PATH staffer Mike Wang has discovered new meaning in the art of photography. Photo: Walter Wang.
Editor's note: On July 28, 2011, we lost our colleague Mike Wang when he was struck just a few blocks from our Seattle headquarters by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bicycle home from work. Mike's compelling personal story and the striking photographs he made while working with PATH continue to inspire us, and to remind us of his resilience, creativity, and dedication to family—both his own and those he photographed around the world.
Most employees come to PATH to pursue their passion for the organization’s work. Mike Wang came to PATH when his passion was waning—but the organization helped reignite a love for his longtime pursuit.
Mike, a commercial photographer since 1990, was burned out on fashion shoots and album covers, and he had retreated from the business except to make private portraits of children and families. A temp agency placed him at PATH’s Seattle headquarters in 2004 as an office assistant, and Mike was soon hired full time.
After word of Mike’s photography background got out, he was invited by Matt Steele, a PATH clinical and field research coordinator, to photograph the results of a study on a chlamydia diagnostic test in Bolivia. Through PATH’s internal grant program for early-career employees, Mike traveled with a team to Bolivia in 2005 and captured the dynamic faces of people in clinics, plazas, streets, and markets. Despite his training as a documentary photographer, this was Mike’s first true documentary work—and he discovered that he still had the skills to tell meaningful and personal stories through photography.
Two years and three trips later, Mike has found renewed satisfaction in his work. His travels have taken him to PATH project sites in Kenya, Nicaragua, and Ukraine, and his lens has captured the many joyful, fearful, contemplative, hardened, and optimistic faces of the people PATH’s work touches.
Mike connects with his subjects through the eyes—using his own gaze to communicate a kind and honest intent and give them a chance to open up to him. In his role as a photographer, Mike describes himself as a conduit for PATH’s mission.
“I shoot, and then the information filters through me,” he explains.
Mike’s photographs hang in the hallways and offices of PATH, fill documents and publications, and convey the real images and emotions of the people PATH strives to help. Mike continues to be a voice on the phone and a face at the front desk to greet PATH’s visitors, as well a storyteller who has uncovered new meaning in his art.
“What’s the most surprising, and fun, thing for me,” he says, “is that when I lost my feeling for photography, my love for photography, PATH actually brought it back for me.”