose and mission of photojournalism?
I think that nowadays the photographer has many tools at his disposition to help in their work. I personally do not use any program like photoshop; I believe that a good real photographer does not need to edit the image, he does a good job even without these tools. I respect those who use the program, but I don’t see it as part of the development of my job.
What made you become involved in the UN Agency Refugee program and why?
At CSDW, we worked at the UN refugee camps most of the time. I worked a lot in the Middle East and met many people who were part of the UN, which turned out to be very positive to open doors and start working with the UN. This year I was invited to work as a humanitarian in the agency. It was a great honor and I immediately accepted their invitation.
What is your mission when you travel to a new place to photograph? What are you searching for or hoping to document when beginning new projects?
I will always photograph places with social problems; I always look for this type of subject. I want to show the public the reality of these places, telling the story through my work, something that can impact and bring a willingness to change to the next. My favorite subjects are definitely conflicts and social problems around the world, so when I have an assignment I always look for places facing these humanitarian issues. My favorite places are in the Middle East and Africa.
If you were to have a personal motto, what would you say it would be and why?
My motto is always where there is chaos there is also beauty, which is what I try to show in my work and in places that have such a difficult reality to be faced. I try to show the good side of each place, people, and situation. Basically, my motto is to awaken compassion within the viewer, touch the heart of each one deeply so that they are moved to make a difference in the places they live through charity and compassion to the next.
Which photographs(s) of yours has/have generated the most reaction from the public and/or the journalism community?
My work in Syria and Iraq have more prominence in the journalistic media, after all it is more photojournalistic than documentary. But the general public appreciates a lot of my work in Gaza because of the human side that I picture. Finally, I just hope all my work can touch every person in a way, whichever that is.
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This written Q&A was edited.