Back, say, seven or so years ago, Katie + I moved from the Park Slope apartment we called our first New York home down to the upper borders of Sunset Park. Lovely apartment but, sadly, not the nicest neighborhood, especially coming from tree-filled, idyllic Park Slope, a neighborhood now often associated with the yup-most yuppie living. We stayed in that new apartment for not even a year before moving up to Carroll Gardens, where we remained until picking up shop and moving west. Sunset Park was, overall, not a great move, but the location had its benefits too, among them, single-handedly turning our private backyard gravel lot into a raised-bed garden, gaining a sun-filled back office that allowed us to grow our design business, and meeting one Mr. David Goldman, photographer extraordinaire and our upstairs neighbor at the time.
Though it’s been years since we’ve all been neighbors, we all remain friends to this day and stay in close contact with David. After an admirable career in music-related photography, David has shifted over the past years to more humanitarian-driven documentary subjects, working with the UN and others to show the work being done to aid those in need in other countries and, more generally, to tell stories of other cultures halfway around the world.
Recently, David announced that he would be raising funds to support a month-long project documenting migrant sugar cane workers in India, traveling “by oxcart with migrant workers from their villages to the factory towns, learning along the way what motivates them and what are the challenges they face both individually and as families.”
We got a chance to talk with friend and gifted photographer, David Goldman, about fundraising for his coming trip, the inspiration behind it, and how he went from rock photographer to true photojournalist.
raven + crow: Okay, first question, friend: Can you tell us—in this day and age of everyone and their mother’s hair stylist hitting people up for money to pursue their new line of jewelry or the cat-themed coffee shop they want to open or their series reinterpreting each and every one of Michael Jackson’s music videos using only magnets and metal shavings—how does your project stand head and shoulders above the rest in such a very, very crowded field?
David Goldman: I suppose I don’t think my project is any more important than anyone else’s. I would hope that if you go through the challenge of asking, begging, pleading for support for a crowdfunded initiative that you fully believe in it. Like all those other people, I believe in what I’m doing. I’ve been lucky enough to do some traveling in my life and with that traveling I’ve realized in living color just how lucky we are to be living in North America. We have the freedom to grow, educate, and thrive with relative freedom. There are those who through no fault of their own face a life of struggle beyond anything that we could comprehend. I do feel we have a moral responsibility to be aware, at the very least, of how others live. If, in our awareness, we can adjust our lives in ways to help others then we are doing something right. I simply want to show how other people live and, in that, hope to create awareness amongst the people who see it. If one person can do something that in turn can affect someones life in a positive way then I will have done my job.
Well-put. So, how did you go from working primarily in the high-glam music photography biz, shooting album covers for Blink-182 and others, to shooting such humanitarian-fueled subjects?
About 10 years ago my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was compelled to help in whatever way I could. Unfortunately, I was living in NY while she was in LA, so I could not be right with her but I created sendyourbest.com. It was a way for people to reach out to her and let her know that she was not alone. Through messages and gifts, my friend felt the love and support of many people both known and unknown to her. She told me many times how all this support really helped her during her treatment. I thought if I could make SYB available to everyone in the world it would be pretty cool. Although SYB did not take off the way I had hoped, it got me thinking about ways as a photographer that I could bring awareness and attention to issues and causes. The next thing I knew, I had an opportunity to go to Ethiopia and do a project about obstetric fistula. I photographed two young women who had both lost their babies to fistula. I found myself helping to get them back to their villages. So, after hiring a driver and an interpreter, we set off on a 1000km drive. It was on this drive that I both shot and filmed a very powerful story. Through that trip to Ethiopia and the images that I created, I was then hired by the UN Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women.
Tell us about the work you did through that trust fund. What were you covering for them?
I was hired to show how the UN’s money was being used by four organizations they supported. I covered a story on dowery related violence in Delhi, then on to Sex worker issues in the Karnataka region, then it was off to do a story on Adivasi (indigenous) people. From there I traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to do a story on migrant workers.
What was that like, being immersed in those worlds that are so culturally foreign to our western world?
It is hard to describe to someone who has never been in that environment but you see many many injustices. Sometimes I would find myself getting upset and wanting to almost lash out physically against the men who had so badly mistreated some of the women that I met. Of course, I realize that it’s a systemic problem built into the culture, so beating up some guy would solve nothing and, in fact, he would probably not even understand why it was happening to him.
Yeah, that must have been really difficult + frustrating—seeing what you or I would perceive as individual injustices and not being able to really do anything about them. I know you write on your funding page, “(m)y feeling is that there is more to be accomplished by showing positive and inclusive imagery than divisive and controversial ones which often leave us feeling helpless and depressed.” Do you find that tough to do when you’re covering such unfair, terrible conditions? Do you ever just want to shake people here back west and just be like ‘LOOK at this. Stop what you’re doing and look at the things going on in the world, man’?
I find that a smile goes a long way but you don’t get that smile by just coming into a situation with your cameras out shooting photos like a machine gun. It takes time to build up trust and then to be welcomed into a community. Once you are welcomed you can get on with telling a more full story. If you can tell the full story you will get the positive images of hope. Of course, it does not mean you will not see the tougher images, but making sure that the story is balanced is important to me.
Do you have any favorite stories from that trip for the trust fund or your work in Ethiopia?
When I was able to return one of the girls to her family, the elder of the tribe gave me a live goat as a thank you. That was quite a gift. I understood it to be of great value and, although I had no use for it, I also knew that I must accept it. So we took it and gave it to another family in the village where we spent the night. They cooked that goat in the tent I was sleeping in and in the morning I woke up dizzy and no doubt with some carbon monoxide poisoning.
Ouch. So how did you get turned on to this story of migrant sugarcane workers in India?
While traveling from Bangalore to a small town—after a 24 hour train ride and 2 hour truck ride—on the way to visit the sex workers or the Karnataka health collective, I spotted a tent city on the side of the road in the shadow of a huge factory. This turned out to be where the migrant farmers who worked at the sugarcane factory were living. We stopped for about 20 minutes and I ventured into the area and began to take photos. I shot some portraits and when we continued on our journey up to the sex workers, I was told more about those people. I was fascinated by the efforts they underwent in order to do this work. I felt this would be a story worth telling.
And are you funding your trip entirely through your IndieGoGo page?
My hope is to fully fund it through the IndieGoGo.
So this is all you—no affiliation with the UN or anything on this project?
Correct, this is all me. As a photographer, I feel the need to create and, since I’m always interested in how others live and work, I felt that this would be a great opportunity to push myself both creatively and technically.
Very ambitious of you. Do you have any cool funding prizes for the various levels of support?
For a contribution of 1K, I will give two Skype sessions or, if you are in the Tri-state area, I will come to you for a private photography lesson. For 2K I’ll go anywhere in the US or Canada and for 5K I’ll take your grandmother to prom ( just kidding but there are some cool rewards).
I think you should keep the 5K-grandmother reward. Do you have an outlet in mind that you want to use to get photos out into the world after you return? Gallery show? Book? Broadway show?
My goal is to create a great interactive Web site that shows both motion and stills with written word as well. I’m hoping to talk to Andrew Lloyd Webber about a stage performance for early 2016.
Nice! And are you for real traveling by ox cart?
Yes, I will travel with some migrant farmers as they travel from their villages to the town where the factory is.
How long are you going to be gone for?
I’ll be there for a month.
Wow, that’s really awesome. Is there somewhere we can follow along with you from afar as you go? Instagram? Tumblr or something?
Great. Well, good luck! And thanks for talking with us Mr. Goldman.
Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Crow.
All photos, courtesy the artist.