The Untold Stories

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David Verberckt

David Verberckt is an independent reportage photographer currently living in Budapest, Hungary. He has studied photography in Brussels and afterwards studied International Development in France. After exhibiting his first documentary reportages in the early nineties, David has turned to the aid agencies and has spent twenty years working worldwide in humanitarian emergency and development. In early 2013, David left the international organisations to work as a professional photographer, full-time. His interest is to document and work close with people whose destinies are marred by social and political injustices, often living in deprived societies affected by latent or bygone conflicts. To contribute to the social responsibility and awareness and bring forth the changes to ameliorate the fate of the people whose life has been on the verge of existence, David aims to show the under-told stories to wider audiences.

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Thank you David for accepting this invitation for an interview. Could you please start by introducing yourself to our readers?
I am from Belgium where I studied photography in the beginning of the nineties. Since 1993 I have lived abroad and I am presently based in Budapest. Although dedicating all my time to documentary photography for the past 6 years, I have also been working for international organisations and the EU in conflict and post-conflict environments between 1994 and 2013.

Fuji X-Pro1 . Fuji XF18mmF2 @18mm . f/8 . 1/140″ . ISO 400 – Aung Mingalar, transformed into a ghetto for the 4000 remaining Rohingya in Sittwe. Rakhine, Myanmar, June 2016
Fuji X100 . @23mm . f/11 . 1/320″ . ISO 400 – Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestine, August 2013

Could we say that your career as a reportage photographer started back in 1990/91 with your series from Romania?
If not career because I was a first year photography student at that time, definitely the will and desire to witness historical events unfolding. Romania and the unfolding revolution of 1989/90 was the trigger. With 4 other first year students we decided to sit in a car and drive from Brussels to Bucharest to go make images.

After this first time, I returned another 4 times between 1990 and 1991. In 1993 I did an assignment in Romania for MSF-Belgium (Doctors Without Borders) and that’s how I came in contact with Humanitarian organisations and their operations.

Fuji X100 . @23mm . f/11 . 1/300″ . ISO 400 – Rohingya daily labour at a fish drying plant near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, December 2015
Canon 5D MK III . Canon EF35mmF/1.4 @35mm . f/10 . 1/125″ . ISO 400 – Children playing at a makeshift refugee camp for un-registered Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Before the renewed waves of ethnic cleansing of 2016 and 2017 more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees were already living in Bangladesh. Shamplapur, Bangladesh, June 2015

What was it like to work in this area back in the 1990s? At that time, access to information was certainly not as easy as it is today. What major differences do you find from your current workflow, in aspects as simple as researching on the subject that you are going to photograph?
Access to information was certainly different but I would say that the information available was usually of much much higher quality and reliability than what is available now. Also in the field it was very easy to share information and costs with colleagues and even work together. Nowadays this is much more difficult despite the abundance of information and image access, fixers, and the industry surrounding journalism.

Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @34.3mm . f/7.1 . 1/550″ . ISO 1600 – Fishermen neighborhood, Rabo de Peixe, Azores, September 2018
Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @18mm . f/5.6 . 1/4100″ . ISO 1250 – Preparing bait for the fishing lines. Rabo de Peixe, Azores, September 2018
Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @18mm . f/9 . 1/450″ . ISO 500 – Preparing the long lines for line fishing, a traditional fishing method still widely used by all fishermen in Rabo de Peixe, Azores, September 2018

By looking at the stories on your website, we quickly realize that you are very criterious about the projects you embrace. But when you dedicate yourself to a story, you totally commit yourself to it, not being satisfied with a more superficial approach. What is your selection process for a new story and what leads you to cover ongoing social issues?
Several factors will play but the overriding ones are that ordinary people are central to the story and that it has not attracted (yet) the attention of mainstream media. Indeed, access and receptiveness of the concerned communities are equally crucial.

