Self-assigned to America's internal war zones -- East Los Angeles, Harlem, the post-Katrina Gulf Coast -- Joseph Rodriguez spends years working on his projects. He has dodged bullets and accusations from some of his subjects that he is a cop, but mostly he tries to understand what his subjects' lives are like. Luckily, his own life has provided a starting point. Growing up in Brooklyn, Rodriguez got into drugs, was arrested, and rehabilitated himself, eventually leaving his lucrative graphic-design job for the life of a struggling photographer. He started out as a lab assistant at the International Center of Photography, where he later studied under Fred Ritchin, founder of ICP's Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Program and a former picture editor for The New York Times Magazine. Through their ongoing friendship, Ritchin has seen the way Rodriguez submerges himself in his stories, and the toll that has taken on the photographer. But as Ritchin says in the following essay, the benefits to the work and the subjects are worth the price.