Keely Jade Dakin

Kelly Jade Dakin(Photo credit: Keith Walters, Vancouver)

Keely Jade Dakin, 26, is a Canadian photojournalist/writer originally from Vancouver, British Columbia.  Currently, she is living and working as a photographer/reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  Her primary focus is to cover international and conflict journalism.

In January 2011, she went to Haiti to document the one-year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, where she photographed Haitian people in Internationally Displaced Persons camps and Cholera Treatment Centers as well as in their homes and on the streets still covered in rubble.  She has spent the last seven years working and volunteering in Latin America, Western Canada and Europe.

In 2007, she rode her bicycle with Global Agents for Change ( from Vancouver to Tijuana and co-led a similar tour from Amsterdam to Istanbul in 2009 to raise funds and awareness for micro-credit initiatives.  In the summer of 2007 she also cycled solo, through the rain, in Cuba and recorded her thoughts and photos on:  In June 2011, Dakin graduated from the Written Image Program at the Western Academy of photography in Victoria, British Columbia with a degree in journalism/photojournalism.  She completed with a handful of awards, including Best Photojournalist.  To learn more about Dakin and see some of her photos, visit her website at  Her email is: lens(at)

She was interviewed by Clare Ruscello, 21, a senior undergraduate student studying Journalism and Business Management.

Clare Ruscello: Why did you become involved in journalism?

KJ Dakin: I came to journalism after some reluctance on my part. I had long been jaded by the shoddy and disgustingly blind journalism I saw in all of the mainstream media.  At 17 I chose to leave high school and from there I went on to volunteer internationally and to travel extensively. In that way I learned more about the world and about myself.  I have always been someone that craves extreme experiences, highs and lows, and for a time I considered joining the military just to challenge myself and to gain extensive survival skills. However a quote by Utah Phillips eliminated that option for me, “I learned in Korea that I would never again, in my life, abdicate to somebody else my right and my ability to decide who the enemy is.”

In the end I realized that journalism, and specifically conflict journalism, combines work that I believe in with the kind of life I crave.

CR: How do you define journalism today?

KJD: The act of writing and researching for any type of periodical is technically journalism, yet I think that journalism is more about being able and willing to look around you and see.  To find the stories that most need to be told.

CR: How has technology influenced or affected your career?

KJD: The dramatic changes affecting journalism over the last few years have had no great affect to my career, simply because I began only recently. When I was considering becoming a journalist, several photojournalists and journalists were unable to make an income and warned me away. So I came into the industry with my eyes wide open and my monetary expectations very low. Hopefully that won’t be forever!

CR: How will technology affect the future of journalism?

KJD: Technology will continue to alter the face of journalism, because it alters the speed at which information is shared between all global citizens. This means challenges for journalists, and often less time to process complicated stories before they are published. And yet examples such as the Arab Spring, where protestors organized rallies via Twitter, point out huge potential for journalists to be virtually present at world changing events. Imagine what we would never have learned about those conflicts 20 years ago, what would have been glossed over or simply never reported by mainstream media.  I have come to realize that despite being a bit of a techno-phoebe, technology is just a tool; one which must be understood, respected and appreciated.

CR: What one word would you use to describe the status of women in journalism today?

KJD: Dogged

CR: What role(s) will women have in future journalism?

KJD: Women will always have a role in every aspect of journalism. We are half of the population and we do have a role in absolutely everything. The question is – how hard will we have to fight to break into those roles so that we represent equally with men?   – We are not there yet, and across the globe we are nowhere near.

CR: How would you define equality?

KJR: I define equality the same way I define feminism: Feminism is not female supremacy, but the desire to see every woman, man and child define themselves without fear for their physical or mental well being.

CR: Most assume journalism to be strictly writing, can you explain how photography is just another form of journalism?

KJR: Journalism is seeing what needs to be communicated and then communicating it. Photography is journalism because it does exactly that. You must see the story, the people and the context. You must be able to put those all together in a way that communicates what is going on. But it is just as important to make an image beautiful and easy to “read,” or you will lose the audience to the flashy coca-cola add on the facing page or in the blinking box on their screen. In this way it is just as much of a craft as writing is.

CR: Carol Guzy said, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, then you aren’t close enough, but sometimes any closer could get you killed.”  Have you had a situation where this occurred to you?

KJR: While in Haiti I was hyper aware of my glowing white skin, of how that advertised my relative wealth and absolute privilege.  Yet I could not get the shots if my camera stayed in my bag.  I actually think that my time traveling in Colombia, long before I even considered journalism brought me closest to serious danger. If I had not made certain friends that knew certain people, or had I chosen badly in my friends, I could have ended up with FARQ militants as a ransom. A good friend later told me that he had been offered a large sum to hand me over to them. Luckily he chose not to, combined – I’m sure – with the fact that they likely did their research and realized they wouldn’t get much for me.  Yet I would never undo any of the risky things I have done, because I would not know the things I know or the people I now know if I were too cautious. I am speaking from a place of ignorance as I have never yet been in the direct line of fire; but I suspect it will be a delicate balance between the obscene risk of getting in close to get the shot, and of laying low or running when the situation calls for it.

CR: Photography can be a very intimate experience, what do you do to get subjects to let you in and open up to you?

KJD: The intimacy of photography. I am still not 100 per cent comfortable shooting people. I’m not sure I ever will be.  Maybe that helps me not to forget that the subject in front of me is a person. As far as what I do to make people comfortable…well, I ask when I can and I shoot from the hip whenever possible.  Beyond that, for a longer term subjects, I relate to them as an individual. I drink with them if they’re drinking, I listen to their life stories and share some of mine, and I let them guide me into their world. The belief that I am learning from them more than they are from me, keeps me humble and has opened many a door.

CR: What would you say is the most rewarding experience you have had as a photojournalist?

KJD: I’m really not sure what the most rewarding experience I have had as a photojournalist is.

CR:  Can you explain how you got involved in the biking projects you play a role in?  Were you always a biker?

KJD: Both of the longest cycling trips I’ve ever done where with Global Agents for Change, a Vancouver-based, youth-driven organization that began with the creation of a bike trip to Mexico. The tours are designed to raise money for microcredit initiatives in countries where people can’t get a loan on their own.  I had been intending to cycle from Vancouver to Mexico on my own when I met the then brand-new organization, and it seemed like a perfect fit. I had never done anything but city cycling before that. Afterwards I was converted to the belief that it is the best way to travel and gives your ass a great work out.

This is part of a series of profiles of JAWS members by University of Iowa students. For a complete listing, see this page.