Life After Graduation: On Becoming a Documentarian

The truth is that few of us are born into this work. It is something we discover accidentally, something that happens gradually… It makes us happy, because it gives us a sense of purpose. –Lynsey Addario, “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War”

While I was a student at the University of Houston (2011-2014), I had incredible artistic opportunities. Through the Honors College and the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, I was able to work on a variety of exciting video projects. I traveled to Central America and Haiti, and documented topics ranging from poverty in Honduras to homelessness in Houston. I interviewed a spectrum of fascinating individuals from survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to advocates of urban farming in Texas. However, once I graduated, it became more of challenge to find opportunities to produce videos, especially ones that paid anything. Though I continued to search for and find production opportunities, the course wasn’t exactly smooth.

Since graduating, I have worked as an usher at a theatre, a headshot photographer, a bartender at an Irish pub, a videographer for non-profits, a waitress at an upscale restaurant, and a manager at a hookah lounge. I have also backpacked through South America and Southeast Asia, and road tripped across the US. As somebody whose path has been non-traditional, to say the least, it is often hard to stay focused on pursuing my primary passion: non-fiction storytelling.

“What inspires you to tell these particular stories?” a coworker recently asked. I didn’t have a succinct answer prepared. Why am I so interested in continuing to pursue documentary filmmaking? I can only describe it as a compulsion of sorts. It’s the thought of walking through the killing fields of Cambodia, of looking upon the deforested countryside of Bolivia. It’s the smell of Crisco used to treat scabies on the skin of Haitian children and the limbless victims of Agent Orange begging on the street in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s knowing that I have a digital camera, a MacBook Pro, a media degree, and every other privilege at my disposal to share these stories and assist in some way, however minimal.

Right now I’m working as a story editor at a media production startup in Seattle, enjoying the comfort of steady work. However, landing the 9-5 also presents its own challenges, such as maintaining the necessary artistic momentum to continue to work on filmmaking and photography on the side. Currently, I am in the midst of yet another non-traditional pursuit. I’m leading a Kickstarter campaign to raise finishing funds for my latest project, a film which documents the immigrant and refugee communities of Houston, and the many challenges that these groups face.

Though I’ve finally come to terms with the unpredictability of this field, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to, as the cliché goes, “do what I love.” And with that sentiment, I’m reminded of another quote by Lynsey Addario:

“I found that the camera was a comforting companion. It opened up new worlds, and gave me access to people’s most intimate moments… When I was behind a camera, it was the only place in the world I wanted to be.”

Abigail Hagan

BA Communications (Media Production)

Class of 2014



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