Stray dogs, unknown locals and Olympic athletes all captured by same lens

The Grip worked with professional Griffin photographer Kevin Liles while he was covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Thanks, Kevin, for taking the time to share your experience with us!

Q: So, how did you end up covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi?

A: I am here more as an editor than a photographer. I work as a contract photographer and editor for USA Today Sports Images (started in 2008), and they brought me over here in both capacities, though my main job here is editing photos live from events. I have also helped some of the IT technicians with cabling the Olympic venues with Ethernet cable (which is what our photographers use to transmit images in real time back to the Main Press Center, where we edit and transmit them to our clients).

I am shooting where I am needed, so far I have shot a medals ceremony, speed skating, some news stories (stray dogs, the only gay bar in Sochi), among a few other assignments. Not a whole lot of Olympic event coverage, per se.

Q: What has been the most interesting aspect of working a global event of this magnitude?

A: By far, the most interesting thing has been the exposure to other cultures. The media organizations come from just about as many countries that are represented by Olympic athletes. The atmosphere, while at first intimidating, is very eye-opening and something that is making me grow as a journalist.

Q: You’re there documenting those moments of competition for which athletes have spent years training. What’s it like to experience those moments of thrilling victory and agonizing defeat?

A: Well, I haven’t been photographing much of the competition at all. The assignments I have had have been mostly peripheral to the games themselves. In addition to the stray dog story, I also visited Sochi’s only gay bar, Club Mayak, with a USA Today reporter. Today, I shot a press conference for the Jamaican bobsled team and then visited The Today Show set (in the rain) to photograph Charlie White and Meryl Davis (figure skating winners).

Q: What has been the biggest surprise about your experience?

A: Definitely the stray dog situation. As I’m sure you know, there are (were) thousands of stray dogs in Sochi. I had read news articles about this before I arrived, but I was not prepared for just how many there were. They are all beautiful, the most beautiful stray dogs I have ever seen. Not like the stray dogs I am used to seeing.

Q: Speaking of agonizing, you beat me to it. I know you love dogs, so how did horrible situation in Sochi impact you?

A: Like I mentioned earlier (I was getting ahead of myself ), I just wasn’t prepared for the amount of stray dogs that were here (the numbers have been reduced drastically). Being a dog owner myself (I have two rescues), it was very difficult.

Q: Three shelters have now been opened. What was it like to visit there?

A: It was heartbreaking. I believe they are helping the situation, but it very tough to see dogs (beautiful dogs of all breeds) in muddy pens, begging for attention. I just wanted to take them all home. The best part of the shelters is that it was on the side of a mountain, so at least it wasn’t in a cramped building downtown.

Q: Have the shelters had a positive impact on the problem?

A: I believe so. I think that many dogs have already found homes because of them. And now that information has been released on how folks in the U.S. can adopt dogs here (http://www.hsi.org/issues/street_dog/factsheets/adopting-transporting-pets-internationally.html), I think this save many more.

However, at least one of the shelter owners said that the shelters are only in place so that everyone (Olympic visitors) “can sleep well.” She feared that many of the dogs would be put down after the Games were over. Hard to say, I just hope some journalists follow up there in a few weeks.

Q:How have the athletes reacted to the dogs of Sochi?

A: Not sure, but I have heard of at least one athlete who has adopted several puppies.

Q: How have Russian officials responded to the growing media spotlight on these poor dogs?

A: I haven’t talked with any of them or seen any articles where they have been  interviewed. If there were interviewed, I’m sure it would be a very PR-ish answer and not really taking any responsibility for the issue.

Q: I know your photos of these dogs have touched many of your friends and fans. Has anyone reached out to try and help?

A: One lady on Facebook said that she wanted information on how to adopt, so I shared the same link as above with her. I think she wanted it to distribute to some other folks.

Q: Your best friend, Charlie, who happens to have four legs, is waiting for you to return home. Any chance he may have another pup joining him?

A: Man, I really want to adopt one, but I’m not going to be able to. For one thing, I’m staying in Moscow for a few days after the Games, so I’m not sure how I would transport one given that situation. Also, I just rescued a pit bull (Kimbrel), and I live in a one-bedroom house. I think two dogs is the limit for me there.

Q: One more thing – I’ve always loved the way you see people. I mean you actually see them-see them. Any great experiences like that in Sochi you can share with me?

A: I shared on Facebook about how I ran into this fisherman on the Black Sea and spent a little time with him, photographing him. He didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Russian, but that wasn’t a problem at all.

Q: I lied – one last question. Where can folks see your work from Sochi? How can we all keep up with you on your future adventures?

A: I have been blogging from here: blog.kevindliles.com.

To see more of Kevin’s work, go to http://kevindliles.com/

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