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Sean Gallagher

Thank you for joining us for the inaugural IMPACT online exhibition, a new project exploring the blog medium as a venue for photographic work. RESOLVE is excited to be hosting this experimental new project.

By clicking on the links below the IMPACT logo, you can move through the exhibition, viewing galleries of images, all related to the idea of “Outside Looking In.” Each “gallery” will include a series of images a photographer has uploaded to their blog along with this same IMPACT logo.

At any time you can click on the IMPACT logo to be taken to back to this post, where all the participating photographers are listed. (The “next” button actually takes you to a random gallery, so keep clicking if you get a repeat.)

By allowing viewers to move between different photographer’s online galleries, we hope to gain exposure for their work while providing a multifaceted visual study of the chosen topic.

We also wanted to remind viewers of the important role photographers play around the world, so we asked participants to share images from a project where they had an impact or were impacted themselves. If inclined, they have also included a link to an organization that they believe is having a positive impact on the world. Please help us increase this project’s IMPACT by sharing it with your community.

Enjoy!
The IMPACT Team: Yumi Goto, Miki Johnson, Paul O’Sullivan, Jeremy Wade Shockley

Gazi Nafis Ahmed: Inner Face

Daniel Beltra: Tropical Deforestation

Fabiano Busdraghi: Physics, adventure, poetry and photography in Antarctica

Shiho Fukada: No Retirement Plan

Sean Gallagher: Desertification Unseen

Bill Hatcher: New Zealand Masters of Sport

Ed Kashi: A “Fady” in Madagascar

Michael Kircher: Adventure for Healing

Pete Marovich: A Look Inside the Old Order

Sara Mayti: The Sound of a 4.16

Thomas Peschak: Saving the Most Important Fish In the Sea

Ian Shive: American National Parks

Jeremy Wade Shockley: The Mountain Kingdom

Art Wolfe: The Ganges River

Rachel Wolfe: Jamaica

Sean Gallagher, a photojournalist living and working in China, won a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in February for his work on the country’s desertification. From a whirlwind trip to complete his coverage, Sean created several posts, slideshows, and the multimedia piece below. Sean explains how important it was to edit as he traveled to check in with his themes and cut down on post-production time. Don’t miss his earlier posts about finding and planning in-depth stories.

(Click on the four arrows in the lower right corner to expand to full screen.)

I returned from my six weeks of travel with about 2,500 images; I have never been a prolific shooter, probably because I started out shooting slide film and knowing the cost of each frame. Throughout my trip, I made a point of downloading and categorizing my images as I made them. To keep all the files in order, I created folders for each location I visited with RAW and JPEG sub-folders.

Since I was traveling for such a long time, I knew it was imperative to keep on top of my images so I didn’t face a nightmare editing session when I returned home. My organizational efforts also allowed me to keep track of where I was with the story, making edits in the evenings, following how my narrative was developing.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which funded this project, asked me to write weekly blog posts about my travel experiences. This discipline helped me enormously because it made me stop and think about the importance of each stage of my trip. This further helped me keep track of my narrative and helped me stay focused on the main themes I wanted to explore through the work.

On my return to my home in Beijing, I found that my meticulous filing in the field meant my editing was half done already. I could go straight to post-processing the images and then seriously think about edits for publishing outlets. More »

Sean Gallagher, a photojournalist living and working in China, won a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in February for his work on the country’s desertification. After a whirlwind trip to complete his coverage, Sean returned with several photo stories. One key to tackling such a long, complicated project, he explains, is to accept that you can’t control everything, and to recognize opportunities when they come up. Don’t miss his earlier posts about finding and planning in-depth stories.
In the foreground, a piece of orange pottery can be seen. These 1500 year-old fragments pepper the ground throughout the city. ©Sean Gallagher. Courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

A 1,500 year-old pottery fragment in the abandoned city of Yinpan, which Sean discovered serendipitously after his original "abandoned city" story fell through. ©Sean Gallagher. Courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

Planning thoroughly and planning well are key to a large-scale assignment. However, staying flexible and being willing to throw out the plan at a moments notice is equally important. If you are prepared for both, there is a good chance your trip will be successful.

