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NonprofitMy Afghan Combat Translator Saved My Life In The War. Together We've Saved Over 5,000 Additional Lives. Ask Us Anything.

Oct 31st 2017 by No1LeftBehind • 13 Questions • 351 Points

EDIT: Thanks for your questions, I really appreciate your interest. Its always good to know that there are many people out there who care deeply about the natural world. I think before we think about Mars, we need to look after Earth. Take care

Brent

Hey my name is Brent Stirton and I’m a South African photographer with a lot of experience in the documentary world. I currently spend most of my time working on long-term investigative projects for National Geographic Magazine, but my work has been published in Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, and other outlets. I have a big passion for issues related to wildlife, conservation, global health, diminishing cultures, sustainability and the environment.

Last week, I was named the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year by the Natural History Museum for this piece I did on rhino poaching: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/10/dark-world-of-the-rhino-horn-trade/

Other projects: https://www.brentstirton.com/state-of-blindness/ https://proof.nationalgeographic.com/2013/12/13/brent-stirton-an-ode-to-nelson-mandela/ https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/proof/2016/07/questions-and-answers-brent-stirton/ https://www.brentstirton.com

Proof: https://twitter.com/NatGeo/status/923912301144571904

Q:

Matt or Janis: What needs to happen on the federal level to make it possible for those who have laid down their lives and livelihoods for American soldiers to be able to emigrate to the United States? What are the main roadblocks to clear, and what message would you like to give directly to the President, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security.

It's awesome what you're doing guys. Amazing stuff!

A:

I love Gamers Gift! What is the end goal for each of you outside of Gamers Gift? What skills do you bring from your other experiences into Gamers Gift?


Q:

What has been your favorite project to photograph?

A:

Congress needs to pass a law allocating enough visas to cover all applicants. Currently, they have only allocated enough visas to cover 2,000 of the remaining 14,000 applicants. Moreover, Congress should declare once and for all that the Special Immigration Visa Program is tied to the formal end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - i.e. when we aren't militarily engaged and in need of their people to translate for us. Currently, the program must be authorized every few years. In the most recent years, we barely succeeded in convincing the more conservative members of Congress on the merit and need for this program.

Additionally, Congress and the President could go the extra mile and declare our wartime allies to be "honorary veterans" of the United States.

These men and women have served our country with the same valor as my fellow soldiers.. Veterans status is earned through service to our country, not placement in the birth lottery. Just because Janis was born in Afghanistan, doesn’t make his eight years of combat service any less honorable than my one tour. In fact, I’d argue, he’s the real veteran between the two of us. I got to come home at the end of my tour. He went on to the next unit and the next mission.

If we are going to continue our commitment to Afghanistan, I believe two things must occur. Congress must make the SIV program permanent. Currently, it must be reauthorized annually, and, in years past, we’ve nearly lost it.

Moreover, Congress should declare the Afghan and Iraqi wartime allies who fought with us to be “Honorary Veterans.”

Granting Honorary Veteran status to Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients and Priority 2 Refugee Admissions Program recipients will give the private sector the option to provide support to this population. Right now there are 56,000 501(c)3 organizations who work to support veterans, and many are interested in also supporting those wartime allies who stood with us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Importantly, declaring our Afghan and Iraqi wartime allies as "Honorary Veterans" will NOT: • Take away any benefits from veterans already in place • Give them any VA or GI Bill benefits • Give them priority in any way over U.S. born veterans

Matt: I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve tried to enlist other veteran organizations to help No One Left Behind in our mission to resettle our wartime allies only to be told, “Well, we can’t assist you because they’re not technically veterans.” Yet, no less than General Pete Chiarelli, former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said, these brave people were “just as much a soldier as I am" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yISst0dbQ_g&t

Thankfully, we have some movement around the "Honorary Veterans" provision.

To date we have received endorsements from:

  • All post 9/11 former Secretaries of Defense: Rumsfeld, Gates, Panetta, Hagel, and Carter
  • Generals Pete Pace, David Petraeus, and many others,
  • Ambassadors Bolton, Crocker, Jeffrey, & Wolfowitz
  • Former House Intel Chairman Mike Rogers
  • Medal of Honor recipient Sen. Bob Kerrey
  • The Vietnam Veterans of America
  • Wounded Warrior Project
  • NYC Veterans Alliance
  • 17,000 have signed our Honorary Veteran petition on Change.org:

https://www.change.org/p/afghan-and-iraqi-translators-saved-american-lives-make-them-honorary-veterans

Here is the link to our recent Fox News interview with Pete Hegseth and Abby Huntsman:

Bipartisan Senate resolution would help combat translators

http://video.foxnews.com/v/5564546528001/?#sp=show-clips/daytime


Q:

I want to do something amazing with technology, something that makes an impact on the present and future. This includes, but is not limited to, an evil death ray. I'm a really good Googler, so anytime we need something I always have a solution: 'Google it!' - Dillon

A:

It's tough to pick a favorite project, I tend to work on things I feel I should, that often means they're difficult and when I'm shooting I'm worried that I'm not getting it right. I'm also someone who once he has finished something, doesn't want to look back on it. I can say anything where I can make images with emotional content, that's what I am drawn to. As for favorite project, that would be the next one.


