INTERVIEW WITH HUMANITARIAN PHOTOGRAPHER MIA BAKER

Last week, I got to interview a woman who has always inspired me. Her name is Mia Baker, and we actually met while she was a teaching assistant for my art class in high school. She is an artist of many trades, and currently she works as a photographer for Serving Orphans Worldwide, an organization that supports orphanages across the globe by encouraging them to achieve sustainability and excellence.

Her amazing job has taken her literally across the globe with her husband Ryan (though she currently lives in Cambodia), and I had the chance to interview her and dig around in her incredibly cultured brain. Check out the transcription below! All of the photos in this post are hers, and you can check out her website here at MiaBaker.com!

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MF: I know as an artist you’ve worked and excelled in many different types of media. What led you most to photography?

MB: What led me to pursue photography?  It was a brilliant accident.  Growing up I wanted to explore the arts, but I thought I would be teaching it.  While attending the University of Georgia, I found myself longing to give back to my community, but I didn’t know where to start.  I had just adopted my first puppy from a local animal rescue.  I enjoyed every moment of photographing my dog, which led me to volunteer for Athenspets.net [The unofficial site for Athens Animal Control] to take pictures of the homeless animals.  I had absolutely no photography knowledge when I started, so it was a very difficult task.  I used a Nikon D60 that was a 5 year old hand me down and would only stay on for 15 minutes at a time;  however, I was determined to photograph the dogs weekly to help them find their forever home.  You could find me with a bag of treats in one hand and a larger bag of batteries in the other hand.  Unintentionally, my pet photographs started gaining popularity.  I started getting calls and requests from all over Georgia to photograph their pets.  It was wildly exciting!

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That’s amazing! I have to admit, I’m an avid follower of your blog, and I love seeing your photos from all of the beautiful places you visit. What is your favorite place you’ve been so far?

Thank you so much for following me around this big world!  It’s very difficult for me to choose which country has been my favorite!  So far, I’ve visited over 40 countries and each one has been my favorite.  They all have such unique qualities, contain bright colors, wonderful people, and incredible food!  All this said, my dream is to live in the northern mountains of Thailand.  God willing, it will happen some day.

 I know you and your husband are both strong in your Christian faith, and in your experience, has traveling to all of these places challenged or changed your faith along the way? 

God is our best friend through it all, including the toughest of times.  Ryan and I have learned that while living overseas you can become drained very quickly from constantly investing your heart into all the suffering that is happening around us.  The times that I’ve experienced something heart wrenching and too difficult to process, or that makes me want to flee, God has intervened to lift me back up. My relationship with Him has become stronger through all the challenges I’ve encountered along my travels.

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 Experiencing different cultures and religions across the world can be overwhelming; what’s the craziest thing you’ve encountered during your travels?

It’s imperative that I am adaptable, and prepared to do many things out of my comfort zone. I can’t even begin to pick the craziest encounter.  I’ve been put on the spot to speak in front of massive crowds of over 10,000 people in India; I’ve gotten last minute notices, while traveling between 6 countries, to have dinner with the former President of South Korea; I’ve seen guns pulled out to mug the person directly in front of me in Guatemala; I’ve had to eat parts of animals that are probably illegal to consume in America while venturing out in Africa; I’ve visited kids that were dying from AIDS, and a few months later, seen them completely healed and playing games with me.  I could go on and on.  It has truly been an amazing adventure.

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How did you get involved in all of your humanitarian work across the globe?

Getting involved in humanitarian photography was a completely unforeseen blessing. Like I said earlier, I always thought I was going to be an art teacher. My pound puppy photographs were discovered by a non-profit called Children of the World, now known as Serving Orphans Worldwide. They are a faith based organization that supports orphanages around the world. One day I received an email with a request to talk to me about a project.  Then I was interviewed to see if I would be willing to travel to a few countries to document stories from these said orphanages.  Eventually they took me on a whirlwind trip to 7 countries in 18 days; which was exhausting and life changing!  I found out it was a test to see just how tough I really am, and to see if I could capture the stories of the beautiful children I met along the way.  Suffice it to say, I passed their test!  They continued to hire me and ever since then, I’ve been photographing for more and more non-profits, NGO’s, and churches across the globe.

 Here’s a more technical question. I’ve noticed you take a lot of beautiful portrait shots of the children and people you encounter along your way. What’s the secret to a great portrait?

There is no secret!  I’m a friend to all before I am a photographer.  It’s not my job to bombard people; It’s much more important to me that I build connections with whomever I meet before I even pull out my camera.  I learned this lesson early on.  One day my heart was so heavy as I had visited 12 different families in 2 days because I was in a huge rush to catch a flight.  When I got to my hotel I started crying, for I had just met some of the most genuine, kindhearted people, but didn’t make an effort to even learn their names.  I hated this realization about myself.  God woke me up by telling me that I’ve been placed in this path to love these people, to be their friend, and to share their story with the world.  Ever since that moment, I feel like the people I set out to photograph have been warmer and more welcoming to me.  They enjoy being photographed by a friend and not by a complete stranger who doesn’t even care enough to learn their name and hear their story.

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 Last question, what’s the next step for you? Where are you dying to go next?

Many secretive new steps going on!  Let’s just say I have a vision of where I need to be going in the next year and I’m working on rebranding my business.  I’m very excited about it.  I’m absolutely dying to go on my honeymoon. Ryan and I have been married almost 4 years and haven’t been able to make the traditional trip yet.  We are hopeful that it will happen this year, as we are planning to island hop around Thailand.  Other plans include a humanitarian trip traveling around the giant continent of Africa for a month for some upcoming big campaign projects.

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Wow, I wish you the best of luck! Thank you so much for taking a second to chat!

Thank you for interviewing me! This was super fun. Much love, Mia.

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Miranda Feneberger

Miranda Feneberger

In the middle of an existential crisis. If you have one of those super long phone chargers can you send it to me?