In ‘Today’s Traveler’ I’ll introduce you to a world traveler. Get to know them, learn what makes them tick and why they love to travel. Meet Ben Randall, the photographer and humanitarian on a six-month journey documenting The Human Earth Project. After extensive travel through Southeast Asia 5 years ago, Ben is now re-traveling his path attempting to connect with 100 people he photographed his first time through and searching for a good Vietnamese friend of his named ‘M’. The goal of his journey is to share the art of photography with the people in his photos and to raise awareness of human trafficking in his search for ‘M’. The journey began a little over a week ago, find out more below about this unique and heartfelt quest.
1. Tell us a little about you; where are you from and what sparked your interest in travel and photography?
I was born and raised in Australia, and might have easily stayed there my entire life. I began to travel abroad nine years ago, when a European partner took me home to meet her parents, and opened my eyes to what I was missing out on. I’ve been living and traveling around the world ever since. I’d already studied film-making and photography as expressions of my real passion, which was storytelling.
My six months in Europe stretched to almost thirty, and by the time I finally came home, I knew home wasn’t going to be enough for me anymore. Asia was the nearest exotic place. Again, six months weren’t enough, and this time I stayed for over three years.
3. After getting so many great photos what was it that made you want to put down your camera and take a break from photography?
I began to feel that the camera was a barrier between myself and the world I was trying to experience, and that the images I was capturing were only very superficial expressions of deeper truths. After more than two years, I feel ready to return to photography, knowing that my photography will now be only one small piece of something much larger.
4. Can you give us some background on your project and what spurred you to start it?
Two years ago a good friend of mine, ‘M’, was kidnapped from Vietnam, and is believed to have been sold as a wife or prostitute in China. I wanted to do whatever I could to help, and to help raise awareness of human trafficking – a multi-billion-dollar industry with millions of victims around the world – of which I’d been largely oblivious.
I had to find a way to combine my greatest skills – photography, storytelling, traveling – to maximum effect, and so ‘the Human, Earth Project’ was born. Beginning early next month, it’s going to involve a six-month, 20,000 kilometer journey across Asia to find 100 people I photographed on my first journey there, including ‘M’. The search will be the subject of a documentary, a book of photography, and an online photographic journal.
5. Of all your photos how did you choose these 100 people?
In my first months in Asia, I developed my own style of portraiture – framed horizontally, generally very tight, in natural light. Taking portraits in this way involves successfully engaging the subject as much as it does technical photography skill – not always an easy task, with the barriers of culture and language. ‘The Human, Earth Project’ selection showcased the wide variety of faces and emotions I’d captured.
6. In your eyes what will be the biggest challenge in your overland journey and locating the people in your photographs?
The biggest challenge, of course, will be finding ‘M’, and this is something we may never be able to do. Human trafficking is an industry that involves both corrupt officials and extensive criminal organizations, and there will certainly be an element of danger in what we’re doing. By comparison, finding the rest of the people will be easy!
7. What reactions are you anticipating when you share the photos with the people you’re searching for?
This is a part of what makes ‘the Human, Earth Project’ interesting: it’s difficult to say how the subjects themselves will react, if and when we find them. I believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, and hope this project will help forge meaningful connections between very different cultures.
8. Can you tell us a little about ‘M’ and how you learned that she had been kidnapped?
Three years ago, I was living in a small mountain town in the far north of Vietnam, where I met ‘M’. She’s a wonderful human being, and it was one of those encounters that makes traveling truly worthwhile. A year later I learned through mutual friends in Vietnam that she had been kidnapped by a local man, who had taken her to the Chinese border. Abductions of women and girls are shockingly common in that area, and ‘M’s’ story is only one of many.
9. Will you receive any local assistance from her village in Vietnam or across the border in China as you attempt to locate her? Are there other resources you plan to use in your search for ‘M’?
We’ll certainly be trying to find out what we can from her friends and family in Vietnam before entering China. We’re already in contact with various organizations in Vietnam which may be of assistance.
10. If you’re successful in locating ‘M’ how will you get her home and will you try to share her story to further awareness in the fight against human trafficking?
There’s an organization in Vietnam which has already been responsible for the rescue of 297 trafficked children. If we can find her, most likely they’ll be able to help us bring her home. As for sharing her story, that will be up to ‘M’.
11. What would you say to the average person who wanted to get involved and help your search or help fight human trafficking?
Please do. Like many of the major global issues we face, human trafficking is one that’s easy to ignore, and to hope it will simply go away. It won’t. Over twenty million men, women and children are victims of human trafficking around the world. It’s a number that’s simply too large to comprehend; with ‘the Human, Earth Project’, I want to give them a face. It’s a terrible thing that we can simply close our eyes and write off twenty million people.
The main issue is awareness. We’re doing our best to spread the word, and you can help. Beyond that, there are many worthy organizations that could use your support. You can also help support what we’re doing by buying yourself a photographic print on our website at The Human Earth Project – with the added bonus of receiving something beautiful to hang on your wall!
Every one of us in the developed world has incredible power and potential to make a difference around the globe, and there’s no shortage of issues to address in modern society. If we can inspire even just a few people to stand up and take direct action for what they believe in, all we’re doing will be worthwhile.
Visit Ben’s site: The Human Earth Project
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