Q:

How long did it take you to trust a guy you don't know or understand?

And Thank You guys.

A:

I love Gamers Gift! What is the end goal for each of you outside of Gamers Gift? What skills do you bring from your other experiences into Gamers Gift?


Q:

Hi Brent! What is your favorite animal to photograph? Is there one that is particularly difficult to photograph?

A:

Matt: I've trusted Janis like a brother ever since he saved my life - which was the 14th day of my deployment. It didn't take long for us to build a rapport.

Janis: It takes awhile, but when you work so closely with people, in such a dangerous and traumatic environment, inevitably, you form very close bonds. Once formed, these bonds often are unbreakable and last a lifetime. Combat is odd like that. Even the most distant of strangers can come out of the experience like brothers - as we did.


Q:

Green! I have a green car. -Amber

A:

I think I like mountain gorillas, particularly the Silverbacks. They're really amazing to be around. Second would be elephants, they're always majestic. None of them are easy to photograph. I tend to photograph the intersection between man and wildlife, I don't often have the time to focus purely on the animal.


Q:

What would you most like to tell us that no one has asked about?

A:

What types of vr “experiences” do the groups you work with enjoy most?


Q:

What would be some of the less obvious steps you needed to take to get where you are today as a world-renowned photographer? Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?

A:

Janis has a movie about his life currently in development.


Q:

TheBlu scuba diving experience is a very good introduction for most people. If they enjoy that, rollercoasters! After that we can begin introducing interactive experiences like snow skiing. -Dillon

A:

I think that I was very shy for a long time in my career so I did not market myself or go see potential clients. I didn't even go to World Press for the first few wins I had there. That was a mistake on my part. I think these days you can use social media to put out your work and still be a reserved person. As for world-renowned, those goal posts just keep moving. The better you get, the more you need to ask of yourself.


Q:

Nice. I brought my grandpa in to my college to use the vr set up in our library to show him Google Earth and walk around Rome. He liked it but got a headache after like ten minutes.

A:

What was your goal in the beginning of your career?


Q:

Do you remember what hardware you used?

A:

My goal was to pay my bills through photography so I did all kinds of pictures. I found out about photojournalism after the first year and that changed a lot for me. I started working on anti-apartheid issues in South Africa and it became important to me to defend the good guys


Q:

Who is your favorite Team GG streamer who streams on the Gamers Gift Twitch channel?

On a more serious note, what it the end goal for Gamers Gift, do you hope to eventually be a larger organization helping people across the US?

You all are awesome and keep doing the good things you do!

A:

Hi Brent! Have you ever been in a shoot where you were personally in danger but stayed to get the shot? e.g. Paul Nicklen and the leopard seals


Q:

I'll in be in Central California next week, Bay Area the week after, and SoCal in December for visits. Every person in the world facing hardship deserves the escape VR provides. -Dillon

A:

The dangers I've had have come far more from people. For example, I have been in a number of situations with Rangers where we are being fired on by rebels who are poaching. I also worked in Iraq and Afghanistan where its normal to be under fire at some point. That said, I have had to run up plenty of thorn trees to get away from charging rhinos. Elephants too, and they are really scary as they can knock the tree down and they are really tall. I try not to agitate them when I'm working but sometimes I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. As for Paul, he's a genuine animal whisperer, I don't have his skillset so generally I have run faster than the guy next to me if the animal decides to charge


Q:

This sounds a bit like an episode of Black Mirror, do you get that comparison a lot?

A:

First, congratulations! And keep up your excellent work.

As a biologist working in Etosha, Namibia, the recent increase in poaching there is a source of grief, rage, and frustration. Do you have any experience in the region and input on where the local anti poaching efforts are failing?


Q:

It's almost got a San Junipero vibe, huh? No one has told us that before but anything related to VR - especially towards groups that could become so dependent on it - has Black Mirror-level concerns.

Also, Ready Player One if you've read it.

  • Dillon
A:

I worked in the Kunene region in 2011 on black rhino. Personally I think the huge spaces worked well to protect rhino initially as there were easier places down south. Nowadays I think it can be the reverse as its hard to protect rhino when they roam so widely. Personally I think a community based solution makes sense but the amount of money in play for horn is making that difficult. I still believe genuine community involvement is key, their intelligence network need to be understood and supported Its a really tough situation with no immediate answer.


Q:

Yeah, but the detractors didn’t have a high enough rating and were cast out of society.

A:

Thanks for the answer.


Q:

I personally can't use any of the gear for more than a couple hours. Just kind of gives me a bit of a headache. -Amber

A:

Sure, I'm sorry I don't have anything better to add. I wish you the best with your work


Q:

If Gamer's Gift were to receive more money over time, how would those funds be used? How should we expect our money to be used, if we were to donate?

