Interview with Sandra Hoyn Thought-provoking photographs

Sandra Hoyn
Sandra Hoyn | Photo: Sandra Hoyn

At the beginning of 2015 Sandra Hoyn won the 3rd prize of the World Press Photo Awards. In February, she was one of the international exhibitors at the 7th Yangon Photo Festival.

Ms Hoyn, what motivated you to embark on a career as a journalist?
I studied photography at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, where I graduated in 2005. Since then I have concentrated on personal photo projects. All of these projects have a social background and are work for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or for magazines. So far I have worked on different continents such as Africa and Asia.
What is your motivation to launch projects particularly about the social problems and injustices of the world?
I see myself as a photojournalist. My motivation is to tell stories about people and places that find themselves in exceptional situations. Basically I want to make others aware of social injustice in the world. I realize that I cannot change the world through my photography, but with my pictures I want to sensitize people to what is happening in the world. Encounters with my photographs enable people to gain new impressions of the world that can change their way of thinking.
Why did you choose photography as your medium to communicate with people?
My passion is photography, but I am not so interested in the technical aspect. So I think it is not important that an image is technically perfect. On the contrary, even if it is not technically perfect, it can still be very touching and tell its own story.
My interest in photography developed mainly through travel to other countries. It is a wonderful way to discover the world and to engage people in conversation. For me the most interesting thing is to meet people and to learn what they think and feel, even if we do not speak the same language. In this way I am able to find my own personal connection to the different peoples and their cultures.
You are currently participating in the exhibition “I Love You” at the French Institute. What do you think of the exhibition?
I am very happy and grateful that I can participate. I have met many great people and photographers with whom I could exchange ideas. Participation in the exhibition was definitely a great enrichment for me.
Your pictures in "Jenny's Soul" show Dirk and his silicone doll. What gave you the idea for this series?
I saw a TV documentary about the production of silicone dolls. I was curious, googled silicone dolls and found a forum where men talked about their dolls. Dirk regularly writes a diary in the blog of his daily life with Jenny.
How do you actually choose the themes or the stories that you then tell through your images?
Sometimes I discover topics by chance, as in "Jenny's Soul." That is, I hear, see or read something that arouses my interest and makes me curious. Then I set out and try to discover it on my own. A theme needs to touch me personally or even make me angry. It must arouse emotions in me, such as social injustice. I'm especially curious about the various factors that affect human life, so my photography shows the conditions under which people live.
What was it that moved you two years ago to shoot the project "The Punk of Burma" and the related life of Kyaw Kyaw?
I discovered Kyaw Kyaw by accident, he and some friends were selling punk clothes and CDs at a street stall. To be a punk in Myanmar in 2013 was no longer so unusual, but I still thought it was exciting because being punk in Myanmar means something different than being a punk in Germany. I spent five weeks together with him and his friends.
Last week you received 3rd prize in the World Press Photo Awards in the category Nature. What was this work about?
In April 2014, I travelled through Indonesia and instead of Sumatra rainforest saw a lot of palm oil plantations, so I decided to do a story about the destruction of the rainforest and the orang-utans affected by it.
The global demand for palm oil is growing rapidly. Palm oil is used for food, cosmetics and as a biofuel. Indonesia is market leader in the global production of palm oil and has the third-largest rainforest in the world. Palm oil plantations now replace four-fifths of the rainforest in Indonesia. Over 90 percent of the deforestation takes place on the two islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
As the forest disappears, so too does the habitat of orang-utans. About 6,000 apes are still living in the forest of Sumatra. Many of the animals die as a result of slashing and burning and others starve because there is not enough food for them in the remaining rainforest. Orang-utans that damage the palm fruits in the plantations are hunted down and killed.
The photo with which I won, shows Angelo, a 14-year-old male orang-utan. Angelo was waiting for medical treatment in the quarantine center of SOCP (Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Program), near Medan, North Sumatra. He was shot because he was in a palm oil plantation.
If you had to make a general statement about your photographic works, what would it be?
I can photograph best when I am close to people. People are often the central focus of my reports. I'm interested in their lives, their feelings. Extremes interest me. I find it exciting when people allow me to immerse myself in their lives with my camera.
One last question. Will you also deal with Myanmar in your future works?
Definitely, I do not select my subjects based on their country, but I have a great fondness for Asia.