An interview with Daniel Berehulak by Michael Harris.
Daniel Berehulak is an award winning, independent Australian photographer and photojournalist, currently residing in Mexico. Born in Sydney in 1975 to Ukrainian immigrant parents, Berehulak studied history at university before embarking on a business career. In 2002 He began his photography career at first shooting sporting events, before moving to London to work for Getty Images as a staff news photographer.
To date, Daniel has worked in over 60 countries around the world covering infamous events such as; the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami disaster, the trial of Saddam Hussein and more recently the war on drugs in the Philippines. His work has received numerous awards, in 2011 for his work covering the Pakistan Floods and his coverage of the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. Berehulak has twice been named Photographer of the Year.
When did you begin taking photographs? What made you want to begin a career as a photojournalist?
I’ve always been taking photographs—even as a boy, on school excursions or with family, I was taking photos. That love for making pictures and capturing memories and moments allowed it to grow in to my career.
What inspires your work?
Coming from somewhere where I had a very privileged upbringing, it always felt like people didn’t understand what people in other parts of the world are going through. I feel that I have a responsibility to tell stories about people all over the world.
NATARI, JAPAN – MARCH 06: Michiko Miura, 53, holds the hand of her son, Taisei Miura, 1 year 8 month old, as she walk past her neighbours home destroyed in last years tsunami, on March 06, 2012 in Natari, Japan. As the one year anniversary approaches, the areas most affected by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami that left 15,848 dead and 3,305 missing according to Japan’s National Police Agency continue to struggle. Thousands of people still remain without homes living in temporary dwellings. The Japanese government faces an uphill battle with the need to dispose of rubble as it works to rebuild economies and livelihoods. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images)
You started as a sports photographer, what made you want to begin working overseas covering natural disasters and conflict?
I studied history in university, and as a kid I read adventure books –stories about the Amazon, the Arctic, and all the incredible place in between. I’ve been curious about the world and always wanted to see the world. Working overseas has allowed me to see so much of the world and share the stories of the people who live in it.
Did any photojournalist’s work stand out to you as inspirational in your own growth as a photographer?
Many! So many of my colleagues inspire me every single day—Kevin Frayer, Joao Silva, Meredith Kohut, James Nachtwey, …I could go on and on.
Your work covering the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is incredibly powerful. How did that project come about and did you have any hesitation traveling to an area where the danger cannot easily be seen?
I had been following the story and knew the Times had covered it, so when my editor called up and asked if I was interested I immediately answered, “Yes”. The story is so important, and had this element of interconnectedness to it. This disease could put the whole world in danger. Saying “yes” all came back to the idea of responsibility: I had the opportunity to cover this story and so I was going to do it, and I was going to do my very best with it.
Eric Gweah cries as a burial team removes the body of his father, West Africa 2015
Have you ever had issues turning down potential projects? If so, what is the hardest aspect of it?
Yeah, I actually had to turn down an assignment for National Geographic covering Ebola and that was really hard. I thought maybe I’d never get the chance to work with them again. However, I was already working with one publication on the story and I really wanted to see the story through and be loyal to the publication that had sent me there.
Tell us about your trip to the Antarctic, you said it had always been a dream of yours?
I had read about the explorers as a kid but never thought it could be a reality. Through opportunities working with the Times, I really got to live the dream.
Of all the work you have done over the years, which work are you most proud of, or consider the most important?
Any story that makes people stop in their tracks and makes them reconsider how they’re living their lives or their approach to something, maybe just brings up something they hadn’t thought about before is important to me. Stories that connect people and spark and emotional response are the stories I’m proudest of— especially Ebola and the recent Philippines story.
A young girl, displaced by flooding, and stranded, on land only accessible by air, sleeps covered in flies, on a makeshift bed on August 27, 2010 in Garhi Khairo near Jacobabad in Sindh province, Pakistan. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
Which do you think is more difficult to cover, emotionally; natural disasters or the results of human conflict?
The frustrating thing with conflicts is that they’re manmade. Natural disasters are equally as tragic but a natural disaster is just that: a natural disaster. War is preventable. They’re both equally difficult to cover emotionally but war is much more frustrating.
How difficult is it coping with the stresses of working in these environments? How do you think a photographer should best deal with them?
Assignments always very in level of difficulty and stress, but what I always have to remind myself of is to have perspective. Yes, it may be difficult for me for the short period of time I’m there, but I get to go home, to leave, at the end of my assignment. The people that I’m photographing don’t—this is their lives, this is their reality.
One thing that really helps is having a good network of friends who have gone through similar things, and who are there to talk things out (or to just be with after a long assignment). I also think seeking professional guidance or help is great.
Is there anywhere you really want to travel to that you haven’t yet to document?
I’d love to go to Alaska and focus more reporting on climate change.
Do you have any interesting projects you are working on at the moment?
I have some stuff in the works. At the moment I’m working on a story in Mexico where I’m based.
What advice would you give to a potential photojournalist beginning his or her career?
Dream big and set goals for yourself. Nothing gets handed to you—you’ll have to work for everything. Be persistent when you get turned away and allow that to give you fuel and momentum. And last but not least, photograph things that are close to you and that you care about—your connection to that subject is what will make your work stand-out, and it makes you that much more invested in what you’re photographing.