Based in Bangkok, Todd Brown has lived in and photographed Southeast Asia since 2009. Specializing in documenting humanitarian efforts, Todd has worked with UNICEF, UN Environment, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and more. Now working on an assignment for The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), he was tasked with capturing malaria interventions in Thailand. The Research Triangle Institute (RTI), the implementing partner of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), would be conducting the project. The RTI already had a solid relationship with Todd before reaching out:
I have worked with RTI many times before in different countries on different projects. Last year, I produced a video for their work on malaria and so they approached me to do another video this year. Since this is also the last year of their project, they wanted images that illustrated what they were doing and how they were doing it. The images needed to be finalized before the end date of the 8-year long program.
Needing a photographer who could also shoot video, the RTI found Todd through mutual acquaintances within the field. They also applauded his rich portfolio, noting his ability to bring a sense of storytelling through his imagery. Because of his experience and knowledge, Todd could also be a fly on the wall without impacting healthcare efforts. This assignment would take him on a 45-minute flight out of Bangkok to rural Thailand.
This was the first time I had been to Mae Sot, Tak province which is on the border with Myanmar. It was a 45-minute flight from Bangkok into rural Thailand. Mae Sot is an exciting border-town with lots of Burmese restaurants and people. Being in Thailand is always incredibly hot and humid. So the key is to dress light and carry as little gear as possible since it would be impossible to shoot all day with a backpack in the heat.
Todd had his work cut out for him. Not only was time tight, but he also had to shoot both video and still images for each location. There were two parts of the shoot. The first was Todd’s documentation of the training for Thai epidemiologists. The second was documenting any real interventions that were taking place in the area. Recently there had been an outbreak in a nearby community, so they were able to visit and document the RTI testing groups of people. Todd only had 30 minutes here and even less time at a different site, but managed to get everything he needed.
I did my best to work quickly while making sure I was able to capture all the facets of their work. I also wanted to make sure I did it in a creative fashion, providing multiple types of images to the client with as much humanity in them as possible.
This turned out to be a very positive experience. Todd noted that the energy at the trainings was great and that everyone was excited to be there. The testing sites naturally held a more serious tone, yet everyone’s passion for helping one another was most inspiring.
I would say it was a very collaborative and enlightening experience. There were epidemiologists from Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and the US. For the people being treated by the epidemiologist, the atmosphere was more reserved. I am a foreigner, from the US, and this was a remote area of Thailand that does not get a lot of tourists. I could tell that many people were curious, especially the children. However, for them, it was not an ideal situation — I imagine that it isn’t exciting to get tested for malaria. So I made sure I was calm, reserved, professional, and I tried to be a fly on the wall the best I could.
My favorite moment was when the attendees checked mosquitos for malaria in the tent with the cow. Having the opportunity to shoot with mixed lighting, shadows, and through a tent provided many creative possibilities!
While he was working on the schedule of trainers and healthcare workers, Todd made the most of every minute. This is far from his first voyage in capturing such humanitarian efforts, which shows in his efficient work without any crew. Yet it still served as a moving and educational experience for a photographer so accomplished in this field.
I learned a great deal about malaria and the efforts that go into eliminating it. This knowledge has given me a greater understanding of the challenges we face as a world. The individuals I interviewed and photographed certainly stand out. The passion they have for their field and for their cause is inspiring.
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