Billy Kidd

Age: 33

Born: Panama City, Florida

Resides: Brooklyn, New York

Clients: Barneys New York, ERES, Numéro, Vogue Italia, W

Awards: 2011 PDN Photo Annual; PDN The Look

Exhibitions: 10 Corso Como, Milan; Bleecker Street Arts Club, New York City; Clic Bookstore & Gallery, New York City; Masters & Pelavin, New York City; Palazzo Morando, Milan

Biggest Challenge: “When you look at your own work, it’s so easy to break it down and find a problem. That was something I had to learn early on: to let go. If somebody says something’s beautiful, take the compliment and say thank you, keep [everything else] to myself.”

 

There’s something about Billy Kidd’s work that conveys a deep connection with his subjects—whether they be models, actors or decaying flowers. Barneys New York VP/Digital Creative Director Christopher Martinez, who first saw Kidd’s work online and later hired him to shoot campaigns for the luxury retailer, says, “I was attracted to the rare and intimate moments he captures in all of his images.”

This photographic style is the result of an evolution that began in Arizona, where Kidd grew up. He learned on the job while working full time at a photographer’s studio. Back then, Kidd says, “I was using lights because I always thought I had to use lights.” But he noticed it always made him miss that “in-between moment,” so he says he “started letting go of all that,” and began shooting with natural light and minimal crew.

In 2009 the photographer moved to New York City. A friend working at Major Model helped him get some test shoots, which led to other tests for smaller modeling agencies. Another agency connection helped him land tests with bigger agencies like IMG, Marilyn and Next. “Making those relationships with the modeling agencies, since I wanted to get into fashion, was probably the biggest thing that helped me along my way until I met my agency,” Kidd says. Walter Schupfer Management came across Kidd’s photography on Tumblr, where he had built a large following, and later signed him.

In the past year, Kidd shot his first major campaign, for the French lingerie company ERES, and had his second solo exhibition in New York City. “I’m still learning so much,” Kidd says, “and from what I can see, you’re always going to be learning; until the day I die, I’ll be like: I’m still learning.”

Benjamin Rasmussen

Age: 29

Born: Baltimore

Resides: Denver

Education: John Brown University

Clients: Bloomberg Businessweek, enRoute, The Guardian Weekend, The New Republic, Outside

Awards: Critical Mass Top 50, 2010, Photolucida; First Place, Science/Natural History, 68th POYi; Flash Forward 2011 and 2012, Magenta Foundation

Exhibitions: Vivid Gallery, Washington, DC

Key Lessons Learned: “A Filipino journalist looked at my work and told me my photographs from the West were full of light and color, and my work from the Philippines was gritty and monochrome. She challenged me not to have that separation. It was one of the most influential conversations I’ve ever had.”

Benjamin Rasmussen is Skyping from the Philippines, where he’s documenting Typhoon Haiyan’s aftermath. “Today I was talking to a lady whose house was destroyed by 20-foot-high water, and she’s rebuilding it on the exact same spot,” he says. “When I asked why, she said, ‘Because this is home.’”

Ideas of identity and home are central to Rasmussen’s work. Raised in the Philippines, he went to college in Arkansas, then lived for a year in Denmark’s Faroe Islands, his father’s birthplace. “My work is very much about the individual’s connection to place,” he says.

Rasmussen was interested in a career as a print journalist until one day in college he saw War Photographer, a documentary about photojournalist James Nachtwey. He began poring over photo books, learning from photographers like Tim Hetherington and Alec Soth who span genres. In his own work he strives to balance newsworthiness, depth and esthetics. “My background is photojournalism, but my esthetic is … influenced by the fine-art world, and a lot of my clients are in the editorial world.” To promote his work, he created hand-bound books of his favorite images, including his landscapes of the Faroe Islands. He also submitted work to aphotoaday.org, making friends online who later helped him land editorial assignments. Recently, an online connection with Salt Lake City-based photographer Michael Friberg led to a collaboration in Jordan, documenting Syrian refugees for The New Republic.

For his Typhoon Haiyan work, Rasmussen is using large-format cameras in hopes of creating images that are “quieter, more immersive” than news photos from the region. “Through my experiences growing up in three different cultures, I’ve seen people have a hard time connecting with people different from them,” he says. “If I can help create that first connection, viewers will care more when hard-news photographers come along.”

Marcus Smith

Age: 27

Born: Chicago

Resides: Chicago

Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Hallmark Institute of Photography

Clients: Jordan Brand, Nike, Pepsi, Saucony

Biggest challenge: “Keeping an edge and staying sharp.”

 

 

Marcus Smith has long been a student of photography—and the business of photography. When he was deciding if his love of taking pictures could be turned into a career, he called Chicago photographer Parrish Lewis and asked to see how a commercial studio functions. Lewis offered to help him choose a photo school. Smith credits his success as an advertising shooter to learning from colleagues and building connections—or, as he says, “making genuine relationships, rather than quote unquote networking.”

As a photo student, Smith approached a photographer whose work he admired, Gary Land, for advice, and got a job as Land’s assistant. Smith says he treated his job as an apprenticeship in “how things worked on the commercial side.” “I was always asking him, ‘Why did you do that?’ If he let me sit in on a conference call, I had my notepad out.”

Land also taught him the value of personal work. To appeal to sports clients, Smith spent a season photographing the basketball team at a high school near his Chicago neighborhood. He then created small books of the work and mailed them to a select number of clients. The Nike subsidiary Jordan Brand hired him to shoot a campaign, then art director Jeremy Wirth of 72andSunny, who first met Smith when he was assisting Land, recommended him to Nike.

The Nike work Smith posted on Tumblr caught the attention of Hill Holliday art buyer Carolyn Dowd, who recommended him to his new agent, Candace Gelman. Smith says that his most effective marketing efforts have been setting up face-to-face meetings and attending portfolio reviews.

