"For me, photography is about two things – information and emotion. If you don't feel something when you take a photo, people won't feel anything when they see it."
Brian works on various themes to do with displacement – statelessness, refugees, migrants, nomads – perhaps because he has no idea where in the world he belongs. He loves it best when he’s at either extreme altitude or latitude. French food, rock-climbing and scuba make him happy, but he’s not very good at shooting any of those things, so hello humanitarian documentary! No, seriously…
About / Biography
Brian Sokol is a US-born photographer dedicated to documenting human rights issues and humanitarian crises worldwide.
A writer by training, he uses words and images to tell the stories of individuals overlooked by the media.
After working as a wilderness ranger and Himalayan guide, he began his photographic career in Nepal, where he learned the language and invested himself deeply in the culture. In 2011 he moved to South Sudan to cover the first two years in the life of the world's newest country, from the inside.
He regularly works with UNHCR, UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations to document and raise awareness about global social issues.
Editorial and commercial clients include TIME, The New York Times, The New Yorker, GEO, Stern, Ogilvy & Mather and Philips.
Commissions / Image Galleries
In a city of 10 million, traffic in Kinshasa has become a major problem with infrastructure improvements lagging far behind and increasing numbers of drivers hitting the grid-locked streets. The city authorities, mindful of the lack of public faith in the police and keen to employ new technology, have come up with a creative solution to the congestion problem.
Part traffic light, part cartoon robot, these 8 foot tall contraptions - each sporting its own personalized pair of sunglasses and 'personality' - give out visual and audible directives to motorized and pedestrian traffic. Equipped with a built-in video camera and a rotating chests, the robots record the flow of traffic which is fed back to a central computer. The 'robocops' work around the clock, and, crucially for the corruption-weary road users of Kinshasa, don't take bribes.
The initiative has been so successful in DR Congo that other African countries are now looking into importing these innovations that have revolutionized traffic management.
Describe the moment you knew photography changed your life.
When I was 17, I went on a road trip to the Rocky Mountains with my parents. I’d been a moody teenager, having never felt I belonged in the American Midwest, where I was born and raised. On a rainy afternoon, we rented a jeep and drove above timberline to an ice-scoured bowl of lichen, marmots and derelict mining equipment called Yankee Boy Basin. When the going got too rough for the jeep to continue, I decided to hike the rest of the way up. I borrowed my dad’s little point and shoot and set out for an alpine lake I could see through an opening in the clouds. The next hour was an epiphany. Two of the great loves of my life, photography and wilderness, both seized me at the same time. In recording transient moments of raw beauty, I felt a newfound sense of purpose. It was more than a decade before I started pointing cameras at political events or social issues, but it all began that day, ringed in by mountains, clutching a dripping, plastic point and shoot in the thin Colorado air.
If you could sum up your work in one word or one sentence, what would that be?
What is the most remarkable person, place or thing you have ever photographed and why?
In 2010 I was in Myanmar when pro-democracy leader Aang San Suu Kyi was released from 15 years of house arrest. It was a hallucinatory experience – a sense of hope hung in the air, so pervasive and tangible that you could taste it. A whole nation stood teetering on the brink of change, holding their breath, after half a century of forced isolation. And somehow, there I was – a kid from St. Joseph, Missouri – right in the middle of history unfolding. The day after she was released, I took a portrait of Suu Kyi which became the cover of TIME magazine. It wasn’t my best photograph, but it was among my proudest moments. I still get goose bumps when I think about meeting her in her office, the way my hands trembled with a cocktail of fear and adrenaline and joy as I focused on her dark, kind eyes. Then the ensuing dash through the streets of Yangon, trying ditch the government goons following me and a fellow photographer. It was among the best experiences of my life and I feel beyond lucky to have been there, and been there then.
Talk to us about your bucket list... what is on the top of that list of things to photograph?
My work has largely focused on the experience of people living outside the context into which they were born – migrant workers, refugees, internally displaced people. What I’m dying to cover now is the way that climate change and urbanization are affecting nomadic groups. Second, I want to live out a vehicle (a comfy vehicle) documenting the post-economic-downturn ‘motorhomeless’ population in the US – where I grew up, but have yet to work as a photographer. Finally, I want to live for a year in a polar community, because the light is so damn good—and life so weird—at extreme latitudes.
If you had not become a photographer, what might you be today?
As a child I told my mother, “When I grow up I’m going to be either a National Geographic photographer or a veterinarian.”
She replied, “Oh, honey, you’ll make for a wonderful vet.”
Guess I’ve always had something of a problem with authority. Now I just need to complete a National Geographic assignment.
Give us your thoughts about the Global Imaging Ambassadors program?
It’s great to have both the logistical and creative support of Sony and the World Photography Association. Sony is really pushing the envelope with camera design, and it’s an amazing opportunity to be able to help shape the products that are defining the future of photography. This is the cutting edge of technology and, as something of a geek, I’m like a pig in—well, you get it.
What is your favorite Sony camera of the moment and why?
It is, without a doubt, the a7 Mark II camera. The only problem is that I haven’t tried one yet!
Different projects call for different cameras. For portraits, landscapes or anything where I’m going to be making big prints, the a7R is my best friend.
For general reportage I love the a7S with its small, flexible files (you don’t always need 450 megapixels, kids) and the ability to focus and shoot in situations so dark my naked eyes struggle to see. The dead silent electronic shutter is also a huge asset in delicate situations, or when working with a film crew.
When I’m going superlight, or need to need to avoid looking like a professional photographer, the RX1/R is the only game in town. It was relased more than two years ago, but is still the only full-frame compact on the market. That’s what I call ahead of the curve.
Now I’m champing at the bit, waiting for a mirrorless medium format…
Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 prime
Sony/Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 prime
Gitzo tabletop tripod
iPhone with Sony Play Memories Mobile app
Little bitty Domke shoulder bag