Experience

10 Favorite Photographs of Brendan Hoffman

Bird In Flight asked Brendan Hoffman to choose his 10 favorite photographs and tell us about each of them. He decided to choose one for each of 10 years of his professional career as a photographer.

Brendan Hoffman Age 35

Born in Albany, New York. Lives and works in Kyiv, Ukraine. Based in Eastern Europe since August 2013. Documentary photographer and co-founder of Prime collective. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek, Stern, the Wall Street Journal and others. Has received awards for his photography from Pictures of the Year International, American Photography 29, the White House News Photographers Association, and other organizations. He has worked on long-term documentary projects in the US, Haiti, Russia and other countries.

2006.
I took this photo in 2006 in the village in Nagorno-Karabakh. This woman, Lina Nersesyan, and her husband are the only people living in the village, after it was heavily bombed. Before the war, 70 families were living there.

This is one of the earliest stories I ever worked on. To me, this was an interesting photo to come away with, when I was an unskilled photographer and did not know exactly what I was doing. I still think it is a strong image, and hints at the ghostliness of that village.

HOFFMAN_01

2007.
I got lucky with this photo from 2007. I was on my way to Capitol Hill for an assignment. As I was walking towards the building, there was a protest happening across the street. I took out my cameras and took a few pictures there. Then I continued walking to the building, having all my cameras ready, when I saw then Senator Barack Obama walking away from the Capitol building towards his car. I took his picture as he was getting into the car, while this boy with his mother approached and they asked about a picture of a boy with Senator Obama. Obama said: “Here’s a professional photographer. He can take your picture.”

HOFFMAN_02

2008.
One time my friend and I went to Texas, rented a car and drove all the way to Southern California, jumping back and forth across the border between the Unites States and Mexico, visiting random towns with no plan.

On the day when I took this photo, we were walking around the Mexican town of Palomas and we found this school. This school is located literally next to the border with the Unites States. On the photo behind the children you can see the fence dividing Mexico from the United States. It was the middle of the day and the children were about to have recess. We spoke to the director of the school and he allowed us to take pictures on the playground.

I love the composition and the look on this girl’s face of total freedom and happiness, while there are much bigger problems going on, which she is to a large degree unaware of, although they do affect her.

HOFFMAN_03

2009.
This photo is from the project I started without any exact idea about how I wanted it to work.

I am originally from upstate New York, but I do not necessarily feel a strong connection to it. Still, the longer I am away, the more attached I feel to it. I have been trying to figure out what things about the place I am from make it feel like home.

This picture comes from when I used to live in Washington DC. One day I found very cheap tickets to Buffalo and flew there for a couple of days.

This photo was taken on the main street of a rundown and economically depressed town near Buffalo.

These red shoes are like those from the film “The Wizard of Oz”, the ruby red slippers Dorothy puts on, clicks her heels three times and says “There’s no place like home.”

This photo, with the reflection of the sky and the window, spoke about the longing to go somewhere exciting and have an adventure, and that in the end you just want to go back home.

HOFFMAN_04

2010.
This is a picture I took in Haiti. I arrived there a week after the earthquake that took place there in January 2010. At that time, the media were already flooded by pictures of people trapped in buildings, being rescued, and by many other violent things. I did not want to run with a pack of thousands and thousands other journalists, I wanted to find my own thing to focus on.

I ended up focusing on one particular camp for displaced people whose homes were destroyed in Petionville, outside Port-au-Prince. It was on the Golf course, the only Golf course in Haiti. I spent about a week there, went back home and came back a month later to continue photographing the camp. It already started to turn into a little neighborhood with barber shops, beauty salons, places for people to charge their mobile phones.

I like this picture of a little makeshift barber shop that had been put together with just pieces of wood and a few mirrors.

HOFFMAN_05

2011.
I got hired to photograph him speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC. The group that hired me was a pro-LGBT one which is at odds with most conservatives in America and their priorities.

I like this frame of Donald Trump looking as he is playing a role and waiting for his direction and ready to go out and perform on stage. Also, he is on the short list of celebrities I have ridden with in an elevator.

HOFFMAN_06

2012.
It is from a project I have been doing in Webster City, a small town in northwestern Iowa. I became interested in it because they had a factory that made washing machines. The factory closed down and moved to Mexico. I started photographing there in the months after that happened to see what would become of a small town that lost its main employer.

This woman in the photo is someone I met through a waitress at a restaurant where I sometimes ate breakfast.

She knew I was looking for interesting people and things to photograph. She said that there is a guy who comes there pretty regularly and his wife has a pet monkey.

She gave me her phone number, and when I called her up, she invited me to come over. It turned out that she has not only a pet monkey but also all sorts of other interesting exotic pets, like this albino raccoon named Reba.

HOFFMAN_07

2013.
This is from one of my first days of covering Maidan in December 2013. This is inside the Kyiv City Hall that was taken over by protesters and used for housing and feeding people.

One morning I went there very early, while everybody was still sleeping, and went up on the balcony to photograph the people sleeping on the floor. To me, this photo shows how committed people were. They were passed out on the floor of the City Hall, fully dressed, in these piles of clothes and sleeping bags, everybody next to each other. That was the only way they were going to succeed.

HOFFMAN_08

2014.
I decided to go back to Haiti in December 2014. I had been working almost exclusively on assignment in Ukraine for the whole year, between Maidan, the war in Donbass, and MH17. I was exhausted by the end of year and sort of tired of seeing the same things over and over again in Ukraine. It was coming up on the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, which seemed like a good time to get some traction on a Haiti story.

This photo was taken at a church, where Pastor Zidor preaches. He attracts a large audience with his emotional services and miracle medical cures of dubious therapeutic value.

People get really worked up into this religious fervor and come rushing to the front of the church, and collapse on the ground, falling and rolling on top of each other. It is hard to tell how real all of it is, or are people simply acting as if they were possessed to demonstrate their faith? I took this photo when everything finally calmed down, at a moment when everybody was lying motionless, and this one woman sat up.

HOFFMAN_09

2015.
I took this photo in 2015 in school #68 in Mariupol. In late-January 2015, there was severe shelling in Mariupol that killed more than 30 people. Shortly after, just on a hunch, I visited this school to see whether or not they have been affected by the shelling that took place just about half a kilometer away. It turned out that they were doing drills with all of the pupils about what to do in case of shelling every morning at 8 o’clock. We met with the director and we agreed to come back the next morning to photograph the drill.

It was just as heartbreaking as I imagined it might be with these kids crouching in a hallway covering their heads.

It was one of those times when you have an idea about what might make a photo and you do some research and talk to some people, and then later on things turn out to be almost exactly what you imagined they might be. It does not happen very often.

HOFFMAN_10

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