Juan Arredondo, an assistant professor in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media at Rutgers—Newark, said his goal as a professor is to utilize his professional experiences as a photojournalist to prepare his students and hopefully inspire them to enter the field.
Arredondo spoke to The Daily Targum about his career and the impact one of his mentors, journalist Brent Renaud, had on him.
In March 2022, Renaud and Arredondo were covering Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They were responsible for capturing footage for a documentary segment about the global refugee crisis and covering the experience of displaced people, he said.
While traveling across a Ukrainian checkpoint, Arredondo and Renaud were ambushed by Russian militia, Arredondo said. Renaud was killed during this incident and was the first American journalist to die while covering the invasion.
"I had really good mentors," Arredondo said. "I had many throughout my career … I think (Renaud) was a big influence in my documentary work. If I had not had them to be patient (and) to take the time to teach me, I wouldn't have been able to do this work."
He said his interest in photojournalism comes from his background. He grew up in Colombia, a nation that has been in a civil war for decades, and after immigrating to the U.S., he found a level of disconnect with the photos taken by foreign journalists covering issues in Colombia, he said.
"They were just foreigners that would come in, parachute, photograph and leave. And I always felt like I didn't connect to those photos," he said. "I felt like there was a lack of connection, and so that's what I try to convey in my photos — connecting to the people."
Arredondo said he values the importance of correct information, even in the face of danger. Despite the risks that may occur and the trauma he might experience while doing this job, being present in these situations makes himself and his audience better informed about world events, he said.
Arredondo said he remembered hearing the ongoing fighting all around him during his time in Ukraine in 2022.
"You can hear the bombing in the background," he said. "You can hear the missiles. It was a very distinct sound."
Arredondo said he and Renaud's brother, Craig Renaud, are now planning to create a documentary in Brent Renaud's honor, but the healing process has been difficult.
Arredondo and Craig Renaud also collaborated on a series, "Southern Storytellers," which focuses on noted creators of literature, music and film from the American South, Arredondo said. "Southern Storytellers" is a complete change of pace from the projects he is used to working on, he added.
"It's more quiet," he said. "For me, being involved in that project was helpful because I found it to be different from the previous work that I've done ... It's the nature of being a freelancer that you end up working on different projects ... But for the most part, whatever comes on your plate, you go in and work on it.”
Arredondo said he remains committed to capturing images in conflict-ridden situations. Even after working as an editor and producer on the "Southern Storytellers" project, he said he still feels most comfortable being outside in the field with his camera.
Arredondo said he also finds enjoyment in the feeling that he's investing in his students the same way his mentors invested in him.
"That's why I enjoy teaching this — because I hope I can touch someone like I was influenced by my mentors," he said. "For me, it's a way of giving back because a lot of people invested in me, and people believed that I could do this."