Traveling in rural China is not the best place to have a specific plan. Like most of us, I live in a large city where I am used to trains turning up on time, buses criss-crossing the city at all times of the day, and convenience at my fingertips almost everywhere. As soon as you step out of China’s major cities, a lot of this evaporates.

In my plan, I had penciled in one week for each location. As far as details — timing, when to arrive, when to leave, etc. — my notebook held no more information than, for example, “Week 1 – Inner Mongolia.” I knew exactly I where I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve there, but it was impossible for me to predict how and when I would arrive and leave a certain place. In this respect, I had to remain completely flexible and not become frustrated if I could not get to a location on ‘x’ day, as ‘y’ day would probably be ok, too. This was a luxury I had working for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which afforded me much more time than most assignments.

Adapting to change was the only constant on my trip. Mid-way through our journey, my assistant had to unexpectedly return to Beijing, forcing me to work alone for a small portion of the trip. I had anticipated something like this, so I focused on subjects I could cover without an assistant.

The biggest challenge during my Pulitzer assignment was when my “chapter” on abandoned cities appeared to have fallen through. I had researched and planned a trip to a spectacular abandoned city in the Inner Mongolian deserts. The day before embarking, we discovered that the area had just been shut off to outsiders because the route to the city passed through one of China’s space rocket launch centers. I had no other back-up location for abandoned cities, so I was concerned that this important chapter would be missed.

As we called hotels to book rooms for our future stops, we mentioned our predicament to a hotelier. This hotelier happened to be a professional guide to explorers and told us of another abandoned city rarely visited by outsiders. A quick search online revealed that the demise of the city fell inline with desertification, so we decided it was our final (and only) option. The old city of Yinpan turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip, despite coming about completely by chance.

Sean Gallagher, a photojournalist living and working in China, won a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in February for his work on the country’s desertification. After a whirlwind trip to complete his coverage, Sean returned with several photo stories, posted on the Pulitzer Center’s blog. We asked him to explain how he tackled such a long, complicated project. He talks here about the importance of research and planning. Don’t miss his first post about how to find good stories.
©Sean Gallagher, courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Tourists enjoy themselves on the 100-meter-high sand dunes. ©Sean Gallagher. Courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

Before I was awarded the grant from Pulitzer, I had to have it clear in my mind what I wanted to achieve with this project and how exactly I wanted to achieve it. I had already been working on the subject of desertification on-and-off for over a year, so I already had a good idea of most of the main issues.

In drawing up my application for the grant, I had to lay out a detailed plan of where I would go during my proposed trip, which forced me to clearly identify the key issues that were important to the big topic. Beginning this planning process was no easy task. China is a vast place and desertification is an equally vast issue. I knew that I was going to have to lay a careful plan if I was to achieve everything I wanted to.

The first thing I did was revisit all the old articles that I had bookmarked online over the months. I have a habit of bookmarking interesting articles in case I ever need them or decide to follow-up on them for potential photo-essays. This helped me quickly review what I was already familiar with. Through my research, I then started to make a list of separate issues that were all linked to desertification. These included things like environmental refugees, degraded grasslands, abandoned cities, threatened water, tourism, science vs. the desert, etc.

The next step was to head to my office wall, where a large, detailed map of China became my logistical planning station. With articles in hand, I started to circle locations that seemed to represent each issue I wanted to cover. Quite soon, I had circles and scribbles all over the map. My proposal was going to be for a 6-week trip, so I knew I didn’t want to attempt too much — but I also needed to cover all the key issues. I decided to tackle six issues, one per week, giving me seven days with each location and issue.

I didn’t want to attempt too much — but I also needed to cover all the key issues.

