My first self-propelled journalism “work” was smuggling into martial-lawed Tibet, over the Himalayan mountains from northwest China, dead of winter, in 1989. I stayed for three months, surreptitiously collecting notes, photos, to show what life was like for Tibetans living under occupation. I speak Chinese so most of my time was spent watching and listening, not talking to anyone to avoid suspicion (of course, there was plenty).
When I came out, I published in New York Newsday, TIME Magazine, and wrote some news stories as well. I went to Bob Dannin, then director of Magnum, with my baby-photographer work…and when he saw the photos, he asked to let Magnum distribute them worldwide. It was really my first photo work, self-assigned, photos were just okay, but no one else was getting near to where I was or what I had. Based on that, the content of occupation, Dannin said he believed in the work and wanted to support me.
I sold enough work to buy more film and, six months later, climb back over the mountains—this time to spend a year living and working in Tibetan refugee communities in northern India. That’s my launch story.