From camel festivals in India, to inside of an ambulance in San Salvador, you can find Maho Irigoyen and David von Blohn, the dynamic duo behind On the Road Media, almost anywhere in the world, filming and editing visual stories with aesthetic excellence and perceptive insight into social issues, and the people working to solve them.
In January, David and Maho worked with SERES to film a video about our transformative sustainability leadership programs, and the efforts and the actions of our youth leaders who are working to create more just, vibrant, sustainable communities at the local level and beyond. We traveled from the farm where our SERES global center will be constructed in Esquintla, Guatemala, to a reforestation site in Cantel, Quetzaltenango, to the base of our programs in El Salvador, in the town of Suchitoto.
Recently, we had the opportunity to hear from On the Road about their own story, and their vision of the social impact of visual storytelling today. And stay tuned, we’ll be releasing their video about SERES soon!
Sitting down with On the Road Media
- Did you always know that you wanted to do videography? What are your first memories of when you realized that you wanted to work in this profession?
Maho: I began to study Anthropology at the end of college, but later on I realized that that I wanted to do something more practical, and I was very interested in film. For various reasons I ended up studying photography instead, but my interest in audiovisual never went away. For this reason, I decided to study Documentary Film a few years later, and that is the path that has made me happiest – to be able to work with people and tell their stories.
David: Not at all, I studied philosophy! During my studies I went to do an exchange in Chile beca
use I was fascinated by Latin American culture. It was 2011, the year of the great social protests in Chile, with miles and miles of students in the streets: and me, in the middle of it
all. I began to take my camera to the protests and photographing in the midst of shouts, dances, and tear gas, I fell in love with photography. I worked as a photojournalist and when I met Maho, she taught me about video, and together we created On the Road Media.
- In your opinion, what exactly does it mean to be able to tell a story visually?
We tell stories because we seek to connect with people in different contexts, people we wouldn’t have the possibility to meet and get to know. We believe that the audiovisual medium is the most powerful in generating empathy, solidarity, and therefore change. The world can be a better place if we are able to achieve understanding of the difficulties and dreams of others. For this reason, we see ourselves a bit as translators of different realities.
- Apart from technical abilities, what is the most important ability or capability to be developed for someone wants to begin telling stories through the audiovisual medium?
Listening. The most important skill is to know how to listen, to be able to understand the storie
s and find the message that we want to communicate to our public. Part of this is to develop the empathy to put ourselves in the place of our characters, to take their points of view and to be able to tell their story, not as objects or as victims, but rather as active subjects and agents of change.
- You are, as demonstrated by the name of your company, on the road all of the time, without a specific “home.” What is the best part of working like this, and what is the worst?
It’s true, it’s been a half of a year that we haven’t lived in a fixed place and have instead been traveling constantly, to wherever our stories take us. The difficulty is precisely this, to not have a home to return to at the end of a day of hard work or a long trip. Also, to go a long time without being able to see our family or friends. However, for us the positive outweighs whatever difficulties there are. We constantly have the opportunity to get to know new people and places which inspire us. We honestly feel very grateful and we know that the way in which we live is a great privilege.
- You began On the Road Media company alone, as entrepreneurs, essentially. Do you have some advice for SERES youth leaders who are aspiring entrepreneurs, and have ideas for their own projects and businesses? What are the challenges of working as entrepreneurs, developing your own business?
First of all, we would tell youth to choose something that they are truly passionate about, since they’re going to spend a lot of time working on that. The second is to understand the importance of creating networks with other people with whom they can exchange ideas, and who will be able to help them make their projects a reality. For example, right now we are organizing a workshop together with a good friend in Mexico who is also a freelancer, in order to talk about the importance of creating networks to actualize our creative ideas.
- What did you like the most about working on this project with SERES? What did you like the most of what you learned about the organization and its’ members?
What we loved about SERES is that they work to empower youth in Guatemala and El Salvador , from a long-term perspective, in order to construct an empowered society. We know both countries and we’ve been witnesses to how past conflicts and present-day violence destroys lives and dreams. It inspires us to see youth, like Fatima and Axel, that work to transform their countries, and to have been able to meet them and the other SERES youth is a great gift for us.
- In your experiences making videos as On the Road Media, what has been the most surprising experience which you’ve had?
Definitively, the most surprising thing is that people want to share their stories with us and trust us to tell their stories, which is a great responsibility. But anecdotally, we would be able to say that our trip to India has been the most surprising experience up to now. The ability to get to know a culture so different from ours gave us new perspectives. Sometimes it was almost like being in another planet, and it also made us appreciate many things that we take for granted in our own countries. But more than anything, it enriched us and nourished our desire to continue learning and getting to know all of the corners of the world.
- In the course of your travels, I imagine that you’ve met a lot of interesting and passionate people. Do you normally maintain contact with them? Is there a person that you’ve met or a conversation that you’ve had that changed your perspective in a fundamental way, or that particularly sticks out to you?
Yes, like you say, we have met a lot of people throughout all of the stories we’ve done, and we hope to meet many more! We believe that each person changes our perspective in some way, but of course there are some that impact us more than others. And yes, we always try to stay in touch with those that decide to help us on our path and share with us – generally through Facebook.
One of these people was Lucy, a sexual and reproductive health promoter for the NGO, WINGS. She is an indigenous woman who had her first child at the age of 16, due to lack of information in that respect, which is a fairly common situation for young girls in Guatemala. It was very hard for her to raise her child and live with her husband, who was physically and psychologically violent towards her. Meeting Lucy impacted us a lot because of the resilience which she was capable of, since not long after having her child, and in the midst of a complicated situation, she became a health promoter in order to help other women in her community avoid what had happened to her, and she was able to move her family forward. She also was very open with us, and it touched us to be able to tell her story and get to know her and her beautiful family. (You can find her story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DomZUUnVSrM).