Though he’s busy pursuing ad assignments, Smith says he wants to work on travel projects, “to figure out how to keep getting better.” He says, “I’ve had a good year. But how do I have a good 20 years or a good 30 years? How do I stay relevant?”

Ilona Szwarc

Age: 29

Born: Warsaw

Resides: New York City

Education: School of Visual Arts; Yale University

Clients: Der Spiegel, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, TIME

Awards: American Photography 28 and 29; Critical Mass Top 50, Photolucida; Flash Forward 2013, Magenta Foundation; 2012 PDN Photo Annual; Third Prize, Observed Portraits, 2013 World Press Photo

Exhibitions: Center for Photography at Woodstock, New York; Foley Gallery, New York City; Galerie Claude Samuel, Paris; Maison de la Photographie, Lille, France; National Portrait Gallery, London

Most Helpful Advice: “Joel Meyerowitz [advised] me to remember that moment in which I realized I wanted to pursue my ‘American Girls’ project. He referred to it as a small moment of revelation, a conception of an idea for a project that later proved successful and felt both personal and universal.”

 

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the nuances of a cultural phenomenon. After Ilona Szwarc moved to the U.S. from Poland in 2008, she noticed young girls who walked around New York City carrying dolls that looked like themselves. “Initially, I was very drawn to this beautiful image of a little girl with her mini-twin,” Szwarc says. “I was also struck by the fact that the product was actually called ‘American Girl.’ I thought that it clearly meant that the company imposes stereotypes about who a contemporary American girl is.”

Though she shot an earlier series about her mother-in-law, titled “Anna,” with a 35mm, Szwarc aimed to capture more detail in “American Girls.” “I wanted to precisely describe the environments in which my subjects live … as well as the small differences in the design of their dolls. To achieve this goal, I decided to use a 4 x 5 camera, and that choice contributed to the formal qualities of these photographs.”

“American Girls” won third place in the 2013 World Press Photo category Observed Portraits. It was also exhibited at New York City’s Foley Gallery, through the gallery’s annual The Summer Show Project. “Ilona allows her subjects to speak without either glamorizing or ridiculing their devotion,” says gallerist Michael Foley, who now represents Szwarc. “Plus, these are just great portraits. From phenomenal lighting and composition to the variety of environments and action elements, she really entices you to see new things frame to frame.”

Szwarc graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2013 and is now an MFA student at Yale University. In the past year, she has shot portrait assignments for clients like The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and TIME, and she’s currently working on a project about girls who compete in rodeos. “These individuals have a fundamentally different idea about their femininity and a contrasting attitude towards gender roles,” she says about the series. “They are engaged in activities that traditionally were reserved for men. They posess great physical strength and demonstrate their dominance over animals.”

Bobby Doherty

Age: 24

Born: Brewster, New York

Resides: Brooklyn, New York

Education: School of Visual Arts

Clients: Bloomberg Businessweek, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, The New York Times Magazine, TIME

Awards: Young Guns 11, Art Director’s Club

Key Lessons Learned: “If making the photo is boring, it’s a boring photo.”

 

As far back as he can remember Bobby Doherty was taking pictures. “My grandfather was a photographer and I saw how different his life was. He was the only adult having fun,” he recalls.

Now, as a staff photographer for New York magazine, the School of Visual Arts grad is living a similarly unconventional existence, shooting everything from Italian-made metallic sacks to rubber-coated bathroom accessories to a portrait of chef Daisuke Nakazawa. “A lot of people take photos that are dry and serious without intention,” he says. “I want my photos to be fun; I don’t want them to be boring. I hope that every one has a spark of interest.”

Doherty’s ascent at New York was serendipitous. Last year, after he assisted photographer Lucas Michael with a shoot for the Look Book section of the magazine, his work was passed on to Photography Director Jody Quon, who hired him to shoot six opener photographs for the Best of New York issue. Two months later he was on staff. The recent Spring Fashion issue, Doherty says, was particularly exciting to shoot: “We cover fashion but we’re not a fashion magazine. Through still lifes I tried to find the virtue in beautiful objects instead of relying on [models].”

Growing up in Brewster, in Putnam County, New York, “where most of the houses around the lake were vacation homes people decided to live in year-round,” Doherty is drawn to suburban kitsch, with a particular fascination for small-town grocery stores. “It’s easy to call something poppy,” he says when speaking about his work, “but I gravitate towards things for their nostalgia.”

New York’s wide-ranging subject matter is a good fit for the curious Doherty. “I build my photos one at a time. I never consciously make a body of work that is one thing,” he says. “I get too comfortable with the same, so I’m looking for something to disturb me.”

Dina Litovsky

Age: 34

Born: Donetsk, Ukraine

Resides: Brooklyn, New York

Education: New York University; School of Visual Arts

Clients: The Cut, Grazia, New York, Stern, T: The New York Times Style Magazine

Awards: Eddie Adams Workshop; First Place, Best of Photojournalism 2012, NPPA; First Place, Culture, International Photography Awards; PDN Photo Annual; Silver Medal, PX3

Exhibitions: Photographic Resource Center, Boston; Project Basho, Philadelphia; Tanto Tempo Gallery, Kobe, Japan; The Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, Colorado; The Light Factory, Charlotte, North Carolina

Most Helpful Advice: “[Bruce Gilden] told me to never self-censor because of fear of offending someone. This was very important advice for me because I was really torn between trying not to offend the viewers while still putting out the work I believed in. While it is still very important to me to listen to outside criticism, I try not to shy away from showing images that some would consider disturbing.”

Although her subject matters include bachelorette parties, private clubs and the backstage scene at fashion shows, Dina Litovsky is less a fashion and nightlife photographer than she is a cultural anthropologist. By exploring underground worlds, she’s discovered that in the age of social media, people (especially women) are contributing to their own exploitation by exposing themselves to the public gaze. Litovsky’s subjects do not pose for her camera—she photographs them as they pose for their own smartphones and Instagram accounts.

