PI photographer headed to Africa
After years looking for a steady job in photography, Christopher Mullen landed two of them.
A week after signing on part time with the Post Independent after months of freelancing, Mullen, 23, got an offer to serve as a CUREkids coordinator in Uganda. He departs in late January and will spend a year sharing the stories of children treated at the CURE Children’s Hospital in Mbale.
CURE International is a Pennsylvania-based Christian nonprofit that takes its mission from Luke 9:2: “…and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”
It operates hospitals throughout Africa and the Middle East and has a presence in more than 30 countries, with a particular emphasis on children suffering from orthopedic and neurological conditions.
For Mullen, it’s the perfect fusion of his passion for photography and his faith.
“I like projects that positively affect people and tell the story of a person in need,” he said.
“They’re actually doing something. They’re living out the Bible.”
Although he’ll be without a car and relying on a translator, Mullen says he isn’t worried. After all, he’s made a cultural adjustment before — when he moved to the valley from Hawaii.
Mullen grew up on Maui, taking pictures with a 35-millimeter point and shoot until he got his first digital single-lens reflex camera in high school.
“I’ve always had a camera,” he said. “I think I’ll always be a photographer.”
Mullen’s mom is from Gypsum and his dad is from Denver, so when he graduated high school in 2009 and decided to study photography, he began looking at schools in Colorado. Colorado Mountain College’s program topped the list.
After two and a half years at CMC, he earned his professional photography degree and decided to stick around.
“I made the decision that I would stay and work until I got a job in my field,” he said.
He supported himself delivering Domino’s pizza and worked to amass a portfolio. The gig gave him flexibility to shoot during the day, and his co-workers stepped in to cover shifts when something big came up.
“They’ve been very supportive of me,” he said.
In October 2012, he snapped some photos of a cattle truck accident on Highway 133 and submitted them to the Post Independent. They were too graphic to print, but he was offered a temporary vacation-relief position. He continued to freelance and fill in, and last fall he did a photo story on the Glenwood Springs Fire Department and licensed it to the paper.
Mullen has a passion for fire. He began shooting brush fires during a summer back home on Maui, and now owns his own fire-resistant gear to ride along with crews on fires like the one in Red Canyon last year.
“I’ve always had an interest in covering war, and wildfires in the western U.S. are kind of similar. There’s this massive mobilization,” he observed.
It’s not just about the action, though. Some of Mullen’s most striking photographs are of the aftermath of events like Bastrop County Complex Fire in Texas. In addition to his photojournalistic work his website, christopherpmullen.com, also contains an “abandoned” section featuring ghost towns like Cisco, Utah.
Regardless, Mullen said, the subjects he shoots aren’t the kind of thing you’d hang on your wall. He’s all about telling a story, with all the grit and grime and without any touch-ups.
“I hate Photoshop,” he said. “There used to be an authentic feel to photography, like, ‘This is the truth.’”
He’s not a big fan of a telephoto lens, either, subscribing to Robert Capa’s assertion that “If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” He also admires James Nachtwey, Eugene Richards and Robert Caplin, and believes in spending time with his subject until he’s just a fly on the wall.
“After a while, they kind of accept you and you just blend in. Then you can get good shots,” he said. “A photojournalist has to be there, in the moment, in their personal space. That shows. You can tell their story more powerfully than with words.”
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