Doctors with Cameras


I really like Street Photography and Photojournalism which is storytelling using the medium of photography as your main storytelling device. Street photographers work in public places but photojournalists can be everywhere, like war zones, etc. This is the Code of ethics as described by The National Press Photographers Association. Documentary Photography is somewhere between Photojournalism and Street Photography but more like the first. You will want usually faster lenses for these types of photography meaning with lower f-stops so you can take pictures handheld in the lowlight situation quickly. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens and Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens do an amazing job. If you want a lens with a bit more range, but also fast Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens is a great choice too.

Street photography is the ultimate democratic photography-art form“, said Eric Kim, one of the awesome street photographers, artists, and blogger. Eric’s “100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography” book is free to download and a great resource. Street photography is hard and can be at times dangerous, but is all around us. Smartphone cameras with their somewhat good capabilities in taking pictures in low light situations can be legitimately used for Street, and Documentary Photography to tell a story if we do not want to spend on superb gear.

Photographers are exposed to chemical, physical, and psychological hazards during the course of their work. Photojournalists are at physical risk from motor vehicle crashes and work in war zones.1

In 2004, I made a trip to war-torn Afghanistan. I could not afford a DSLR at that time, so I owned low pixels point-and-shoot camera, which did a good job for my budget and needs at that time.

Tommy Thompson was our Secretary of Health and Human Services at that time and had an interest in a healthcare and delivery improvement project in Kabul, Afghanistan in the largest Maternal Care Hospital in Kabul. The University of Wisconsin (UW) and CDC were involved in that project as well and I was finishing up my training at UW at that time. One of my mentors encouraged me to be involved in this project which was also going to be an elective during my last year of residency. I understand the “Dari” language which is a version of Persian (Farsi). We were going to be involved in helping to teach resident physicians at that hospital and introduce a better flow of care.

I was not nervous at all but on the opposite, very excited about this opportunity. I took a United Nation flight to Kabul from Dubai to Kabul, Afghanistan. Then was assigned to a driver, given a walkie-talkie, and driven to a home. When I arrived at the home I saw that most of the window glasses were covered with plastic because few days prior to that a bomb exploded across the street that shattered it.

In the hospital, we had morning case presentations every day and after that rounded on patients in the Obstetrics Unit. I also spent a lot of time in the Nursery and took care of newborn babies. I was the only “American” in the hospital who knew their language.

It did not take very long and I was bombarded with people and their families and medical questions. I even was asked to come and see people after my hospital work. People would come and knock on the door where I lived. It was a humbling experience that I never forget. The gratitude and honesty were mind-blowing. I did not have to deal with “Google Reviews” there!! Just providing plain honest, caring medical care and advice. All of the foreign doctors had code names and we had drivers to take us from home to hospital etc. Mine was Romeo-2. I worked with two other US physicians, both Gynecologist and a Pediatric Nurse from the United States in the hospital together for the duration of that project.

I would step out of the hospital during lunchtime and cruise around Kabul’s downtown area. No one did that. I did not feel any fear. I was dressed differently and looked different as well and everyone was aware of it but I felt everyone instantly knew I was different and less threatening in some way. I even cruised more in the streets of Kabul after work. It was awesome. I loved the look on people’s faces when I spoke their language and it was instantly Jackpot. I spent a lot of time in different countries in the past and knowing their language well, made a huge difference. I interacted with people and they felt less threatened by me. I believe developing one’s social skills is important if one wants to take on a street and photojournalistic adventure.

I had my camera everywhere with me and snapped some pictures of people’s life in Kabul and some posed even for me and loved doing so. I volunteered my weekends in pediatric clinics and, pediatric ICUs, and orphanages for physical exams. It felt great to be a family doc doing what I had been trained to do.

Below images are in the largest Pediatric ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in Kabul.

Here are some more shots I made in Afghanistan. I personally love the first picture I took in the most iconic spot in Kabul for Kite Runners. I hope you have read the book “The Kite Runner” or watched the movie.

I believe we all should be extremely grateful for what we have in the Western World. We need more accessible and affordable healthcare for sure in the United States but we can access care if we want, no matter if we have the money or not. A lot of people don’t have that luxury across the globe and I have seen a lot of young people die because of lack of it.

The icing on the cake for me on that trip was an infant left behind by the hospital door early after my arrival which was brought to the nursery, whom I cared for every day for more than a month. She had no name and I named her “Emily”. She was my other project in the busy day I had to take care of besides others. I approached the hospital management to get help to find her step-parents, and after few weeks of a long search, we finally did found one couple and I was so happy and proud to take Emily to her new home. They promised me to keep her name.

Emily must be 17-years old now. My Journey in Afghanistan had a happy ending but for a lot, it did not. A lot of children die yearly of injuries suffered from land mines, malnourishment, and simple infections in Afghanistan, and maternal mortality remains one of the highest in the world.

Later I received an appreciation letter from the Secretary of Health and Human Services acknowledging the President’s salute as well to the service I rendered in Afghanistan, but in the end, I just did my job. I did appreciate very much the acknowledgment.

Now listen to this! Can you imagine the look on security faces in the airport when you are checking in to fly back to the United States from Europe with my “sexy passport”?

Iranian-born dude with an American passport with Visas from Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would get instantly the highest attention as to what I was doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I had to get a Pakistan visa in case things got dicey and had to leave Afghanistan by car or foot. After few trips, I was more prepared and had a copy of a letter I received with me to show. Thankfully I renewed that passport a few years ago!!!

Where does your next Street or photojournalistic adventure take you?

  1. Rosenthal J, Forst L. Health hazards of photography. Occup Med. 2001 Oct-Dec;16(4):577-82, iv. PMID: 11567918.

Author: Kouros Farro

I am a family physician, educator, and photographer who loves landscape photography.

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