Her work, which is dark and raw while at the same time beautiful, has caught the attention of photo editors and curators. “I don’t normally like photographs that have shock value,” says Dennis Kiel, chief curator of The Light Factory, in regards to Litovsky’s frequently outrageous, sexualized compositions. Yet, he adds, “I find myself thinking about Dina’s images for days, even weeks.”

Litovsky, who received her BA in psychology from New York University, graduated from the MFA Program at the School of Visual Arts in 2010. It took two years of attending portfolio reviews like Photolucida in Portland, Oregon, and FotoFest International in Houston for her to get her first big break.

It came from Stella Bugbee, an editorial director at New York magazine, who had Litovsky’s name on file thanks to another editor who met her at a portfolio review. Bugbee gave Litovsky a shot taking photographs backstage during the 2012 Spring/Summer fashion shows in New York City—and liked the resulting images so much that she had her do more in Paris in 2013. “[Litovsky’s images] crackle with a colorful energy, but have a sinister, dark sexiness to them that feels quite unique,” explains Bugbee.

Litovsky has since done editorial spreads for the magazine including “Women of Brighton Beach,” a story that uncovers the glamorous (and campy) world of Russian nightclubs. The series, like much of her work, is intoxicating.

 

Maria Turchenkova

Age: 26

Born: Moscow

Resides: Moscow

Education: Moscow State Linguistic University; The Rodchenko Moscow School of Photography and Multimedia

Clients: Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Russian Reporter, TIME LightBox

Awards: 2012 Eddie Adams Workshop; 2013 Joop Swart Masterclass

Key Lessons learned: “Believe in yourself, and believe in your work and what you are doing.”

When protests against the Ukraine president erupted into violence in Kiev in January, Moscow-based photographer Maria Turchenkova traveled there to work. Several journalists were injured in the clashes and it was “very unpredictable and very cold, very violent,” she says. But she was confident in her ability to report there; in some of her first work as a reporter she covered protests in Moscow in 2008 and 2009 as a radio journalist. “If I was not ready, I would never go,” she says of her decision to cover Kiev.

Her career change to pursue photojournalism was inspired by her coverage of the Moscow protests. Realizing she wanted to show what was going on rather than report it for radio, she worked to start a career as a photojournalist. Two years ago she decided to travel to Dagestan in the North Caucasus to cover the guerilla war bubbling between the Russian military and insurgents, a story underreported by journalists due to the danger of working there. Many people told her not to go, she says, due to prejudices about the people in the Caucuses. That taught her to “look at the world with open eyes,” and to discover things for herself.

In her two years working in Dagestan, she ventured away from the capital, Makhachkala, “because most journalists go to the capital and to nearby villages because it’s easy to go there.” She traveled to a village that had not seen a journalist since Soviet rule, she says. “People were very open, and everyone has a story to tell.”

At the urging of fellow photographers, Turchenkova applied and was selected for the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2012, where she made connections to young and established photojournalists. She was selected for Reportage by Getty Images’ Emerging Talent showcase, and her work has been featured on TIME’s LightBox blog and in Le Monde, among other places. This year she plans to return to the Caucuses, working in the Republic of Ingushetia and exhibiting her images in Dagestan.

Charlie Engman

Age: 26

Born: Evanston, Illinois

Resides: New York City & Paris

Education: University of Oxford

Clients: AnOther, Hermès, Lacoste, The New York Times, Vogue

Awards: The Kevin Slingsby Prize for Funnel Vision, University of Oxford

Exhibitions: F.L.O.A.T. Gallery, New York City; Foam, Amsterdam; Lisson Gallery, London; Manchester Art Gallery, England; Space 15 Twenty, Los Angeles

Key Lessons Learned: “I think it’s vital to understand how your work relates to itself and also to work that is happening around it. My advice to others is to be very open about your work: Share your rough drafts and unfinished or unsuccessful works with people you trust, and make your work available [in] as many contexts as possible.”

 

Fashion photographer Charlie Engman’s fluid, playful images are masterful constructions of models, props, color, texture and re-arranged space.

“My photographic work grew out of a central concern with visual gesture, texture, material and how these elements relate back to the body, both emotionally and formally,” says Engman, who studied dance as a teenager and performed professionally. “I am interested in this transition from the physical to the visual and the uncertain hierarchy between those two modes.”

A self-taught photographer, Engman learned through “dialogue, observation, trial and error,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in libraries and on blogs and social media sites like Flickr and Tumblr.”

For a while he “willfully ignored the craftsmanship,” he says. “I wanted to keep the feeling of an amateur enthusiast or flaneur.” But it became clear that choosing how to photograph something was just as loaded as choosing what to photograph, “so I started to show my hand a bit more” in shaping the images.

“There is always something perfectly imperfect about [his work] that makes it interesting,” says Nadia Vellam, photo director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. “The ratio of polish versus looseness in his images is spot on.”

Engman says his work is heavily influenced by whatever he encounters in his day-to-day life. “What debris is lying around my living and work spaces, what do I see when I walk around outside, what did I eat for breakfast?”

His latest project, a series called “MOM,” features his 60-ish mother, striking mannequin-like poses. Engman started the project after photographing his mother “on a few spontaneous occasions,” he says. “I couldn’t really recognize her in the images, or rather, I recognized her in unfamiliar ways.

“I have always been interested in photography’s ability to disrupt or amplify familiarity, and my mother presented a rather extreme case study,” he explains.

Grant Harder

Age: 38

Born: Prince George, Canada

Resides: Vancouver, Canada

Clients: AFAR, Bon Appétit, enRoute, Monocle, Outside

Awards: 2012 Applied Arts; Flash Forward 2010, Magenta Foundation

Key Lessons Learned: “Stay true to myself, trust my instincts. Think less about what other people are doing and more about what I’m doing.”

