About Us

We are photographer Jerry Redfern and writer Karen Coates, partners in work and life. We didn’t always like each other, but we’ve always respected each other.

(← That’s us in Paris, 2008)

We met at The University of Montana while working at the student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin. Back then, we tolerated each other—barely. But shortly after graduation, our first journalism jobs took us to the same small daily paper on Wyoming’s windswept plains. There, we collaborated on stories ranging from gun violence to rock climbers at Devils Tower National Monument. We worked hard. We hung out together. We decided we might actually like each other.

When Karen left for graduate school in Oregon the following year, Jerry landed a job at a nearby paper. He drove the U-Haul while she drove his car, which had a broken heater. It was the first week of January, complete with snowstorms and freezing ice on the highways. She must have liked him by then, or she never would have made that trip.

The next fall, Karen signed up for a semester in Vietnam on a collaborative exchange. The impending distance made the heart grow cranky. Jerry asked her the ultimate question, and she said yes.

(← That’s us in a Lao taxi, 2008)

After a crazy-fun summer wedding on an Oregon ranch, Karen took a job at The Cambodia Daily and Jerry followed, shooting freelance for Agence France-Presse, The New York Times and other news organizations throughout the region.

Since then we have collaborated on stories all over the map—child labor in Cambodia, the 2004 Asian tsunamis, human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, Hmong loggers in Vietnam and the world’s hottest chiles in Nagaland.  Food and environment are central themes in much of our work. Our most recent long-term project is a documentation of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos, where American bombs still kill and maim people nearly 40 years after war. Those bombs make digging a dangerous activity in a country where most people grow their own food.

That project will soon be published in a book containing both stories and photos. In late 2011, we were named Senior Fellows at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, based on our UXO investigation.

We have spent much of the past decade living and traveling abroad, working on our own projects and training journalists in developing countries.

But in 2007, we bought a little fixer-upper house near the Rio Grande in New Mexico and decided to split our time between the United States and elsewhere.

(← That’s us in Bagan, Burma, 2002)

We’ve gutted every room, torn up carpet and installed new floors, and survived a run-in with a rototiller and a tree (Jerry). When we’re not punching holes through walls (intentionally) and drilling through wires (unintentionally), we’re working overseas and forgetting the unfinished room on the south side of our little hacienda. It’s a fine balance, we think: home, work, life.

Our best results stem from the times we patiently watch, listen and note the world around us. Ordinary life lends something extraordinary when people take time to look and think—especially in this age of tweets and apps. It’s a rhythm that has become more than a job. It’s the pace of life we have created together.

 

 

 

(← That’s us in the middle of nowhere, Texas, 2011)