DPP Home Profiles I Embraced The Road - Colin Finlay

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Embraced The Road - Colin Finlay

You have to get in close to see the truth. Colin Finlay has made a career of bringing that truth to the eyes of the world—stories that aren't always pretty, but need to be told

Cairo, Egypt, 1997

While in Egypt to shoot and write a travel story about the pyramids, the Nile and Egyptology, Finlay was thinking about something more substantive. He had heard of a place called the “City of the Dead.” A chance meeting in passport control with a local businessman who had a car and access to a translator proved beneficial. By the end of his first full day in Cairo, he had pushed the travel story aside and was now covering child labor.

Finlay explored 10 to 12 different locations, spending 20 to 30 minutes in each. After a few days, he learned that the children he met couldn't write and most couldn't read. None of them attended school.

“They all worked six or seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day,” recounts Finlay. “They were indentured servants without a childhood. Most of them worked for their fathers or uncles in appalling conditions.”

These adults had been child laborers themselves, making bricks and roofing tiles. “This tradition, this caste system of sorts, reached so far back into the generations that it was all the men knew,” Finlay concludes.

Ajiep, Sudan, 1998

In southern Sudan, Finlay found himself “in a lost, forgotten landscape, over the edge of reality, the edge of sanity, the edge of civilization.” He had discovered a gaping hole filled with people the world no longer wanted.

“This was famine,” according to Finlay.

In the midst of witnessing and recording suffering, he noticed a Parisian woman washing the feet of a dying woman: “A photograph could never capture the dignity of such a human gesture; it was one of the most beautiful moments I've ever seen.” He had passed this gravely ill woman earlier, lying on her back, motionless and alone. Finlay “moved slowly, photographing outside and around the tent. The landscape was fractured, full of lives caught in slow decay. There's a black hole of humanity in this universe. It's Ajiep.”

The experience proved frightfully overwhelming and pushed the photographer to his limits. He was in a raw, vulnerable state, moments away from uncontrollable sobbing, but able to catch himself. “Rwanda taught me that,” he says.

The Tools That Help Tell The Story

While photojournalism remains Colin Finlay's chief photographic pursuit, he takes on commercial work with equal passion. Pursuing such a dramatic range of jobs allows Finlay to push who he is as a photographer, both creatively and technically. The experiences of shooting in war-torn countries, as well as locally, expand his creativity and the emotional range of the stories he needs to tell.

Says Finlay, “I don't want to become a 70-year-old retired photographer whose sole body of work is Tri-X war photographs. I want to cover it all. I want to be able to bounce from Rwandan genocide to making photographs of street clothes in downtown Los Angeles.”


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