My longest relationship is with longing itself. It’s an enigmatic companion serving a wisdom I don’t always understand. As a photographer, I use this longing to push me to engage more deeply with the world.
I came to photography in Malaysia while making audio recordings of Burmese refugees who had been sold to human traffickers. At the time, I was neither a photographer nor a journalist—I had an MFA in poetry, and I’d been traveling to Asia to study Buddhism. On one of these trips I learned several Burmese people I’d met in Kuala Lumpur had been trafficked and I was compelled to do something with all I had. I broke the story, and PBS broadcast it. Following that, I received a Pulitzer Center grant to continue my reporting and I taught myself how to use a camera to take my coverage further.
When I arrived in Cuba in 2015, I felt my first love—poetry—could somehow be manifested through image-making, and I left traditional documentary behind. To me, there’s a palpable sense of yearning on the island. I identify with it; it welcomes me.
Within this emotional landscape I encounter Cubans—from young to old—seemingly able to embody strong self-confidence, as well as vulnerability. I wonder what allows them to inhabit these opposing ends of the emotive spectrum so freely? I search for this fierceness and fragility; the presence of both creates a moment of unexpected intimacy for me. Like a poem does, or a dream.