 

Taking photographs was, for Grant Harder, a hobby. Then, in his late 20s, in the midst of photographing his way through Chile with his now-wife, he determined that after years of “traveling, planting trees [while working in reforestation] and snowboarding,” he would return to Vancouver and make it his career. “Up until then I didn’t have any strong conviction of myself as a photographer,” Harder recalls.

Harder was aware of his late start, “but like anything I’d ever done, I jumped in.” Between assisting and extensive reading, the self-taught photographer quickly caught up. After his work was spotted on an art buyer’s blog, he scored a plum assignment for The Walrus’ 2010 Olympics issue, canvassing Vancouver on his bike and “searching out interesting corners” of the city. He ended up shooting four distinct covers. Today Harder’s photographs of people, cultures, and the outdoors grace the pages of magazines such as Monocle, Outside, and Air Canada’s enRoute.

Amy Silverman, Outside’s photo editor, sees Harder’s esthetic as “very singular and witty without being sarcastic. He has a huge range but still manages to convey a strong style through portraits, landscapes and still life. You can tell that to a certain extent he lives the life that we champion in the magazine.”

Nature is Harder’s most profound influence. “Growing up nine hours north of Vancouver I’ve always been around the elements and had an appreciation for fresh air,” he explains. “I spent summers working outside every day in reforestation; rigorous, rewarding labor in harsh environments.”

Wanderlust also fuels his photographs. After an enRoute assignment lured him to Yunnan, China, last year, Harder extended his trip with a visit to Xinjiang, sleeping with his host family side-by-side, under a mound of blankets in their unheated one-room home. “It turned out I had pneumonia because I was run down and didn’t even realize it,” he remembers. “While traveling I’m so excited I can barely fall asleep.”

 

Theron Humphrey

Age: 30

Born: Jacksonville, North Carolina

Resides: N/A

Education: Milligan College; Savannah College of Art & Design

Clients: Alternative Apparel, Ford, Petco, Purina ONE, Ray-Ban

Awards: National Geographic Traveler of the Year, 2012

Key Lessons Learned: “You’ve got to create work that stirs you up. It’s so important to be able to point towards a project [you love] and say, ‘I made that.’”

 

Theron Humphrey was feeling burnt out with his work as a studio assistant and digital editor for an online retailer when he decided to photograph his ailing grandfather. After his grandfather passed away in 2010, Humphrey says, “My heart was in pieces and right then I refused to live another day living a story I wouldn’t be proud of telling.”

In 2011 Humphrey embarked on a bold storytelling project, “This Wild Idea,” a reflective documentary journey blurring the line between photography and oral history. “I’m inspired by stories; they’re celebrations of life,” he says. After raising nearly $16,000 on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, Humphrey traversed the country, logging over 60,000 miles, to take portraits and gather audio snippets from 365 people over 365 days. National Geographic Traveler, impressed by this chronicle of ordinary Americans, named him one of its 2012 Travelers of the Year.

“I grew up on farms; I didn’t think about being creative,” the North Carolina native admits. Spending time in the darkroom as an undergrad, however, changed his thinking, and in 2007 Humphrey received his MFA in photography from Savannah College of Art & Design.

Maddie, a rescued coonhound, is Humphrey’s traveling companion. Images of her from the yearlong road trip translated to a huge Instagram and Tumblr following, which led to a book deal for Maddie on Things: A Super Serious Project About Dogs and Physics. He also partnered with Purina ONE to create his “Why We Rescue” series, in which he illuminated the profound impact of shelter pet adoption in 50 American cities.

“I find Theron’s style to be honest, direct, funny, conceptual and heartfelt,” says Jesse Miller, agent and producer of Tinker Street, the ad and art collective Humphrey belongs to. “I appreciate how he is able to move from the more minimalistic, lighter, and often humorous moments in life to capture deep, intimate and candid portraits.”

Humphrey will next tackle the roads of Mexico, where he plans to “stir it up and be uncomfortable not speaking Spanish.”

 

Phil Moore

Age: 32

Born: Coventry, England

Resides: Nairobi, Kenya

Education: The University of Sheffield

Clients: Al Jazeera English, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Vanity Fair Italy

Exhibitions: Visapour l’Image, Perpignan, France

Awards: Special Prize by Juries, 9th DAYS JAPAN

Key Lessons Learned: “You see all your friends working on a breaking news story, read their Facebook updates, and you have that itching feeling to go and be part of it. But increasingly I’m asking myself: What can I add to this story? I’ve learned it can be better to go somewhere you know well, where other people aren’t going.”

 

 

Phil Moore had never considered photography as more than a hobby before 2007, when he was caught up in the clashes between Paris police and citizens protesting Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential election. Struggling through tear gas and projectiles, he documented the event. “I sent my pictures to the readers’ section of the BBC’s website, and they put them up,” he says. “That’s when I started to learn the skills of news photography.”

Since then, Moore—who trained as a computer scientist and briefly worked as a Web designer—has had a quick rise in the profession. He moved to Kenya in 2010, then went on his own dime to cover the run-up to independence in South Sudan, where a friend encouraged him to send images to Agence France-Presse. After he made his way to Libya, AFP had him cover the battle for Misrata. His taut, visceral images of that conflict “put me on the radar of some people in the company,” he says.

Moore has had help from mentors like Associated Press Chief Africa Photographer Jerome Delay, with whom he took a workshop at the Visa pour l’Image festival in France. “It was extraordinary how he was pushing me, encouraging me,” Moore says. “He told other people about my work.”

Now Moore has shot for news agencies all over the world and has covered events from Syria to Somalia. “In five years’ time, I’d like to be doing what I’m doing now, just better,” he says. “To witness history, and document it, is an incredible honor.”

