We have done a wide range of photo books. All look at some aspect of different cultures around the world and show ordinary people in an intimate way. Intertwined with all the images and personal stories are tons of facts and statistics that make our books ‘thinking people’s photography books’. We can then compare ourselves to other people all over the planet and see if they have better ways to deal with daily life and issues that affect all of us. For example the first book was called MATERIAL WORLD: A GLOBAL FAMILY PORTRAIT, and for this book we found 30 statistically average families in 30 countries and interviewed them about their lives and possessions. Then we made a portrait of each family outside their homes with ALL their possessions so that we could see what they owned. Another book called MAN EATING BUGS: THE ART & SCIENCE OF EATING INSECTS looked at people all over the world who still eat insects. It’s not a Fear Factor type gross out, but rather a pictorial examination of food preferences, with real people and real recipes. Another photo book looked at artificial intelligence and robotics around the world. ROBO SAPIENS: EVOLUTION OF A NEW SPECIES revealed the latest gee whiz machines and featured interviews with researchers who speculated about our machine intelligence future.
What kinds of things inspire you to write?
We like to examine broad topics that we think typical people will learn something important from so that they can then apply it to their daily lives. We aren’t telling people what to think: we are presenting lots of information in the form of photos, stories, and data and letting people come to their own conclusions.
Where do you get your ideas?
From traveling, from the news, from talking to people all over the world. For example, this latest book that looks at families all over the world with what they eat in one week was in our thought bank for nearly a decade. Because we travel a good portion of the year outside the USA, when we return home, the first thing we do is go to the supermarket and stock up on food because our refrigerator and pantry at home will be empty. We would repeatedly remark to each other that every time we come home from a foreign country, our fellow citizens would seem bigger, really big. They struck us as oversized versions of their former selves. More and more people were so heavy that they were riding around the stores in electric shopping carts. News stories about soaring rates of obesity were being played out for us in a big way right in our neighborhood markets. So we decided to look at what typical families all over the world were putting in their shopping carts. We wanted to compare ourselves to them and the best way we could think of was to show all these families with what they eat in a typical week, and also compare the cost. From Chad to Mongolia and Mali to Mexico, what do we have in common and what’s different about what we all eat?
Have any of your books earned special recognition?
Both of our food books have won James Beard Foundation awards, which to us was very unexpected. The James Beard Foundation is the world’s most prestigious food foundation and gives awards to cookbooks and food writers. We don’t really consider ourselves in that category, but we were honored and pleased to be recognized.
Do you work on more than one book at a time?
Yes. At the end of our traveling for Hungry Planet, we photographed a few people for our newest book which comes out in the Spring of 2010. But it then took three more years to finish shooting more than 100 people in 30 countries. While we were working on this newest project, we also spent a month or two on another long-term project that will be published in 2015, give or take a year.
When is your next book going to be in book stores?
Our next book is also about food. After learning what typical families eat and spend in a week on food, we wanted to know what individuals were eating. Quite specifically what and how much they were eating in a typical day. How did their diets impact their weight, and health, and happiness? To this end, we spent more than three years interviewing and photographing more than 100 people in 30 countries and 12 US states. The book will be in stores in April/May 2010.
What other jobs you had before you became a writer/illustrator?
I have been a photojournalist for the past 40 years and Faith was a TV news producer for a decade before she joined me as a writer on these book projects in 1995. We’re married so it’s quite easy for us to travel together and work on the same project over a long period of time.
Why is it important to photograph and write the kind of books that you do?As freelancers, (independent photographer and writer/reporter), we do not have a big organization or institution backing us up or paying for what we do. But we feel it is important and valuable to raise the awareness of our readers and fellow citizens, and not just entertain them. This real world education begins with kids and should continue for the rest of their lives. We do all our own research and are self-funded. As long as enough people buy our books, see our exhibits, or attend our lectures, we can pay for our projects and we can feel that we are making a difference. Democracy is in danger if the populace is not well informed, or if it is misinformed by powerful voices with selfish, short-term agendas.