PDN Photo of the Day

Photographing the High Stakes of Ireland’s Abortion Referendum

On May 25, 2018, a referendum on abortion took place in Ireland. The voters were deciding whether or not to repeal the eighth amendment of Ireland’s Constitution, which imposed a near-total ban on abortion. In a landslide, the country voted to repeal the ban, paving the way for pro-choice laws. Mindful that this historical event was approaching, Berlin-based photographer Jacobia Dahm pitched an idea about how to cover the voters’ deliberation. Dahm’s pitch found a home at the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. Below, Dahm talks to PDN about formulating the pitch and delivering the final the product.

PDN: What inspired you to pitch a story about Ireland’s abortion referendum?
Jacobia Dahm:
I was well aware the referendum was coming up on May 25, and I wanted to do some work on it. It seemed a momentous decision for Ireland. And, related conversations are being held elsewhere. The U.S. is worried about a repeal of Roe vs. Wade, and here in Germany, it is still illegal for doctors to mention on their website that they perform abortions. The week before the referendum, I decided I would go to Ireland to cover it. I thought the simplest yet most intimate way to approach it was to ask people directly how they felt. We tend to look from afar at the results of an election or a referendum. Getting up close provides a better and more nuanced understanding of how people come to their decisions. I laid out my idea to combine a portrait and a handwritten note to a handful of editors. Jason Chiu from The Globe and Mail quickly sent a positive response saying they’re interested and wanted to pursue this. I was delighted of course. Jason was very supportive, and in the end The Globe and Mail did a really stunning job on the visual presentation.

PDN: What did Chiu ask for in terms of visuals? How did you deliver that?
JD: In my original email I shared images from a story I had done in Germany for ZEIT that portrayed people at a solidarity march after an anti-Semitic attack in Berlin. He liked the way this was done – a portrait and a picture of a handwritten note from the protagonists with their name and age and profession, and thought this would work well for the referendum story too. I told Jason I wanted to spend one day in Dublin and one day in the countryside to get a sense of different Irish voters, and he supported that idea. We aimed for about 15-20 interviews and portraits.

PDN: Once in Dublin, how did you execute the assignment? 

JD: The key to this assignment was successfully weaving different skills together. I was the interviewer and the photographer at the same time, which made it a more intense experience, and in ways a more complete experience. I felt like a traveling salesman with all my gear, and it made people laugh that when I wrapped up with each person I talked myself through the to do list, making sure I had gotten all I needed. The to-do list was to interview people and record the interview with my iPhone, have them write their name and age on a piece of cardboard that I provided, write with a particular pen, have them sign the model release on my Easy Release app, take their portrait, and lastly take a picture of them  holding the sign they made. It felt great to be doing all these different things at once and to own the whole project, and see it published shortly after delivery.

-Sarah Stacke

“My Vote: What’s at stake in Ireland’s abortion referendum”
Photographs and Text by Jacobia Dahm
Assigned by Jason Chiu at The Globe and Mail
Published May 24, 2018

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