Brea Souders

Age: 35

Born: Frederick, Maryland

Resides: New York City

Education: University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Clients: Elle Collections, New York, The New Yorker, L’Officiel Art, Warner Bros. Records

Awards: CAMAC Art Centre Residency with Fondation Ténot Grant; Darkroom Residency, Camera Club of New York; Millay Colony for the Arts Fellowship; Women in Photography/LTI-Lightside Kodak Materials Grant

Exhibitions: Abrons Art Center, New York City; Camera Club of New York City; Center for Photography at Woodstock, New York; Daniel Cooney Fine Art, New York City; M+B Gallery, Los Angeles;

Most Helpful Advice: “If you take a great picture of an orange, be prepared to be asked to take lots of pictures of oranges.”

 

Brea Souders’s “Film Electric” project, which consists of photographs of slices of film arranged in constellations held in place only by static electricity, cannibalizes her own archive to create gently surreal new art.

“The final images,” says Souders, “contain slices of forgotten adventures, portraits of loved ones and strangers, untold experiments and family vacations, as well as unrecognizable shapes and empty spaces—memory alongside its absence.”

Souders used artist residencies in 2010 and 2011 to carve out the time and space to develop her work. She credits participation in the 2012 Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in France with bringing her new work to a wider audience.

“I was able to meet so many curators, editors, art directors and other creatives there,” she says. “Immediately after the festival ended, I was offered editorial assignments by people who I met there and my work was included in several group shows as a result.”

“Brea has the unique ability to make two-dimensional photographs incredibly tactile and present,” says Christina Labey, director of publications at Conveyor Arts, which has featured the “Film Electric” images in Conveyor Magazine.

Moving seamlessly from personal abstraction to fashion and product assignments, Souders sees all of her work as interrelated.

When she’s working with an editorial or commercial client, she says, “I like to think of it more as an extra set of thoughts, an extra viewpoint, another eye providing perspective. My art photographs inform my editorial and commercial work, and vice versa.”

Zun Lee

Age: 44

Born: Frankfurt

Resides: Toronto

Education: J.W. Goethe Universität; McMaster University

Clients: burn, Kindling Quarterly, The New York Times Lens blog, Revista Photo Magazine

Exhibitions: The Photographer’s Gallery, London

Most Helpful Advice: “Regardless of the stage of your career and development, it’s important just to do the work. The second piece of advice that helped … is nobody’s just going to find you and then approach you—you’ve still got to go out and be your own most enthusiastic advocate.”

 

When Zun Lee attended photographer David Alan Harvey’s workshop in 2011, he’d only been shooting for a couple of years and saw his street photography as more of a hobby than a profession. He already had a career: Having earned both an MD and MBA, he worked as a practicing physician before seguing into healthcare management. But the workshop had a profound impact on him, making him realize he wanted “to develop and document stories about people I gravitate to for one reason or another,” he says.

Following Harvey’s advice to shoot a subject that is personal to him, Lee began his long-term project on African-American fathers. It’s a topic close to the photographer because in his mid-30s he found out his biological father is African-American. “I didn’t grow up fatherless,” Lee explains. “I always assumed that both my parents were Korean,” after being raised by his biological mother and her husband.

Lee aimed to photograph subjects who would “counteract the stereotype” that African-American men are “absent fathers [and] deadbeats.” He found his first subject in New York City while he was taking the workshop, and was later referred to other fathers. He’s since photographed men in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, DC.

The intimate, touching images of fathers caring for their children resonated with David Gonzalez, who wrote about the work on The New York Times Lens blog. Gonzalez says Lee’s work explores “very interesting issues of identity and representation, especially the question of how African-American males and fathers are presented in popular culture.”

Lee says this year he’s focusing on publishing “Father Figure” as a book. He’s also researching other topics with a “socially conscious bent” that he can explore photographically, but will likely always be drawn to “stories revolving around black fathers.”

 

Josh Wool

Age: 36

Born: Charleston, South Carolina

Resides: Brooklyn, New York

Education: College of Charleston

Clients: Billy Reid, The Daily Beast, GQ, Rolling Stone, State clothing

Exhibitions: Joint, Nashville

Key Lessons Learned: “Have the endurance to keep going even when it seems like doors aren’t opening. A lot of people will quit after the first few times they hear a no, so keeping at it, being persistent and having the endurance to keep pushing forward has been key for me.”

 

After health issues and burnout forced Josh Wool out of a successful career as a chef four years ago, he finally had the time to pick up a camera and make pictures, satisfying an interest that was inspired by his uncle, a portrait and wedding photographer. His early photos were “really awful,” he confesses. When he began making portraits he got his bearings, appreciating the connection between photographer and subject. At first he shot friends, then models he met through the Tumblr community and through referrals. When the editors of Tumblr’s now-defunct online showcase, Storyboard, put out a call looking for stories, Wool pitched them his project documenting New York City’s creative class, which he had begun as a way to connect with people when he moved to the city from Nashville in 2011. The Tumblr exposure pushed Wool’s followers over 20,000, and he began to connect more and more with photographers, designers, musicians and others in the “creative world.”

Wool likes to keep gear and crews to a minimum and use primarily natural light, which he finds “more dynamic.” He adds, “When you’re just sitting with someone and you’re in a chair, they’re in a chair, you’re having a conversation and you just happen to be taking pictures, that’s when the best photos come out—at least for me.”

In 2013 Wool’s work was included in a pair of pop-up exhibitions in Nashville organized by Joint, which showed emerging photographers alongside greats like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. “There’s something really special and almost magical to [Wool’s portraits],” says Susan Sherrick, a co-organizer of the Joint shows. “Some of those images I just think are timeless.” Wool is now working on a limited-edition book of his portraits, and is trying to set up meetings with potential clients. He also continues to shoot personal work every week. “The jobs are coming in slowly but surely,” he says.

 

Siarhei Hudzilin

Age: 26

Born: Zhodino, Belarus

Resides: Zhodino, Belarus

Education: European Humanities University

Clients: Gazeta Wyborcza, Lenta.Ru, Nasha Niva, Russian Reporter, Sydsvenskan

Awards: First prize, 2011 Belarus Press Photo

Most Helpful Advice: “The photo may be surprising, she can enthrall and offend, but the picture should never lie or manipulate.”

