Photojournalist Heidi Levine
Interview: Nezih Tavlas / April 28, 2021
“I prefer to lose a picture to help save someone”
(Credit: Warrick Page)
Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?
Heidi Levine: I feel in love with photography and wanting to help people when I was a kid. I grew up outside of Boston and The Boston Globe really had great photojournalists that impacted me. I studied a lot of psychology and knew I wanted to work with people. When I started to study journalism, I knew I could combine my passion to use photography as a universal language together with my addiction to try to make a difference.
Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?
Heidi Levine: Mainly 2 camera bodies D5 Mark III and IV,24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, 35mm 1.4 ,135mm 2.2 and find my old 50mm macro comes in handy especially on science stories. For riot situations and hard news, I depend a lot on my 24-70mm. Two cameras, 24-70 and 70-200/2.8, 35mm 1.4 for low light conditions and portraits. Batteries, a mifi, a power bank. Often a 3rd camera, sometimes a super telephoto lens (eg.on Aquarius).My basic equipment is always ready, with charged batteries etc..
Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?
Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?
Heidi Levine: My heart is my most important tool. As I cover a lot of breaking news and conflict - I keep flak jacket, helmet, gasmask. I stay prepared to weave in and out of cultures so have a headscarf , long skirt and long-sleeved shirt, first aid, 2 @canon cameras, 24-70 2.8 ,70-200 2.8,351.4, 50, laptop, charged spare batteries, memory cards, comfortable sturdy work boots
Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?
Heidi Levine: Intimate-Many have described my work to be both gruesome yet beautiful. I want my audience to be able to feel the emotions my subjects are experiencing and understand trauma they have suffered-the impact of war and conflict
Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?
Heidi Levine: I really do not set a limit on myself and find that it takes a lot of time and frames especially for someone to really feel comfortable for a portrait. I try to give editors a good selection of images that are equally strong-avoid adding in weaker ones just for the sake of more.
Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?
Heidi Levine: Last year I was invited by Mohammad Shahnewaz Khan @Shahnnewaz2406 , the founder of VOHHFOTOFEST, VOHH Photo Institute to teach a PJ workshop in Chittagong, Bangladesh. I feel in love with the country, the people, food, culture and also with teaching. Invaluable experience I hope to repeat
Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?
Heidi Levine: I have been working on gun violence in Israel’s Arab communities -an ongoing project. I am also working on a project about domestic violence and the impact of domestic violence on Israeli &Palestinian women. The spike of domestic violence is globally shocking
Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?
Heidi Levine: That is really hard to choose.
Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?
Heidi Levine: My goal is to use my photography as a universal tool. I want people to connect to my pictures, evoke my viewers want to learn more, not turn away or forget.
(Courtesy of Heidi Levine)
Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be great in your eyes?
Heidi Levine: A great photo is an image that may not hang on your wall but will forever remain etched in your memory. It can be historical, a beautiful moment, a display of love, celebration, achievement or a moment of darkness that continues to remind us of the consequences of mankind’s mistakes- not be repeated.
Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?
Heidi Levine: I believe that depends if we are speaking about an audience or an individual but in regards to photojournalism we need to be able to verify the image and ensure it is authentic.
Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?
Heidi Levine: I have witnessed & documented the darkest side of humanity but also mankind’s immeasurable resilience. I have met people on both sides of conflicts trying to fight for peace & reconciliation which helps to reboot my soul and fuel my commitment to continue doing what I do.
Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?
Heidi Levine: I decided to become a mother early in my career & have 3 kids. I was once I could not be a mother and a photographer that covers conflict. I believe I have proved I can be good at both-but it takes sacrifices and a balancing act.
Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?
Heidi Levine: I have always dreamed of going to Iran to work on a long term project. Having proper financial support would really make a huge difference and help me to raise the bar on my work.
Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?
Heidi Levine: Empathy, knowledge of the sty and culture, patience, respect for others, trust your instincts -as they will help keep you safe. Remain open minded to learn both new skills and from the experiences of others. Knowledge of first aid - safety skills- bear in mind the safety of the people who work with you.
Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?
Heidi Levine: Nothing should be removed or added to our images. Staging a situation and digitally altering images simply undermines our purpose to document the truth.
Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?
Heidi Levine: Empathy, respect, never try to influence the situation to get a better picture. I always try to imagine myself or my own family on the other side of my lens. If someone needs my help, I prefer to lose a picture to help save someone.
Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?
Heidi Levine: No, I do not believe that photojournalism is losing its importance, however, the financial state of the industry is impacting us all-especially freelancers. Today we have greater opportunities as storytellers and have the possibility to impact a wider global audience- We need to continue to explore new platforms and skills. There is no denying our workloads are greater today than in the past.
Photojournalism News: What is it like to be a female photojournalist in a male-dominated field?
Heidi Levine: I have been very fortunate to have the support and respect of many male colleagues that have helped me grow both professionally and personally. I have encountered situations where my gender was an obstacle but being a woman has also allowed me to document situations a male photographer would not be allowed.
Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?
Heidi Levine: Do not wait for an email or call for an assignment but get off your screens and get out and take pictures. I believe the pandemic taught us all the importance of our own backyards- which has a wealth of stories needing to be told -even within our own families. Take advantage of mentorships/internships -embrace the people you meet as a gift.
Heidi Levine is an American photojournalist based in Jerusalem and is represented by the French photo agency Sipa Press. She started her career working for the Associated Press in Israel and for over three decades has weaved in and out of both sides of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Over the course of her photojournalism career, Levine has focused on the most critical moments in the Middle East including the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, the crisis in Syria, the Israel-Lebanon war, Iraq, and the numerous conflicts in the Gaza Strip. Heidi has brought frontline action and behind-the-scenes human stories to the world’s major press outlets. She has won a myriad of awards for her photographs of conflicts and is the inaugural Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award for her coverage of the war between Israel and the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014.