Meet the OPC Members: Q&A with Ivan Flores

This photo was taken in Bangladesh near a refugee camps for displaced Rohingya. Courtesy of Ivan Flores.

Ivan Flores is an American multimedia journalist based in Afghanistan covering conflict, political and cultural issues. He has filed for a range of media organizations, including The New York Times, Foreign Policy, CBS Radio, CBC, The Guardian, The National, Al Jazeera, NPR, La Repubblica, VOX Media, and others. He has also created content for UNESCO and UH-Habitat. Flores has also attended the Eddie Adams Workshop, Barnstorm XXX, The New York Times Institute, and RISC training programs.

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Education: Florida International University (BS); City University of New York (MA Journalism).

Languages: English, Spanish.

First job in journalism: My first real job was as a video producer for The Street, a financial news company in New York. I was incredibly fortunate that I was taken on by the production manager, Shawn Elias, after a chance meeting. He gave me my start and I’m forever grateful to him.

Countries reported from: The United States, Greece, Afghanistan, Cuba.

When and why did you join the OPC: I joined the OPC a few years ago after meeting a couple of other members at a networking event. I also desperately needed a press card if I’m being perfectly honest. It was a fantastic decision. I have been able to connect with colleagues and feel a sense of community in what can sometimes be a fairly lonely profession.

What first drew you to Kabul and Afghanistan as a photo subject? I was drawn to Afghanistan because of the troop draw down. After talking to a few journalists who had told me ‘you just missed it’ or that they were moving on because of lack of interest I felt that was my chance. The story, to me, was what happens after the draw down and what happens when major operations shifted to Afghan forces. What does that look like and what impacts is this going to have on civilians? So I went.

Major challenge as a journalist: I am a full-time freelancer. The biggest challenge I have is just getting editors to pay on time or answer an email. I understand that you might be busy or it’s an accounting issue, but this isn’t my hobby or something I’m doing on the side. This is my livelihood and I need to get paid.

Best journalism advice received: Be there. I got this advice from a print correspondent who had covered Vietnam. It was more than just physically go to cover your stories. What I had taken from it was to be present in your interviews, in the lives that you are documenting and the country you are living in. Allow yourself to be open and be there emotionally. The advice was from Don North, who worked as a freelancer in Vietnam until ABC took him on. He died in 2019.

Hardest story: Photographing survivors of domestic violence and self-immolation. I was on assignment with Ruchi Kumar, another OPC member, in Afghanistan. We were spending a few days in a burn ward in western Afghanistan. She was following the case of one specific woman who was alive when we took off for the hospital from Kabul but had died before we arrived. We still spent a few days in the ward and several women were there and in various states of agony. One had just been brought in and her wounds were fresh and she was screaming. It was an emotionally taxing assignment for both of us that we still talk about to this day. While the overall number of women in the ward had been decreasing the medical staff we spoke said that it was likely because women were not being brought in or opting for other methods of suicide.

Journalism heroes: Yunghi Kim, Carol Guzy, Maggie Steber, Tim Hetherington, Stanely Greene, Michelle Agins, Angel Franco to name a few. I love how no matter the situation there was always empathy and humanity in their work. Even in the most challenging contexts or environments their photos felt tender, human and evocative. Their images inspired me to look beyond what informational photojournalism offered and into what photography as an artform could accomplish in photojournalism.

Advice for journalists who want to work overseas: Do the research and learn the history of where you want to go. Avoid the expat crowd as I think that leads to group think. Make an effort to connect with and spend time with people who are from the place you are covering.

Dream job: Working on a handful of large projects per year over the course of several months and presenting them across multiple formats. However, I think I already am living my dream and working my dream job. I just want to increase the scale so that more people can look at the work and be aware of the topics I’m covering. I think we owe it to the people that share their lives and traumas with us to reach the biggest audience we can

Favorite quote: “Eddie would go.” [Hawaiian surf culture motto honoring Eddie Aikau.]

Place you’re most eager to visit: Antarctica, I would love to spend at least one season working on a project about climate change and the researchers that live there.

Most over-the-top assignment: Running alongside the dog catchers in Kabul as they chased after wild dogs through newly built developments on the outskirts of town. They were catching the dogs to vaccinate them against rabies and to neuter them.

Most common mistake you’ve seen: It’s a tie between discounting non-western subject matter experts and regional experts and ignoring the advice of your local partners on a story (fixer, producers, journalist etc.).

Country you most want to return to: Cuba

Twitter/Instagram handle: @ivanflr