 

 

While serving his compulsory 18 months in the Belarusian military, Siarhei Hudzilin documented his service in a series called “547 Days.” His photograph showing a roomful of fellow conscripts assembled to watch the evening news on state television beneath a portrait of President Alexander Lukashenko won the Belarus Press Photo first prize in 2011.

Hudzilin’s prize-winning photo was printed on the cover of the Belarus Press Photo 2011 albums, which were seized by customs in November 2012, and labeled “extremist.” The photo was subsequently removed from several exhibitions. “I had verbal permission from the officers. A publication of the photo doesn’t violate Belarusian laws,” Hudzilin tells PDN via e-mail. The photographer is now on the staff of the daily opposition newspaper Nasha Niva (translated as Our Field).

Reporters Without Borders ranks Belarus 157 out of the 179 countries listed in its 2013 World Press Freedom Index, and Hudzilin says censorship is the greatest challenge he faces as a photographer.

Timur Karpov, photo editor of the Moscow-based news website Lenta.Ru, explains that Belarus is one of the most closed countries in terms of photography. It’s “where a documentary photographer is almost a terrorist,” he writes to PDN. “When the borders are tight, you don’t have a big choice: live in these borders or push them. This is the strength in Siarhei’s photography, that he moves the borders.”

Hudzilin has recently focused on “everyday life of simple people,” photographing sporting events, tattoo art, elections and 18-year-olds who have lived their entire lives under the same presidential administration.

Belarusian art critic Svetlana Poleschuk notes, “Siarhei is building a visual archive of our carnival-esque reality.”

 

Jeff Brown

Age: 30

Born: Carmichael, California

Resides: Brooklyn, New York

Education: Parsons The New School for Design

Clients: Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, New York, The New York Times Magazine, WIRED

Key lessons learned: “Make the work you want to make and be patient. I hate to be clichéd, but it’s true.”

 

Jeff Brown developed his cinematic, stylized look as a student at Parsons. He wanted his work to stand out at a time when flat, desaturated images are the rage, and also emphasize what he sees as photography’s artifice. By photographing his subjects this way, he says, “You can see them look as they’d never look in front of your face.”

His work impressed the photo editors he met at a Parsons portfolio review, but those connections took a long time to bear fruit. After graduation he worked as a digital tech for a catalogue house; assisted; shot assignments for Overflow, a local magazine edited by a friend; and pursued personal projects. In 2012, Clinton Cargill of The New York Times Magazine contacted him out of the blue to find out what he’d been up to since graduation. Brown said he was busy remaking his portfolio; “I fibbed,” he admits. Over the next three weeks he updated his website, portfolio and business cards. His meeting with The Times Magazine photo staff led to assignments and referrals to other editors.

After she noticed Brown’s work on Instagram, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Alis Atwell hired him to apply his hot-light look both to portraits (including a photo of a Queen Elizabeth lookalike) and to food shots inspired by old cookbooks. “There’s something vintage about his work,” she explains. “It seems much more alive in a way that other people’s work is not.” He continues to add both still-life and portrait work to his portfolio.

A photo editor recently told Brown, “Your work is very specific. Someday we’ll fit you in.” He has been shooting tests and several personal projects that will expand his repertoire, but he resists making his work more commercially applicable. “I’ve had to tell myself: This is the work I want to make,” Brown says. “I don’t understand it, but there’s an awesome gratification that comes from making something that looks cool.”

Jenny Riffle

Age: 34

Born: Mount Vernon, Washington

Resides: Seattle

Education: Bard College; School of Visual Arts

Awards: Grand Prize, 2013 Professional Women Photographers International Call for Entry; 2013 Individual Photographer’s Fellowship, Aaron Siskind Foundation; 2012 Juried Exhibition, Newspace Center for Photography

Exhibitions: G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle; Newspace Center for Photography, Portland, Oregon; Photo Center Northwest, Seattle; SAM Gallery, Seattle; Wall Space Gallery, Portland, Oregon

Key Lessons Leanred: “Hearing many different opinions about your work, through school, portfolio reviews, meetings with gallery directors, etc, it is easy to get caught up in everyone else’s opinions, but most importantly you should listen to your own voice.”

 

Jenny Riffle’s portraits are springboards for her imagination. Frequently featuring friends, family and most recently her boyfriend, Riley, who appears in her ongoing series “Scavenger: Adventures in Treasure Hunting,” her images utilize the familiar to create fantasy-based narratives. “Her work transcends the traditional portrait by a long shot,” says Laura Moya, director of Photolucida, a nonprofit photography organization in Portland, Oregon.

After receiving her BA in photography at Bard College in 2001, Riffle moved to Seattle, where she got a job working at the Photo Center Northwest, a nonprofit that fosters a community for artists. Through mentors she met while spending time at the institution, including Seth Thompson, who she calls a “master of color photography,” she was able to hone her craft. In 2009, she returned to New York to receive her MFA from the School of Visual Arts.

“Going to grad school really helped advance my career,” she says. “[It] allowed me to accomplish a lot in a very concentrated time period, and to really dig deep into my own inspirations and thoughts behind my work.”

This past December she was given a solo exhibition at the Newspace Center for Photography in Portland, Oregon; in 2014, she has shows scheduled at the RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco and The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. Although she continues to work as a teacher, studio assistant to photographer Jock Sturges and apartment manager, she has recently succeeded in getting grant funding to support her personal projects, including an Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship. She is also branching into editorial work, most recently shooting a commissioned portrait for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Riffle realized early on that the very thing that she initially thought was a handicap in her practice—using subjects she knew, like Riley—was what set her storylines apart. “I [felt] like taking photographs of my boyfriend wasn’t interesting enough, but in the end I was making work only I could make because of our relationship,” she explains. It’s the content, not the style that makes her photographs unique; she’s showing the viewer an intimate world only she can reveal.

