Published: October 2006
Peter Essick

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

The best part of this assignment was visiting Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Before I went, I wondered if people would be less friendly to me because I was an American, but my experience was exactly the opposite. Everyone was nice and great to work with. People were also very open to me taking photographs. I met one man who had been in the army for ten years. Three of his kids had problems associated with Agent Orange, a dioxin-containing defoliant that the U.S. military sprayed over large areas in Vietnam. So I thought if anyone had a reason to be angry with me, it would be him. But this man welcomed me into his home to take pictures, and we had tea and talked.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

The first three people I contacted for this article all turned down my photographic requests. Two were doing academic studies, and the other person was in charge of a government study on toxins. It was a pretty discouraging way to start an assignment, and I started to wonder if I was going to be able to get any access. I ended up having to shift my focus to environmental organizations and people who had been directly affected by toxins.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I photographed environmental engineer Richard Corsi, who does a lot of research on indoor pollution at the University of Texas. He was putting on personal care products and then sticking his head in a metal box to see how the fragrances reacted with the ozone around his head. It was a perfect picture opportunity, but sometimes it got a little awkward because I needed to tell him to reposition his hands. But he couldn't hear me, and I wasn't sure whether I should knock on the box to get his attention.