Lindsay Mackenzie has led an adventurous, jet-set life since growing up in Whistler. After ditching the journalism school classroom for field experience when the Arab Spring broke, she met fellow photojournalist Samuel Aranda — who recently won a World Press Photo of the Year award for an image captured in Yemen — and the pair eventually moved to Tunisia covering the unrest in the area and beyond.
Now based in a village in Catalonia, the couple is back for a visit and set to present their work at Millennium Place June 5. Pique sat down with Mackenzie recently to talk about the stories behind her photos.
Pique: Are you working mainly as a freelance photographer?
Lindsay Mackenzie: My boyfriend and I are both photographers. He spends all his time doing photojournalism and he works primarily for the New York Times. I do mainly photojournalism, but also radio and a little bit of teaching and trip leading. I work also for National Geographic. They have summer trips for high school students and I teach photography for them in the summer. Then I also manage trips.
Pique: How did the Whistler event come about? What will it be like?
LM: It's more just to reconnect with Whistler and share a little bit about what we're doing. It will just be an overview of the work we're doing. We spent a lot of time recently covering the Arab Spring, but we've also done other things out of that region. We'll share a bit of our work and open it up for questions.
Pique: Where were you during the start of the Arab Spring?
LM: I was doing my Master's in Journalism in England and I was midway through the program when the revolution started in Tunisia. So I just went and then moved there. That's where I met Sam. He was there at the time for a Spanish newspaper and we met in a crowd of photographers and protesters. We ended up going to a lot of the same places, not just the two of us, but a lot of photographers.
Pique: Were you finished school at that point?
LM: It was during a winter break. Then classes started back up and I went back. But then Egypt happened and I went to Egypt. I had to negotiate with my professors to finish. They were against me being in Egypt. When I was in Tunisia, they didn't really know, but I told them I was going to Egypt. Maybe I told them after I was already there, but they were really concerned about liability. I was taking multi-media international journalism. I was like, 'Guys, this is kind of what it is and I'm getting work. It's the biggest news event since the fall of the Berlin Wall, so I'm going to go.' It took awhile to get them to stop being mad at me and just let me finish the degree without being there. In the end, I had to write a thesis and I wrote it while I was in Tunisia.
Pique: Especially in Egypt I feel like we heard these awful stories. Did you feel in danger at any time?
LM: A lot of that happened after the revolution. I was there from the very end of January until after (former President) Mubarak fell for the 18 days Tahrir Square was occupied. Most of the 18 days I felt really safe, especially inside the square. There were two days where it seemed the strategy of the government was to blame everybody else. So there were a couple days where they were trying to tell everybody it was not the government's fault. It was a foreign conspiracy, particularly the fault of foreign media. So there were a couple days it wasn't necessarily nice to be out. One day we got detained for our own safety by the military. They took our passports and phones and made us sit on the curb for the day. They just kept bringing journalists from all over the place. The guys from the Globe and Mail were there and we chatted a little bit. We just didn't know what we were waiting for, if they were going to take us somewhere.
Pique: Do you have any favourite images from that time?
LM: We'll show some of those during the slideshow for sure. From Egypt there's one I took after the announcement that Mubarak had fallen and it was just this huge wild party in the square. It was no time at all between the announcement and huge celebrations, everyone found hairspray and lighters and everyone was just dancing around.