Many photographers say their cameras are extensions of themselves, but this is usually meant in a metaphorical sense; for me it is literal. Really, my journey to become a photographer and “National Geographic Explorer” began in a hospital when I wasn’t even a year old. I had developed penicillin-resistant pneumococcal meningitis and spent more than a month in intensive care. I survived with permanent damage to my senses, having my left eye reduced to peripheral vision only and complete loss of hearing in my right ear.
Throughout my childhood, I faced many challenges regenerating my speech and motor skills and just going through adolescence with a different experience than most. Still, thanks to my
parents and family, I grew up like most kids. The main difference (aside from my disabilities) was my accessories: a dual hearing aid with a connecting wire, bifocal glasses and a huge, sticky eyepatch over my dominant eye (to try and strengthen my “weak” eye).
My uncle gave me my first camera when I was 14; it changed how I saw and experienced the world. Coupled with my love for the outdoors and natural science — one of my favourite things was going on adventures with my big brother collecting insects in the forest surrounding our home — my camera became a way for me to compensate for the senses I had lost.
In university, I studied environmental science, and by the time I finished my bachelor’s degree, I was keenly aware of the divide between natural science and the public. I was determined to bridge this gap, so I enrolled in the master of fine arts in experimental and documentary arts at Duke University. It was there that
I let my creativity flow and examined my journey and purpose of work as a documentary photographer. I focused my camera increasingly on the smallest and most-overlooked organisms.
For me, there’s nothing quite like the experience of overturning a log on the damp forest floor to find an entire microcosm that can fit in the palms of my hands. I’ve always been fascinated with what I like to call “underdog species” — the minuscule, latent organisms that are only the size of a pinprick. Perhaps I feel this way because I consider myself an underdog too, having conquered my childhood sickness to become a deaf-blind photographer.
There is an eternally deep well of biodiversity, beauty and uniqueness to the microcosms that are hidden right before our eyes, and you never see the same one twice. All you need to experience these little worlds is curiosity, patience and a magnifying lens.