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We have a very special episode for you today! In this interview, I talk to investigative journalist Adam Oswell. Adam has been documenting illegal wildlife trade for decades. Recently, he received the Wildlife Photographer of the Year for Photojournalism award. As you can imagine, we had a wide variety of eye-opening topics to discuss!
Adam and I talk about:
- His foundation, which focuses on wildlife conservation
- What it was like for him to receive the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and how it has impacted his career
- The advice he’d give to aspiring photojournalists
& much more!
Talking with Adam was a pleasure. He generously shared a lot of tips on how to communicate with strangers, how to take care of our world, and an abundance of other important things. I hope his story inspires you to look at photojournalism from a fresh perspective.
Here is a preview of our conversation with Adam Oswell.
Q: Which of your photography projects has had the biggest impact on you?
I managed a program training rangers in Burma for about 10 years in some of the ethnic areas there. I don’t know if many people are aware about what’s happening in Burma right now, but there was a coup earlier this year. It’s now fallen into a really bad state of affairs. It’s basically an all-out civil war in a country. It’s been like that for a long time, since they gained independence from Britain. It’s a very complex situation with a lot of players there.
But it’s a hub for a lot of different illicit industries, including wildlife, narcotics, timber, gold, human trafficking. Now, since the coup, all of those things have been scaled up because the military government is trying to create more revenue as they get more isolated. So there’s a lot of demand there. There’s some really special high-value biodiversity in Burma. It mostly lays in the border, ethnic control frontier areas. So I spent a long time training rangers there.
It was just very rewarding, taking young guys without any experience and some people who had a lot of experience with war. They had great skills to apply to being field rangers. Training and watching the transformation of those people, and learning about indigenous respect for nature and how they manage the forests and how they respect nature, that was very rewarding.
We deployed about 150 rangers in a very large area, a very high-value biodiversity. It was a very effective program and they’re still there, protecting those areas. So that was very rewarding.
A lot of the other work I do is similar to that. It depends on what’s happening in the region. Things can change very quickly, politically, here and there’s a lot of different dynamics going on. But the bottom line is that I work for organizations to protect wildlife and biodiversity through communications. And sometimes it’s sensitive. Sometimes it’s working in sensitive areas. Sometimes it’s not.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle for you to overcome as a photographer?
Most difficult obstacle? It’s an interesting question. I think one of the most difficult things has been maintaining your independence. It’s difficult to work for clients or work for people while you’re trying to maintain your own ideas and your own integrity without following people’s agendas. It’s been a challenge sometimes, especially when you work for big organizations.
There’s always an agenda. You know, there’s always something behind what they want you to do. So I’ve always tried to be as independent as possible. It’s very difficult because everyone has to work for somebody. But maintaining your independence and your independence in the sense of the work that you want to do. It’s been the most challenging thing for me.
Q: If someone wants to help stop illegal wildlife trade in their own way, what can they do?
I think people need to ask themselves first, what is it they really want to do? You can’t do this unless you’re passionate about it. I’m not motivated necessarily by money or recognition. I do it because I care. I’m very passionate about it. There’s a huge need for it. I’ve managed to make a living out of it at the same time.
But anyone who’s contemplating about doing this type of photography needs to ask themselves: what is it they really want to do? If you’re very passionate, and you want to do this, then you can. It’s a choice that you have.
There’s lots of types of photography: advertising, travel photography, there’s so many different types of photography to make a career out of conservation photography. Photojournalism is one of them. It’s very rewarding and it has real value. It’s not easy. But if you have that passion and you make that decision, genuinely, then it’s possible.
There’s a lot of organizations and there’s a lot of demand for good stories. There’s a lot happening in the world right now, with the environment, facing biodiversity collapse, climate change issues. There’s so many things going on. And the more stories that are told effectively about what’s going on, the more effectively we can influence governments and people to change.