A:

What's the earliest time you're willing to eat lunch?


Q:

That's a good question! As a nonprofit we do not get paid so the money mostly goes to two things. Either it goes outreach for more headsets, game systems, and other outreach opportunities (like when we gave a refugee school chrome books). Or towards fundraising and advertising. With events we can foster a great community that gets connected with the cause and we can grow a bit. Some events are free for us to do like community game nights over the internet or art exchanges but for awesome events like the GG:WP, tournaments, etc we need money to rent venues, food and any other cost associated with that.

If you want any more information we do have a transparency page on our website you can check out that breaks down everything! Sorry for the formatting though I'm on mobile. http://gamersgift.org/transparency/

-Sean

A:

I don't generally eat lunch if I'm working


Q:

I am a environment modeler that is working with a VR startup based in Seattle. I appreciate your initiative in using VR as a tool to help people rather just as a form of entertainment for consumers. Is there any way I can help or get involved?

A:

Hi Brent! Love your work, both photographically and in terms of raising awareness of pressing conservation matters.

Do you have any advice for an aspiring wildlife photographer such as myself on how to turn it from a hobby into a career? I'd love to end up doing wildlife photography like you do (especially with a focus on conservation) as my career, but i'm only just starting out (been going for a year now) and would massively appreciate any snippets of advice you're willing to share.


Q:

On a basic level you can join us in our 24 Hour Livestream TODAY at 9am PST: http://gamersgift.org/gglp and join our community of people across the world.

Corporation donations and partnerships work wonders. Just some quick brainstorming, we could schedule a visit up in Seattle with your company or you could help us model certain programs, etc. Email me at [email protected] and we'll talk specifics!

  • Dillon
A:

I'd say be disciplined and find projects to work on. Try to shoot the A-Z of the issue and then use social media and targeted emails to try and publish. Don't neglect any other work that comes up, even if its weddings, its important to put some money away to finance your projects. Commit to this for the long term and you will be successful. Don't spend all your money on gear, buy used and get what you really need, don't be fooled by marketing. I can do my job with gear that came out 6 years ago for the most part. Spend your money on producing the story you care about.


Q:

What are your favorite Dinosaurs?

A:

How do you deal with all the bugs? Is it ever a concern to get bitten by bugs? Any tips to deal with mosquitoes, or other flying pests?


Q:

Saurolophus because of Ducky from Land Before Time.

-Amber

A:

Bugs are inevitable, you want to avoid being bitten by mosquitos as much as you can but you're in their space. Wear long sleeves and pants at night, use an eco-friendly non-deet spray, and if its really crazy, use a hat with a net. I worked in CAR recently and was getting stung by bees more than 50 times a day so also check that you don't have allergies. Its a good idea to take an Epi-pen if you can


Q:

what about porn?

A:

With shots like these, how difficult is it to deal with the emotions of seeing something like that? Does that at all impact whats going through your mind in terms of composition and other techniques you use?


Q:

The elderly joke about this more often than you'd expect. - Dillon

A:

Well, on this story I went to more than thirty sites with dead rhinos, I was looking for something that would have sufficient emotional resonance. When rhinos are killed, the carcass deflates very quickly and scavengers pull it apart. As a result, I needed to find an animal that still had dignity and was capable of arousing pathos in people. I also need to make the picture quickly so that I don't interfere in the forensic investigation. So truthfully, I only allow myself to be emotional after I have taken care of all those aspects which allow me to make the picture. I do feel very angry about these killings, there are good people on the ground who do not have the support they need due to a failure of leadership both in Africa and in Asia


Q:

Are there dangers for vision associated with wearing gear that close to the eyes?

A:

Hi Brent, how do you choose your projects and do you have advice for creative people who also want to make an impact? Thanks!


Q:

As far as I know, not really for adults. It can cause some eye/ head discomfort though for some people.

I have read that there may be some increased risks for children using VR for extended periods of time since their eyes are still in development and they need to see a certain amount of sunlight and whatnot for their eyes to develop correctly.

-Amber

A:

I choose my projects based on what I think is the greatest need. I am also asked to do projects which I feel I should do. Its a mix. As for creatives, I would say use any channel you can to get the word out. If you work for an agency, see if they can do some pro bono work on these issues. Try to help NGO's that deserve it. People like the EIA and the IAPF, but do your research first as to who is really effective. Creatives can be really valuable in raising public awareness, the biggest issue is ignorance on all sides


Q:

Hi Brent! Do you have specific communities you have established around the world, or mainly the places you travel for assignments, of people you trust and that can help you? You must have to work under the radar a lot and I’m wondering how you manage those uncertain human factors...

A:

I'm fortunate to have built good relations in a number of places, my contacts are really essential. I do prefer to work quietly and to do that I keep only a very small circle of people around me when we are shooting. I think if you treat people with respect and really make an effort to dignify and understand their jobs, you can make friendships based on mutual respect