Podcast: Taking the Long View—Social Documentary Projects


On today’s episode of the B&H Photography Podcast, we discuss long-term documentary projects, particularly those that deal with immigration and social issues. Both of our guests are currently working on projects that span several years, and we talk about the commitment, the technique, the goals, and the gear that go into their work.

Our first guest is Griselda San Martin, a Spanish photographer who has been telling stories of immigration, deportation, and the often-blurred lines of national identity. One of her series profiles Las Delfinas, a girl’s flag-football team from a high school, in Tijuana, Mexico. Her project on families who meet on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border wall for weekly reunions centers on a deported man who sings through the wall to his daughter on the other side,  and her current four-year project profiles U.S. veterans being deported as a consequence of criminal convictions. 

After a break, we speak with Salwan Georges, a staff photographer for the Detroit Free Press who, in addition to his daily assignments, is documenting the immigrant communities of Dearborn and Detroit, Michigan. This is a subject close to his heart—Georges came to the United States as a refugee, in 2004.

With San Martin and Georges, we talk about the practical aspects of their work, from camera choices to raising funds to simply making time for the work. We also discuss communication, establishing trust with subjects and the inspiration and goals for their projects. Finally, because both photographers incorporate video into their work, we ask if there is a limit to what a still photo enables them to say.

Guests: Griselda San Martin and Salwan Georges

Members of Las Delfinas football team practice near their school, in Rosarito, Mexico.Griselda San Martin
People meet weekly at the border wall in Tijuana, Mexico, to talk with family members on the other side of the wall.Griselda San Martin
Jose Marquez goes to Friendship Park, in Tijuana, once a month to catch up with his daughter and sing to her through the border wall.Griselda San Martin

The Buteh family, refugees from war-torn Syria, drive to a hotel after their arrival at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, 2015.Salwan Georges

Father and son, refugees from Syria, play on the balcony of their home in Dearborn, Michigan.Salwan Georges/Detroit Free Press
Shi’a Iraqis participate in Arba'een walk on Sunday, December 14, 2014, in Dearborn, Michigan.Salwan Georges

A young Iraqi boy helps his father grill buffalo fish, one of the most popular fish entrees in Iraq, over a fire pit. Dearborn, Michigan. Salwan Georges 
Nassour Yacoub with his younger brothers Seid Yacoub, (left), and Khatir Yacoub, near their home in Detroit. "There was no one to help us. As the older son, I had to help raise my siblings and take care of my mom. Life was hard," said Nassour. The two youngest sons are young enough to adapt, and are slowly becoming accustomed to their new home in inner-city Detroit. Salwan Georges/Detroit Free Press, 2014

An Iraqi immigrant photographed behind a local coffee shop, in Detroit, Michigan. Salwan Georges

Salwan Georges and Griselda San Martin


Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Lawrence Neves


Perhaps this should have featured the story of 10 year old Kayla Gomez-Orozco who was murdered by an illegal immigrant who had been previously deported. He threw her body in a well. Her parents do not have a joyful heart tugging story, nor are they able to sing to her through a fence, a wall or even into the next room. B&H taking this kind of approach in their podcasts mimics that of other corporations who feel a bizarre compunction to politicize their views. Shut up and sell camera equipment.

Thank you for your feedback Julie. As the producer of the podcast I feel that to talk about an issue and to discuss how photographers approach it, does not imply a politicized view on that subject. Our podcast talks about all that is photography, including social issue documentary, and we approach these issues in an even-handed manner, with respect for our guests and without veering into our own opinions. (except, of course, Canon v. Nikon! smiley)   In this case, we specifically discussed objectivity in the photographers' approaches, including questions of advocacy, which is always an important concern in documentary photography. Again, thanks for the comments and for listening to the show.

What a fantastic episode! A combination of humour and humanity. I always look forward to the show but this one in particular was special. Many thanks for the quality of discussion.

Thank you for the comment Jon, we appreciate the feedback.