One of my main goals for this project was to show that desertification was affecting vast swathes of China. I therefore planned to travel from “coast to coast,” 4,000 km from one side of China to the other, and picked locations that would move me progressively across the country. Most of my locations fell along China’s northern rail network, so I decided to ride these trains as a way to link my locations and give me a better feel for the land I was traveling through.

Once I had decided on locations and how I was going to travel to them, I needed to identify how I would cover the issue in each location. Again, this came down to research. I trawled the web looking for information on each location to give me a an idea of what images I could potentially make there. For some of the locations, however, the information was limited, so I knew it was going to take some investigative work once there to tell the story. Also, you can never plan completely what pictures you will take because it is often the serendipitous ones that eventually turn out to be the best.

Even after all my research was done and the plan was laid out, though, I just knew that everything would not transpire as smoothly as I hoped. “This is China — things are never straightforward,” I though to myself. I had prepared as best I could, but I also had to be ready to adapt quickly to the changes I would inevitably have to make to my plan.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How do you plan for big photo essays like this? Do you have favorite stories by other photographers who tackled a big topic by linking smaller stories?

Sean Gallagher, a photojournalist living and working in China, won a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in February for his work on the country’s desertification. After a whirlwind trip to complete his coverage, Sean returned with several photo stories, posted on the Pulitzer Center’s blog, that tell a complex story of climate change’s impact and how China is dealing with it. We asked Sean to talk about how he tackled such a long, complicated photo essay. In this post he talks about identifying the story, and he’ll follow up with posts about research, logistics, and maintaining momentum.
A lone farmer rides his tractor through a small rural village. ©Sean Gallagher. Courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

A lone farmer rides his tractor through a small rural village. ©Sean Gallagher. Courtesy Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting

During my 1-year paid internship at Magnum Photos London in 2004-5, the then deputy director Hamish Crooks gave me and fellow interns some simple yet important advice on how to find newsworthy stories. “Pick up a newspaper and read.”

Hamish encouraged us to devour headlines to understand why people care enough about an issue to report on it. He also advised us to find topics we were passionate about on a personal level, rather than simply covering issues we were “expected” to cover. From that point on, I started to read news in a different way — always assessing its visual potential and gauging my own interest in the subject matter.

In the summer of 2007 I came across the subject of desertification in a news article. Images of villages and towns being swallowed by slowly moving sand dunes filled my mind. I imagined cracked earth in drought-stricken regions and intense sandstorms blocking out the sun. When you first consider covering an issue, it is inevitable that you conjure images that represent your preconceptions about it. Some turn out to be true, others don’t. One of the challenges of reporting on a subject is to confront your preconceptions and free yourself from them.

The challenge of reporting is to confront your preconceptions and free yourself from them.

I began my work on desertification in western China by taking two weeks to gauge the potential for this story. At the beginning of 2008 I received the first David Alan Harvey Fund for Emerging Photographers, which helped me continue this work and also look at other environmental issues in Asia. As I continued the desertification story, I started to look for other sources of funding to help me continue the work and enable me to push even deeper into the subject matter. This is when I discovered the work of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and their travel grants to cover under-reported issues, which I felt desertification definitely was.

Application for the Pulitzer Center grant involved writing a detailed project proposal and outlining logistical and financial planning for the entirety of the proposed project. My project also had to fall in line with the Pulitzer Center’s focus on, “enterprising reporting projects throughout the world with an emphasis on issues that are under-reported, mis-reported, or not reported on at all.” Even though I had first read desertification in an international publication, and had seen work on the same subject by other photographers, I still believed it was a vastly under-reported issue and deserved more attention.

In February of 2009 I received an email from Nathlaie Applewhite, the Associate Director of the Pulitzer Center, informing me that my application for the grant had been successful. At that point I began my preparations and logistical planning for 6-weeks on the road. Needless to say, there was a lot to do!



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