I have traveled to over 100 countries and to every continent on Earth and wherever I have been, I have been amazed by the strength and resilience of women. I have learned that when you empower a woman, she often lifts the whole village. And yet, in many parts of the world, women are disenfranchised; they are not allowed to work, be educated, drive, open a bank account, own a business, or even leave the house without a male escort. How can we solve the big issues of our generation, like climate change, if half of the world population is not empowered to participate in the solutions? I hope my images and stories about women, their struggles and their beauty, can help spart a wider conversation about a kinder, more inclusive society where women can play a leadership role.
This was the first time I had visited the Kayapó village of Kubenkrakjé, in the southern part of the Brazilian Amazon. We brought colorful beads as gifts for the women, and while they were all distributing the beads, I spotted this young woman sitting on the edge of the hut. It was already 11 in the morning and the sun was beating down on us, but she sat just in the periphery of the open shade, and that light allowed me to make a lovely portrait of a beautiful girl.
Over the years, I have had the chance to photograph the same people, over and over. This girl lives in the village of Kendjam, or Standing Rock in the Xingú territory. I first photographed her with her pet Amazonian parrot and a couple of years later, I was not surprised to see her with her pet pygmy owl.
I was fiddling with my single reflex camera in a market in a small village in Yunnan, when I saw her inverted image walking right straight at me. She passed in front of the open door of a worshop and i barely had time to push the shutter three times. Two of my images were blurry, as the goose kicked in rebellious disagreement. The third image has become one of my favorites. The dark workshop provided the perfect backdrop for an iconic portrait.
Represented as fine art by the Paul Nicklen Gallery
She belongs to a tribe that calls themselves "The People of the Thorn" in southern Madagascar. The Antandroy people rile their existence by a complicated set of supersticiones and taboos. This "sacred ecology" allows them to survive in one of the harshest environments on Earth.
When a baby is born in one of the many indigenous villages of the Xingú region of Brazil, its first bath forms a lifelong bond with the river. I waded into the water to photograph this woman and although she initially eyed me suspiciously, she soon allowed me to spend time with her and her child on this wonderful Amazonian afternoon.
Once part of a Kingdom last ruled by a Queen, the women of Hawaii are artists of the sea. Fearless, creative, and capable with surf boards of many kinds, Hawaiian women to this day take to the sea to ride the waves. Sisters Ale'a and Leimomi Puu allowed me to hang out with them, as they waited on their tandem surf board to catch the last ride of the day. On assignment for National Geographic with Paul Nicklen, in Makaha Beach, Hawaii.
The back-breaking work of weeding the rice fields, falls squarely on the shoulders of women. That on top of all the household chores and the rearing of children. How do they do it? With a smile.
The village of Amodihavibe was the site of one of Madagascar's first Marine Protected Areas. On the edge of the sea, a woman hangs her laundry to dry under the fierce midday sun.
A Quechua girl from the highlands of Ecuador, proudly shows me her most prized possession: a cute pup named Hector. Girls in rural areas have very limited access to education, job opportunities, or participation in local, regional, national or global economies. Efforts to narrow down the gender gap in corporate America are already underway. However, at the pace we are going, it will take 115 years for women to reach the same earning power as our male counterparts! What can you do today to empower the women around you?