Kiana Hayeri

Age: 25

Born: Tehran

Resides: Tehran

Education: Ryerson University

Clients: Der Spiegel, The Globe and Mail, Le Monde, Polka Magazine

Awards: Bronze, International Picture Story, 66th CPOY; Flash Forward 2012, Magenta Foundation; 2011 Guernsey Photography Festival Grant; 2013 Hearst 8x10; 2011 Leadership in Action Fellow, Iranian Alliances Across Borders

Exhibitions: Flash Forward Festival, Boston; Guernsey Photography Festival; Hearst 8x10, New York City; I.M.A Gallery, Toronto; MIT Center for International Studies, Boston

Key Lessons Learned: “You need to set new challenges for yourself in order to improve your photography and your career.”

 

 

“The camera helps me to put a distance between me and whatever is happening in my life,” says Kiana Hayeri. Her long-term documentary projects about Iranians, especially young women, grew from her own experiences—of leading a dual life as a young woman in Iran, in which “you live inside the house in a way completely different from out on the streets,” and of emigrating from Iran as a teen.

“Beyond the Veil,” her project depicting the way Iranian women live behind closed doors, has been widely exhibited and published. Returning to Iran in 2010, she was able to see her former life there, and that of her friends and other young people, with fresh eyes. “I looked at it as a foreigner, but I also had the access of an insider because I grew up in Iran.”

After meeting James Estrin through connections made at the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2011, Estrin ran the work on The New York Times Lens blog, which led to a fellowship and residency at MIT in Boston. Exhibitions have followed, both in the United States and Europe.

Beginning in her final semester at Toronto’s Ryerson University, Hayeri traveled steadily, but then settled in Tehran last year, convinced by friends that she needed a home base in order to pursue assignments. Now she plans to expand her work to include stories unrelated to Iran or Iranians. To challenge herself, she also wants to work on telling stories in shorter periods of time; all of her projects to date have been long-term. But whichever stories she pursues, she seems likely to stick to her theory that “if a project or story comes from somewhere close to your heart, other people would relate to that. Every single project that I did that way, it has been proved to me that my theory works.”

Camilla de Maffei

Age: 32

Born: Cles, Italy

Resides: Barcelona, Spain

Education: The University of Milan

Awards: Exchange, Jury and Public Prizes, Les Boutographies Rencontres Photographiques de Montpellier; CoNCA (National Council for Culture and the Arts) Grant

Exhibitions: Les Boutographies Rencontres Photographiques de Montpellier, France; Festival Voies Off, Arles, France; Osten World Gallery, Skopje, Macedonia; Palacio Araburu, Barcelona, Spain

Key Lessons Learned: “People will always judge your work. It’s important to listen, but then you have to be mature and grow.”

 

 

Photographers are typically seekers of light, but for Camilla de Maffei, it’s darkness that appeals: The darkness of night, buried memories, secrets.

De Maffei’s documentary project “The Visible Mountain” is full of ghosts. The work centers on Mount Trebevic, outside Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose slopes were the site of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games and some of the fiercest battles of the Bosnian War. Now, carved up between countries by the Dayton Accords, the region is largely abandoned. “You can feel the sadness there, see it in the ruins,” de Maffei says. “It symbolizes so much about the war.”

In her “Smoking Women” series, de Maffei focuses on elderly women who once worked as prostitutes. A reflection on the aging body, the work is also an attempt to de-eroticize prostitutes and show them as ordinary women who might now be our neighbors.

Collaborations have been key to de Maffei’s process. For “Smoking Women,” she worked with journalist Catalina Gayà; for “The Visible Mountain,” she teamed up with anthropologist Caterina Borelli. When her work on Mount Trebevic won a grant from CoNCA (National Council for Culture and the Arts) in Barcelona, Spain, it allowed her to dig deeply into the subject. The project was subsequently displayed at Les Boutographies Rencontres Photographiques de Montpellier in France, winning three prizes.

Literally and symbolically, de Maffei has come a long way from Cles, her small hometown in the Italian Alps, where her grandfather ushered her into his darkroom with the words, “Come in quickly, light is forbidden here.” Yet all her photography can be traced back to that early experience. “I entered, and my first sensation was one of blindness, which scared me. But it was also exciting, because I was attracted to the dark.”

 

Laura Flippen

Age: 38

Born: Livermore, California

Resides: San Francisco

Education: California College of the Arts

Clients: Dwell, Martha Stewart Living, The New York Times, Sunset Magazine, Target

Biggest Challenge: “You have to be really diligent about working when you get home from work. And when you can’t do that, hiring someone who can, knowing when to bring someone else in to do the job when you can’t do it yourself. That’s been the biggest challenge for me, as I grow as a photographer, as the business grows: you have to bring more people into the picture.”

 

“You’re as good as the people you surround yourself with,” says San Francisco-based photographer Laura Flippen. “Working with people who are inspiring and inspired definitely makes a difference—I see it as a creative collaboration with art director and stylist and assistants, and we’re all a team. I love that creative cooperation. I love it when someone comes up with an idea that I hadn’t thought of.”

Flippen has been getting more of an opportunity to work this way lately. After she stopped assisting in 2008 to focus on editorial and catalogue work, she’s seen her recent stepped-up promotional efforts pay off with more assignments to shoot advertising on larger productions.

She uses printed pieces, e-mails and meetings with art buyers to boost her visibility. “It takes all three of those things for your name to stick,” she says. One piece was particularly successful: “Last year I did [my] biggest printed promo ever, a folded poster, and I bid on four or five jobs after it got out. I was like, ‘It really does work!’”

While Flippen enjoys collaborations, she’s also been getting plenty of practice working on her own. For two years she’s been shooting “Visit California” pieces for the state tourism board. She goes out for a week or two and explores a specific area, without crew or an art director. Doing that, she says, “I feel like I can get through things with just my vision, quickly. It’s a different way of working, I feel like that helps my working process when I do work with a bigger crew, so I can see what I want and tell my crew.”

