On a sunny day in Paris, The 88’s Founder Ryan Cheng sat down with Israeli videographer and photographer Lior Sperandeo.
The creator of the ‘People Of’ project, Lior talks about a variety of things including his professional journey, how ‘People Of’ began and provides advice for other young creatives looking to make it on their own.
*This interview was transcribed from The 88’s podcast interview with Lior.
Consequently, the content has been edited where appropriate.
How did you make your start in videography and photography?
I’m originally from Israel. When you turn 18 in Israel, you have to go to the army for 3 years. It’s what everybody does in Israel. After the army i was looking for my first job and found a job as a grip for a news cameraman in Jerusalem. There was plenty of news to cover so plenty of work!
I did that for three years and learnt the profession. Being on the ground, it was very hands on and very stressful. Early mornings, late nights editing – so you kinda touch everything in that field.
At the same time, I also worked weddings – you do what you need to do in the beginning! News and weddings provide the perfect background for a career in videography and photography.
While working weddings you have the worst bosses – the groom and bride. They think they know what they want, even though they have no idea and no experience. You work long, stressful days in all conditions – indoor, outdoor, night, morning – dealing with people. It was ironic but helpful doing work that was so far from what I wanted to do.
I ended up shifting into the documentary world because the news cycle was so quick and not in-depth enough for me. Also the pace means quality falls away, and I wanted to focus more on developing quality stories.
So I joined an Israeli channel to do more documentary work that aired on ABC family in America. I was even nominated for a daytime emmy, it was amazing! However, all this didn’t change much. When you work for a platform, you are theirs – it is not your brand, it is theirs.
After I had gained enough experience, tools and courage – I took the freelance path.
And that was amazing.
I thought it would take time to get work, and that it would be a long process – but working almost 10 years in that field making friends and getting to know people, it wasn’t hard to adjust.
Now, I have a lot of time to sift through jobs and decide on what I want to work on next.
How did the ‘People Of’ project start?
Mmm, that’s a good one!
The ‘People Of’ project started in Nepal. I was sent to cover the aftermath of the earthquake in 2015 – exactly 3 years ago to the date actually!
I wasn’t ready for it though, I wasn’t ready for such a big experience, to cover such an event. There was no electricity, no water. Everyone was sleeping in tents because they are afraid to return to the buildings. I was shocked.
But I managed to work under pressure, and started shifting my focus to the local people. I had initially come with rescue teams and the Israeli army, to cover their work. But as time went on, I realised that the locals were there, experiencing it first hand. They had lost family members but remained resilient, picking up the pieces to build their nation from scratch. They were the real story at that point in time and not the foreign western force there to save them.
The news will cover an event when its new, they don’t keep covering it even if the need is huge. We see it with Haiti, the Phillipines…I really wanted to focus on that, to give voice to the people who seemed to not have a voice.
So the‘People Of’ project started in Nepal, but there was no initial reaction. However, I kept it going. I continued the project in Senegal, then Greece with the Syrian refugees (People of Nowhere) and that story made this series. The attention on the ‘People of Nowhere’ series then went on to my other projects.
It is important to do things, even when people don’t see it. Because when that big break comes along, people will see everything.
Which project impacted you the most?
That’s really hard! I have a place in my heart for each of my projects!
But I think, personally because of my background, ‘People Of Nowhere’ was the most striking project.
I was born in Israel, a nation that doesn’t share diplomatic ties with Syria. I can’t go there and they can’t go to Israel even though we’re neighbours. Suddenly, seeing Syrian people shouting for help, meeting them, telling them I was from Israel and seeing their crisis first hand, while the rest of the world was focused on the mere political aspect was hard.
Bring them to Europe!
Don’t bring them to Europe!
I found myself looking them in the eyes; children, the elderly, fleeing the war.
Growing up in that geographical area, I know that people don’t leave their home for no reason.
Israeli, Arab, Middle Eastern people – they care about their land, they care about where their homes are. But they had to flee, it’s not like they were going on a trip to Europe on a boat.
I feel proud to have my work represent this community.
I was born to a different reality and to hear from Syrians about how much my project helped them, it was huge.
When you first start these projects, as a person whose job it is to provide insight, how do you break down the initial barriers with locals?
The first thing to do is communicating with the people on the ground – building access. Inside access is the most important, without it, you can’t do anything.
If you aren’t invited, there is a limit to what you can do.
I want to be inside. A lot of my photos you can see the person looking at me. I’m on the other side of the camera looking right at them. I love this as a style, because they are looking at the viewer and i can pass that feeling to the viewer.
I feel there is a responsibility for people who work in third world countries to not take advantage. You’re telling someone else’s story, so you need to be accurate and objective. You need to spend time with them.
If there is only 2 days for a project, I won’t do it. There’s not enough time for me. Because two days should be spent building the right connections, getting to know the people, telling the right story.
Taking the photo is the last part of the process and the shortest part of the process.
Once the photo is taken, the magic of the moment is gone. They aren’t models, make sure they are comfortable, let them offer up a place to take the photo.
Part II of our interview with Lior Sperandeo will be out on Wednesday.