Interview with Laurel Chor | GBPW Episode 155

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Laurel Chor.
Laurel Chor by Patrik Wallner

I think that’s part of journalism: gaining that trust. I do not think of myself as the best photographer by any means, but I think the strength of a lot of my work just comes from the fact that I was able to gain that access.

Laurel Chor

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hong Kong protests documented by laurel chor

In this episode, I speak with Laurel Chor, who is a journalist, public speaker, photographer, filmmaker, and National Geographic Explorer from Hong Kong. In 2017, she participated in the Rugby World Cup. As you can already tell, she’s a very impressive person! Laurel has worked with National Geographic, CNN, South China Morning Post, and many other international companies.

In this episode, we talk about:

  • The unpredictable and inspiring life of a photojournalist
  • How Laurel takes care of her mental and physical health in chaotic environments
  • The beauty of healthy comparison

& much more!

This was a very enjoyable episode to record thanks to Laurel’s expert storytelling skills and transparency. We dive into many important topics, like mental health and the ethics of journalism, so make sure to tune in today!

Here is a preview of our conversation with Laurel Chor.

photojournalism by laurel chor

Q: After working in journalism full-time, you decided to become independent. What was the inspiration behind that decision?

Laurel Chor: Right before I went freelance, I was working as a producer for VICE News. I was a producer for VICE News Tonight, which sadly has been cancelled.

I was a producer for a TV show – a news show – and I was never someone who was video first. Video was a side effect. There’s a lot more opportunity and money in that. It was a really cool job, so I took it, and I was able to do so much.

I made a lot of work that I’m super proud of at VICE. At one point, I realised that I was able to accomplish so much in video when I don’t really care about it, at least not in the same way that I care about photo. So what’s stopping me from trying my hand in the medium that I actually do care about?

It taught me how much I can accomplish when I’m not afraid of failure. I just knew that I’d regret it if I didn’t give photojournalism a proper try. I’m glad I did.

It was timing as well. Not long after I quit and went freelance, the protests in Hong Kong broke out. I really dedicated myself to covering those. That got me a lot of work. It was the first time I worked for a lot of these publications and got my name out there.

documentary work in Hong Kong by laurel chor

Q: What was your introduction to National Geographic like and what is the best project that you’ve worked on so far?

Laurel Chor: A National Geographic Explorer is basically anyone who’s received a grant from National Geographic. I got my first grant in 2013. It was a Young Explorer grant, which doesn’t exist anymore. There were grants for up to $5,000 for people between 18 and 25, so you really didn’t need to be very qualified at all. That was my first introduction to National Geographic.

It was a grant to do a project about endemic species in Hong Kong, species not found anywhere else. I totally failed at what I set out to do. I wanted to crowdsource a database about Hong Kong endemic species, but I didn’t do that. Instead, I did a lot of public education. That’s probably where I really started speaking in public about what there is in Hong Kong’s nature that people aren’t paying attention to, why it’s important to explore, and why it’s important to protect it.

I am fully immersed back into my Master’s, where I am writing about manta rays. I’m really excited about this project. The title is A Visual Geography of Human-Manta Ray Relations in the 21st Century, so it’s a little out there. I’m really grateful that NatGeo is giving me the chance to pursue such an abstract project.

Hong Kong photojournalism shot by laurel chor

Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s starting out in the industry and wants to build a good reputation?

Laurel Chor: The advice I always give to people just starting out is that you don’t need permission to tell a story. I think it’s a bit of a catch-22 when you’re a freelancer – especially when you’re starting out – which is that you need a portfolio in order to get work. You can’t get work unless you have a portfolio.

I encourage aspiring journalists, or people just starting out, to write and photograph a story. A story is a story, whether or not it’s published in a big name publication. Ultimately, it’s the strength of your work and the story that’s going to shine through.

My first journalism job was at a digital media company called Coconuts. I covered local news. Some of the stories managed to get international attention just by virtue of the strength of the story. It wasn’t about the platform. It’s not about where you get published. It’s really about what you’re publishing.

Once you have a strong portfolio, that’s what an editor is going to be looking at. You’ll have proven work that will show that you can do what you’re proposing to do. That’s my biggest advice.

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Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.
Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.

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