Canon 5D MK IV . Canon EF24-70mmF/2.8 @70mm . f/2.8 . 1/50″ . ISO 6400 – Rashida B., 25 years old, from Tula Toli near Maungdaw in Burma. Her two children were killed by the military forces. The house with her dead children was burned down. She was taken away with 30 other women from the village and were gang raped for several hours by military and local militia. After being raped she was assaulted with a machette to her neck and skull and left for dead. When the place was set on fire she escaped through the back and fled. It took her 8 days to reach Bangladesh and receive the first medical care. She lives now in Bangladesh where she was reunited with her sister who was also sexually assaulted. Balukhali Camp, Bangladesh, November 2017
Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @18mm . f/9 . 1/1250″ . ISO 800 – Zardeh, Kermanshah Region, Iran, April 2018

You have covered post-war situations, hunger and extreme poverty. In any of those places, have you ever thought about quitting and going home?
As photographers or journalists not living in those places, even if it can happen that we stay really long, we have usually always the luxury of the choice to leave at any time for whatever reason. On the other hand the people that help us and tell their story they usually do not have this choice of leaving. Even though this reflection is fully legitimate it is much better to have it before leaving than once there.

Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @18mm . f/11 . 1/80″ . ISO 1250 – Survivors recall that during the chemical attack it smelled like flowers, apples and garlic until they started to cry, choke and be blinded. Zardeh, Kermanshah Region, Iran, April 2018
Canon 5D MK III . Canon EF24-105mmF/4 @24mm . f/10 . 1/400″ . ISO 800 – Boy’s toys, Balata refugee camp near Nablus, Palestine, May 2014

We would now like to place some questions more related to your workflow and equipment that you use. Could we start by asking what you used in the 90’s and what cameras and lenses can we find now in your backpack when you go to a new assignment?
In the nineties I was using Nikon F4 and F801 with a f1.8 50 and 28mm with rolls of HP5+.

Since 2013 I have been using Canon, 5DmkIII (replaced by EOS R) and 5DmkIV and Fujifilm (X100 replaced by X-Pro1, X-Pro1 replaced by X-E3). Fuji lenses: 18mm, 27mm, 18-55mm. Canon lenses: 35mmL f1.4, 50mm f1.4, 35mm f1.8RF, 24-70mm L II f2.8, 70-200mm IS L f4, 16-35mmL f4.

In the Bag always 5DmkIV (or EOS-R) and X-E3 with 18mm and 18-55mm for Fuji and 24-70mm, 16-35mm and 35mm or 50mm for Canon. This is the minimum configuration.

Canon 5D MK IV . Canon EF16-35mmF/4 @27mm . f/11 . 1/80″ . ISO 200 – Climate refugees holding their food ration card during one of the two weekly food distributions. Having lost their livelihood due to the drought, these once pastoralists are entirely dependent on food and water distributions to survive. Saraar Region, Somaliland, October 2017

What reasons lead you to use Fuji cameras as a complement to your main Canon equipment?
Because they are very complementary and because I like to have something discreet and light with me.

Do you agree that the small size and discretion of Fuji cameras allow you to make a different type of approach, namely in the most sensitive places and with people less receptive to photojournalists with “more professional” equipment?
Hmmm, maybe. But I would say that eventually it is the photographer’s approach to people that makes the real difference. The camera not that much, except maybe with young children.

Fuji X-E3 . Fuji XF18-55mmF2.8-4 @18mm . f/2.8 . 1/100″ . ISO 3200 – Shelter for drug addicts run by EDHI Foundation in Karachi. It is estimated that several hundred thousand people of all age and gender suffer of heroine addiction in the city where a dosis of heroine costs the same as a meal. Karachi, Pakistan, March 2018

To conclude, you would like to leave a few words about the current state of Photojournalism / Documentary Photography and how platforms like Instagram influenced the approach to Photography, more focused on the impact of single image than the story as a whole?
I believe that number of images taken by a much larger number of people has a much greater impact on photography than the diverse distribution platforms. The smartphone with ever better cameras (and image enhancers) is the tool making the fundamental difference from “before”. Nearly everybody owns a smartphone or has one nearby, making it extremely easy to document any sudden event in real time. With widespread social media the distribution of it is furthermore facilitated and accelerated.

Of course, Facebook and Instagram combined with small screen viewing greatly influences the way we look or rather scroll through images. Nevertheless not a reason not to continue to tell stories visually. Eventually if an image or a serie influences only few people that may make a difference, it is better than having the imaged viewed or liked by millions who have already forgotten the image (not to say the narrative) before they scroll or like the next one.

Canon 5D MK IV . Canon EF24-70mmF/2.8 @63mm . f/8 . 1/125″ . ISO 3200 – Psychiatric unit for male patients, EDHI Foundation village north of Karachi, March 2018

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