Nichole Sobecki

Profile Nichole Sobecki

© Nichole Sobecki

Award-winning American photographer and member of the prestigious VII photo agency, Nichole Sobecki, is one of the finest visual storytellers of our time.


─── Josh Bright, June 3, 2021

Born in New York, Nichole Sobecki was introduced to the medium at an early age through her grandfather, who gifted her the camera which he had used for many years to capture images from the trains on which he worked.

Color landscape photograph of Somalia by Nichole Sobecki
Somalia’s arid landscape as seen from inside a decaying colonial building in the Somaliland town of Sheikh on April 12, 2016. A land of extreme temperatures and little rain, the country has faced cyclical droughts and periodic famines throughout the past century. From 'A Climate for Conflict'


She studied Political Science at Massachusetts’ Tufts University, and upon graduating, traveled to the Middle East (specifically
Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria) where she began her career, focusing on issues related to identity, conflict, and human rights.

She subsequently moved to Nairobi, Kenya (where she still lives today) to lead Agence France-Presse’s East Africa video bureau, though would later shift her focus to her documentary practice, motivated by a deep desire to educate and inform, and thus engender positive change. 

Color photo, woman and camel, Somalia by Nichole Sobecki
Five-month-old camel Baarud playfully pulls at Aadar Mohamed's hijab in Hiijinle village, north-western Somaliland. Baarud, which means tough in Somali, was given this name because when his mother was pregnant with him she nearly died in the drought. From 'A Climate for Conflict'
Color photo, man, pet, Somalia by Nichole Sobecki
From 'A Climate for Conflict'
Color photography, portrait, girl, Somalia, Nichole Sobecki
From 'A Climate for Conflict'


“In order to change the world, we have to first understand it as it is. Documentary photography is a window into lives, places and experiences beyond ourselves. It can broaden our perspective, inform our choices, and, at its best, act as a bridge to connect us to one another.” – NS

It’s this ethos, underpinned by a deep humanism, that informs her practice, and has generated a wealth of truly astonishing work. From the smugglers who ferry migrants across the Sahara, to the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or her reportage on the ongoing war in Afghanistan, Sobecki’s work is characterised by rare empathy and veracity, invariably centering on the nuanced human stories behind the key issues of our time, in a refreshing divergence from the approach of many western practitioners.

 

Color photography by, men with guns, truck, Nichole Sobecki
From 'Revolution and Anarchy'
Color photography by, men with guns, explosion, fire Nichole Sobecki
From 'Revolution and Anarchy'
Nichole Sobecki, color portrait, photograph, Niger, Sahara, Libya, Smuggler
From 'Highway to hell'


“After years covering conflicts and terrorism in the Middle East and Africa I began to worry that I was focusing on the most dramatic, but perhaps least vital, part of these clashes. The contact, but not the connection. What was happening below the surface of these crises, and how would those currents shape the future?”

Color photograph by Nichole Sobecki, Domboshawa mountains, Zimbabwe, prayers
Bishop Manyange Chenjerai sings his prayers to the Domboshawa mountains, Zimbabwe, which are said to be sacred and have long been the site of pilgrimage for followers of varied religions. Bishop Chenjerai has visiting daily since 2008 when the country was thrown into a downward spiral of rampant inflation and violent attacks following a contested election.
Color photograph by Nichole Sobecki, woman, fire, Djibouti, Africa
From 'Jostling for Djibouti'
Color photo by Nichole Sobecki, man on bicycle, birds, Djibouti, Africa
From 'Jostling for Djibouti'


These reflexive questions led her to create, ‘A Climate for Conflict’, (alongside journalist Laura Heaton), a thoroughly compelling body-of-work that explores how climate change has dramatically impacted Somalia’s physical, socio-economic and political landscape.

“Somalia is the canary in the coal mine for the rest of us. In a generation parts of the country have gone from being semi-arid to desert, fuelling conflict and pushing communities to the brink.”

 

Portrait color photograph of 3 women by Nichole Sobecki, Somaliland, Somalia
Portraits of Basra Ismaan Jaama; Nimo Mohamed Hussein, and Yurub Suleiman Mohamed, Aakil Yare IDP Camp, Somaliland, December 2019. All three have a child who is currently being held by traffickers in Libya after being kidnapped whilst trying to reach Europe. From 'A Climate for Conflict'.


“This work tells the stories of people struggling to cope with a changing environment: the camel herder who went to war with neighbors over pasture and water, the elder struggling to adapt as his community’s land erodes around them, the fishermen lured by piracy when they could no longer make a living at sea.

This is one of the places that has contributed the least to global carbon dioxide emissions, and yet its environment is among the most severely impacted, in irreversible ways. I felt a sense of responsibility to highlight that; as well as a need to examine the dynamics between the environment and security, which are poorly understood.”

Color photo by Nichole Sobecki, woman, Somalia, Somaliland
Sabad Ali Ahmed takes apart her family's home in Burao Airport IDP Camp, Somaliland, December 13, 2019. She came here during the 2016 drought after losing 300 sheep and goats and 25 camels. Now, the government has told them they must move again to a different IDP camp further outside Burao. From 'A Climate for Conflict'.


Comprising portraiture, landscapes, and ‘unposed’ quotidian scenes, the series poignantly imparts the realities of everyday life for those living in an area of the world that is one of the worst affected by the climate crisis. A reminder of the increasingly interconnected essentiality of our planet, and of the need for immediate, radical, change, it exemplifies Sobecki’s profound percipience as well as photography’s unique ability to effectively communicate truth.

Color photograph by Nichole Sobecki, refugee, migrant, camp Somalia, Somaliland, tents
The sun sets across Burao Airport IDP Camp, Somaliland, December, 2019. With the IOM predicting 200 million environmentally displaced people by 2050, countless Somalis will be pushed from their homes, with women and girls bearing the weight of displacement. From 'A Climate for Conflict'.


“The greatest driving force in my work is humanity’s fraught, intimate, and ultimately unbreakable connection to the natural world. Too often coverage of climate change has been politicised, or it’s been portrayed as something happening to the planet, or polar bears, or glaciers — forgetting that we’re all a part of the same thing.” – NS

Portrait color photograph of a woman and child by Nichole Sobecki
Portrait of Nasteha Hassan Abdi (about 15-years-old) and her son Musab Farah Waro (1 year and 8 months old) in Dadaab refugee camp, northern Kenya, on December 3, 2019. From 'A Climate for Conflict'.


“We don’t exist separately from our environment, nor will we survive its destruction (although parts of it may survive ours).  Any chance at a future here demands a complete, and rapid rethinking of our priorities, and the creation of a sense of collective humanity that is missing from the short-term, individualistic thinking that has dominated our politics and economy for the last century. I believe that storytelling has a role to play in cultivating these new ideas.”

 

All images © Nichole Sobecki / VII Photo

Nichole Sobecki was the competition judge for the 2021 Visual Storytelling Award. See the results here.