writer | photographer | story consultant
On Dispatches, mentors, and writing about war
Herr’s account of his years covering the war in Vietnam was one of several I’d assigned for the workshop that summer. I had been so thrilled to reread it and discuss it with my students that I’d written to Herr, who died last month at the age of 76, to see if he might speak with me. I knew it was a long shot. In the years following the 1977 publication of Dispatches, Herr rarely granted interviews, making clear again and again that Vietnam no longer interested him. He did not distance himself from the work so much as he refused to revisit its territory, declining to be pulled into the life, separate and surreal, that the book had achieved on its own. And yet the best piece of writing advice I ever received, and that I often recycle, is to Just do it, whatever it is, and so with Herr I had. Herr’s publisher agreed to forward the short note I’d written, while warning me that “Michael says no to everything.”
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.
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.