August 17, 2017

Elie Gardner and the stories that change storytellers’ lives

Based in Istanbul, Turkey, Elie’s work revolves around migration, women’s rights and education, and this led her from Afghanistan, to Zimbabwe and up and down the Western Balkan migration route.

“I consider stories a gift,” American photojournalist and filmmaker Elie Gardner says. “People would tell me intimate stories, so I became a journalist”.

After graduating the Missouri School of Journalism, Elie started out as a multimedia editor and photographer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Then, since she grew up loving South America, she moved for four years in Lima, Peru and became a freelancer. There, she co-founded the Instagram photography project Everyday Latin America, which portrays ordinary Latin Americans carrying on their days.

Pretty soon, she was ready to experience the world through her own lens and felt she needed to connect with people and issues she cared about. In 2009, Elie was part of a news team that became finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting, for coverage of the Kirkwood City Hall shootings. Elie also taught courses in multimedia production and photojournalism for Webster University and led National Geographic Student Expeditions.

Elie always believed that stories can change people’s lives, but wondered whether her stories would actually make their lives better. She thought: “Maybe I would be more effective as an activist”. Although stories do not necessarily have an immediate impact, she was strongly drawn to them because she believes each one is a journey. Elie might not be the photojournalist on the spot after a series of bombings, but she will be the one following up on the people those bombings really affected – in their homes, with their families, in their industries. Although it was quite the risk for her to move to Istanbul because she didn`t know the city, it all turned out alright. I get so much meaning from my work here,” Elie says, it seems like editors and global citizens are interested in what is happening in this part of the world”.

When she shoots photos, she likes to look for stories of people in bad situations who stay positive. How people manage to hold their chins up in difficult times is what drives her. This led her to stories such as a Peruvian inmate convicted for kidnapping who started training full-body aerobics in prison and a Syrian refugee in Berlin who was feeding the homeless.

Elie believes travelling is important for journalists and this is what she tries to do as much as possible: “Seeing the world, asking people questions”, she emphasises. “If you take the time to listen, you will notice stories everywhere”. She thinks nowadays there’s more hunger than ever for informed, good reporting, photography and videography.

She is now collaborating with the Fuller Project for International Reporting and she is on the Community Team at Everyday Projects. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, PRI’s The World, Al Jazeera and Der Spiegel, among others.

At #Story17, Elie will talk about her experience covering the stories of refugees coming to Europe and travelling the length of the continent.