Depth of Field
The semester before Trevor enrolled at Middlebury, he studied in Nepal. “It was very magical—the idea of reincarnation, the thousands of Gods, the very different way Hindus approach the world.” His enchantment quickly dissipated in college. He struggled, at first, with the workload, and was struck by the wealth and formality of his peers. “I barely knew my teachers’ last names growing up. Students would say, ‘That’s Donny Grant,’ and I was like, ‘You mean Donny?’” He designed a major in African studies and went abroad to Cameroon. There he found the subject of his thesis—how fishing communities navigate access to Lake Chad—and learned that the best way to find a story was, simply, to show up. “I went without any contacts, and one of the first people I talked to said, ‘My father’s a chief up there near the lake.’ I ended up living with him.”
Trevor’s post-college years were nearly as coincidental. He went to New Orleans to work as a prison guard but waited tables instead. He tried hopping trains west, but the bulls chased him off after only a few miles. He rode with truckers the rest of the way. He was a bike messenger in New York until he found a job with the Civilian Complaint Review Board interviewing witnesses about policeman misconduct. “Nothing ever got solved,” he said. “I think they hired recent graduates because we were easy to manipulate.” When he saved enough money, he traveled to Italy and India with his girlfriend at the time, and they tried unsuccessfully to publish several stories. Only when he returned to the states did he sell his photographs to news agencies. Then he moved to Central America.
In 2007, he began publishing regularly, first with newspapers and magazines abroad, and then in TIME, Newsweek, The New York Times, and online at NPR and the BBC. Now he is syndicated with Corbis Images, a stock agency based in Seattle. He has covered stories of both his own and others’ invention in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uganda, and Tanzania. But the place he has come to know best is South Sudan, where he first went on assignment with a nonprofit in 2009, two years before the country gained independence from North Sudan. He found it a frustrating place to work. A hotel room might cost 150 dollars a night, a tomato a dollar. But the country, weakened by violent attacks from North Sudan and the roving Lord’s Resistance Army, was ripe with visual stories. The last he followed was in the remote Murle territory: The tribe had frequently adopted unwanted kids from a neighboring community, but recent conflict turned the exchange into a lucrative market for kidnapped children. It took Trevor weeks to find a way into the region, which is accessible only one dry season a year. Once he met the chief in Juba, he found a flight. But his plane left without him soon after he arrived. He hitched a ride out.