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POV Regarding War

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Q&A with Holly Pickett

written by Matt Elliott
on September 20, 2010

Holly Pickett grew up in Butte, MT. She earned degrees in journalism and history from the University of Montana, Missoula. She was a staff photographer at The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA, for five years. At the end of 2007, she quit her newspaper job, sold her car and gathered her life savings. She then moved to Cairo, Egypt, to give freelancing a shot. She didn't know anyone there, didn't speak the language and had no solid work prospects, but she was pulled by a lingering interest in the Middle East. She spent the first couple months adjusting to a city of 20 million people and taking intensive Arabic classes.

Although she spent months living in and learning about the Arab world, Holly was drawn to another, very different place — Afghanistan. In November 2008, she departed for her first conflict zone. She spent two weeks in Kabul and two weeks embedded with U.S. forces. Since that initial trip to Afghanistan, Holly has worked in Gaza, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. She spent half of 2009 in Afghanistan. Holly has just returned to Kabul, from where she will share her stories and photographs on the Regarding War blog.

Holly's photographs have appeared in Elle, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Newsweek, NPR.org, Stern, Time and The (London) Times, among others. You can see some of her work and photographs at her blog, The Pickett Lens. As means of an introduction, we asked Holly a handful of questions about her photography and travels.

HPickett_blogmug.jpg

Where are you from? Where do you live now?
I am from an old mining boom town in Montana called Butte. I grew up there and studied journalism and history at the University of Montana in Missoula. I have lived in Cairo, Egypt for almost three years.

How did you become interested in photography?
My grandfather was a painter and photographer and started teaching me how to record what I see at an early age. He taught me to paint and bought me my first camera. I also have an aunt who is a journalist and something of a world traveler. I guess I was in inspired by the combination of my grandfather and my aunt.

What made you quit your newspaper job and pick up and move to Cairo?
The newspaper where I worked had been steadily downsizing. I had always seen myself going overseas, so I quit during a round of layoffs with hopes of freelancing. I have been interested in the Middle East for many years and thought Cairo, the biggest city in the region, was a logical place to base myself.

What was the most surprising thing you learned from your time spent in Afghanistan?
Being in Afghanistan is like going back in time. The infrastructure has been devastated by three decades of war. Even after pouring billions of dollars into the country, there is room for development.

What is the most difficult thing about being an embedded journalist, and what did you like most about it?
For Americans, the military is a critical piece of the story in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without embeds, it would be impossible to cover what men and women in uniform face when they go outside the wire. However, it is very difficult work. Sometimes soldiers are afraid of the repercussions of saying or doing the wrong thing. It can be hard to earn their trust.

When and why did you start your blog, The Pickett Lens?
I started my blog shortly after quitting my job as a way to let family and friends know what I was doing. I wanted an easy way to share my life with the people I loved. My posts began in earnest when I moved to Cairo. I posted photographs from my apartment, commentary on life in the Middle East, and my work from photo assignments. It was well after a year that I realized the blog was reaching people beyond my circle of family and friends. I decided to expand my use of the blog to reach people in a unique way.

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