ARTICLE

Women in photography: Maja Hitij on personalising sports and photojournalism

Christina Kallberg of Sweden competes during a table tennis match in Düsseldorf, Germany, 30 May 2017. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. © Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images

In high school, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Maja Hitij told of her dream to photograph the world’s top sporting events. Now, at 33-years-old, she is a full-time staff photographer in Getty Images' European team, specialising in sports.

A keen sportsperson herself, Maja runs marathons, and fits in training before and after work. It’s important for her to keep in shape to deal with the physical demands of her job – the hours are long and getting into position shot after shot is physically draining. "Covering major sporting events is a dream come true but can also be really intense," she says. "I also do a bit of bouldering to give me strength – if you're not 90kgs, you can just get pushed aside."

Expressing herself

Maja studied journalism in her native Slovenia, and fell in love with photography during her studies. "I realised that as a journalist you're trying to find the best way to express yourself, be it through radio, or videos... I found that my way was photography."

As a journalist you try to find the best way to express yourself. I found that my way was photography.

Focusing on hard news, she cut her teeth at leading agencies – in 2008, she travelled to Jerusalem to intern with Associated Press for a year and then spent two years training with DPA, a German news organisation based in Berlin. She has covered global stories as diverse as the Egyptian elections, the refugee crisis in Greece, life in the Gaza Strip and home affairs in Germany.

Fathma El Saudi hugs her daughter Ruha, aged five, amid the ruins of houses in the Sha'af neighborhood of Gaza City, in the northern Gaza strip, in 2014, in Maya Hitij’s stark image of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Fathma El Saudi hugs her daughter Ruha, aged five, near the ruins of houses in the Sha'af neighborhood of Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, 2 October 2014. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. © Maya Hitij

Maja joined Getty in 2016, and has spent the past year working out of Düsseldorf as one of the agency's sport photographers. Agency life suits her working style, because she enjoys mucking in with the team. "Sometimes you're covering something less interesting, but at other times you're doing work that really interests you. You have to be OK with that dichotomy. Either way, it forces you to get the best out of yourself, which is really important."

Boys play football in a field next to concrete tower blocks in New Delhi, India, ahead of a youth football tournament in the capital city.
Boys play football in New Delhi, India, ahead of a youth football tournament in the capital city, 8 October 2017.

She finds that her background as a photojournalist gives her a unique perspective on sports coverage. "I get more feature work out of sports because I'll see something that’s happening alongside the main action. I have a journalistic viewpoint, which is also important in sports – I see a story from the human perspective."

Maja is always on the lookout for the bigger story. "Getty is pretty open to anything you want to do. If you have a story you want to pursue, they’ll try to find a way to run it. I like to do longer journalistic pieces over spot news. But I'm also the kind of person who hears a bomb has gone off somewhere and just goes to where it has happened. I would call the office before I left, though!"

Foreign-funded palm oil extraction is affecting village life in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Fascia, one of the few residents in the chiefdom who fought to keep her land, stands among freshly harvested palm fruits near the village of Kassah.
Part of a series exploring the impact of palm oil extraction in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Fascia, one of the few residents in the chiefdom who fought to keep her land, stands among freshly harvested palm fruits in her ‘garden’ near the village of Kassah in the Malen Chiefdom in the district of Pujehun, 14 December 2015. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III. © Maya Hitij

Telling stories

"I like to tell stories that are not so well known, such as the project I did in 2015 with my journalist friend about palm oil in Sierra Leone." This series explored the impact that the arrival of a multinational palm oil company was having on locals in the West African nation. As rainforests were levelled to plant oil palms, Maja photographed plantation workers, the production process and the villagers refusing to give up their ancestral lands. 

In her project Lost Generation, Maja turned her lens on Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon – the majority of whom no longer attend school, and have instead become a cheap form of labour, working long hours in fields, farms, shops and on the streets.

The migrant crisis taking place in her home country of Slovenia has been a deeply personal project for Maya Hitij. Refugees queue next to mounted police in Rigonice after crossing the Croatian border in October 2015, winding their way onto buses, clutching their few precious possessions.
Refugees wait in Rigonice, Slovenia, after crossing the Croatian border on 27 October 2015. The police guide them onto buses towards emergency accommodation and registration, and later onto trains. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. © Maya Hitij

It's this kind of work which moves her, and that Maja hopes to do more of in the future: "When I see something happening, and it moves me, I want to be there," she says. "I feel that way about the refugee crisis in Slovenia – I'm still angry at myself for coming to it so late. When I was freelance I pitched it to editors, but they didn't send me – I was just burning inside."

If you’re a photojournalist and you see something that really makes you feel angry, you need to go and cover it.

Maja has since travelled across her home country documenting the struggles of migrants making their way across the border. Her images show families in their temporary shelters, crossing rivers and queuing patiently as they are shepherded onto buses, all the while watched over by lines of Slovenian police. "If you’re a photojournalist and you see something that really makes you feel angry, you need to cover it."

To find out more about the EOS 5D Mark III, check out the product page.

Scris de Lottie Davies


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