Neil Shea

writer | photographer | story consultant

Selected Stories


Middle Passage

this series first appeared on National Geographic's Instagram feed

I’ve just published my latest Instagram-only series in collaboration with photographer Lynsey Addario and National Geographic magazine. The six-part project documents and explores the journey of African refugees and migrants as they cross the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to remake their lives in Europe. Our work (and its many repostings) can be found in its entirety on Instagram at my feed, National Geographic’s, or collected under the unique hashtag #middlepassage2015.


The National Geographic Channel has premiered “Fighting ISIS,” a television doc based on my work in Iraqi Kurdistan, as the first feature in its 2016 season. I hosted, wrote, and produced the show, and I was fortunate to work with some great people—not least of all the Kurds who shared with us their lives and struggles. Here’s one of my favorite clips from the program.


The Other Iraq

Inside the Kurds' battle against ISIS

On the day that Mosul fell to ISIS, Botan Sharbarzheri decided he was willing to die.

The 24-year-old university student smiled as he left his parents’ home in Slemani, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, bought cigarettes, made a few phone calls. He and many of his friends were on summer break, so he had no trouble raising a group of like-minded young men, would-be warriors, eager and untested. Together, in a haze of smoke and text messages, they sketched out a plan. Questions arose and were quickly settled. Everything seemed clear, righteous. All agreed they would die for their homeland—not for Iraq but for Kurdistan. They would die to protect their families against a brutal enemy, just as their fathers had once done against Saddam Hussein’s army. All they needed was a battlefield on which to prove themselves, a direction in which to charge.

See the full story here, and in the March 2016 issue of National Geographic.


On a hot spring morning, Galte Nyemeto stood by the shore of Lake Turkana scanning for crocodiles. The water was shallow, the odds of reptiles low, but Nyemeto, a traditional healer of the Daasanach tribe, had come with a patient, and it would be very bad luck—spiritually and otherwise—for the ceremony to be interrupted.

Nearly all the larger and more dangerous hippos had been hunted out long ago, but plenty of crocs remained, especially here, below the delta where the Omo River pours from Ethiopia into Kenya. The river crocs, which sometimes follow the current south, are said to be more vicious and cunning than those hatched along the lake edge, though all are considered by the tribe to be evil incarnate, regardless of lineage. It meant Nyemeto was both watching for wildlife and gauging the spiritual trend of the day.


This story from the Kakuma Refugee Camp, out now in The American Scholar, began as a post on Instagram. It’s an experiment in seeing how small stories can grow into larger ones, and move across media. The Scholar is also running a series of portraits I made during my time there, including one of these sisters, whose story is up on my Instagram feed.

Telling stories is about gathering fragments of truth and sharing as many as you can. I hope this work will help erase distance, reveal struggles, and frame beauty in the lives of the people I met in Kenya’s northern desert. I’ve been searching for new ways to think about what photographer Donald Weber recently called “the periphery,” and this collaboration is an experiment in trying to get there—to reach further, and show more, from the edges.


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