Ralph Smith

Age: 28

Born: Minneapolis

Resides: Brooklyn, New York

Education: Rochester Institute of Technology

Clients: Every Day with Rachael Ray, Food Network Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple

Most Helpful Advice: “Many people advised me to apprentice as a photo assistant. I am so glad I did, I learned an incredible amount.”

 

In his still-life photographs, Ralph Smith has the ability to make food look sculptural, a skill that has caught the eye of photo editors at publications like The New York Times Magazine. “His photos, especially of food items, are surprising and graphically bold,” says Amy Kellner, the associate photo editor for the magazine. “He has even managed to make a cream puff look monumental.”

But food is not the only thing Smith’s good at shooting. He also depicts flowers, accessories, fancy beverages, luxury accessories and other objects in his bold, lush signature style. “If you have a good grasp of lighting and retouching, you can do anything,” he says.

Smith learned his craft by apprenticing with a number of experienced photographers. In the summer before entering a BFA program at Rochester Institute of Technology, he interned with Arnold Newman. After graduation in 2007, he worked for five years as the first assistant and retoucher for still-life photographer Levi Brown. “I’ve met a lot of people through assisting,” Smith says. “You realize after a short time that it really is a small world.”

His first big break came when Brown referred him for a job at San Francisco Magazine shooting a story on custom-made Louis Vuitton bags. “The photos ran beautifully, and that tearsheet led to a number of fashion accessory shoots,” Smith explains. Through word of mouth and connections he made at industry parties, he quickly began to accumulate clients.

Along with his advertising and editorial work, he is also working on a personal series of color-infused landscapes that take him from Brooklyn, New York, where he is based, to countries like Scotland, Wales and England, as well as states such as Colorado, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming. “Right now, I just see myself doing what I’ve been doing,” says Smith.

Diana Markosian

Age: 24

Born: Moscow

Resides: Yangon, Myanmar

Education: University of Oregon; Columbia University

Clients: Le Monde, The New York Times, Newsweek

Awards: Emerging Photographer Fund 2013, burn; 2012 Emerging Talent, Reportage by Getty Images; 2012 Marie Claire International Photography Award; New Generation Prize, Photographic Museum of Humanity 2013 Grant

Key Lessons Learned: “Most of my work is driven by the things I think I cannot do. I like to push myself to be more dimensional as a photographer.”

 

Photojournalist Diana Markosian immerses herself in isolated communities, photographing them with a quiet intimacy and formal beauty that evokes the mystery of times past.

“I’m drawn to European painters—Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Rubens, Degas. I’m interested in artists who find their voice looking inwards,” she says. “Andrei Tarkovsky comes to mind. In each of his films, he explores time’s intimacy and mystery. It is all about the unknown. That’s what photography is to me.”

Markosian took up photography in 2010 after earning a master’s degree in journalism. She wanted to see the world, and after a short stint as a wire service freelancer, began traveling to unfamiliar places to pursue personal projects.

“I have to genuinely care about what it is I’m photographing,” she says. “I am still not quite sure why I am attracted to certain places, but photography has allowed me to explore and try to understand for myself what it is that leads me to these places.”

Her projects so far have included 2011’s “Chernobyl’s Last Breath,” about elderly Chernobyl residents who refused to be evacuated after the nuclear power station explosion there in 1986. She has won wide acclaim for “Goodbye My Chechnya,” a 2012 project about Chechen girls coming of age amid an Islamic revival after two decades of war; and “My Father, The Stranger,” her 2013 project about her estranged father.

“Her photographs are unusually mature for someone her age,” says James Estrin, co-editor of The New York Times Lens blog. “[They] are evocative of memory, of time, of the things that aren’t—the things that aren’t visually descriptive.”

Markosian is currently working on a personal project in Myanmar (aka Burma), taking editorial assignments at the same time to help cover expenses. “I’m really just trying to follow my instincts and learn along the way.”

Carla Richmond

Age: 32

Born: Mexico City

Resides: Los Angeles

Education: Boston College; New England School of Photography

Clients: Allos Ego, MeUndies

Exhibitions: The Art Institute of California, San Diego; Carte Blanche, San Francisco; Helms Bakery, Los Angeles

Key Lessons Learned: “Work on projects that feel like they’re coming from a genuine place. You see photography in magazines and you think you should emulate that, but you should have your own stamp and you’ll only find that by pushing through.”

 

Carla Richmond developed her first environmental portrait series, “Uniformed Workers,” while waitressing at a bar to pay for photo school. Working the day shift, she got to know the regulars who came in after their own shifts had ended, and asked them if she could photograph them at home. “I saw photography as a medium to explore things that fascinate me. Also, you can make people feel so important,” she says. “Everything about that experience is so fulfilling and interesting.”

In 2010, she moved to Los Angeles to be with her mother during a health crisis. Richmond spent the year doing odd jobs, working as an assistant, taking headshots. When her mother was better, “I decided to devote myself to a creative life,” she says. “I quit my waitressing job, put all my stuff in storage and then went on a road trip to make photos of strangers.” On a loop from Iowa to the Pacific Northwest with a friend’s brother, “I committed to making a portrait of a person in every town we went to.” The work has gained recognition through juried gallery shows she has entered.

At first, self-promotion felt “shameless,” but she now hand-makes cards she sends to a targeted group of photo editors. “I’m thinking of it as sharing my work,” she says. She formed a “photography girl gang,” which started with photographers she contacted about assisting jobs and has since expanded to a network of colleagues sharing referrals and encouragement. In the past year, Richmond and writer Hannah Steen have collaborated to develop stories on spec. “When you’re a photographer waiting to be hired, it’s only going to happen if you put out into the world what you love to do, so making my own assignments has been really important,” she says.

“I want to make portraits of people. That is my favorite way to spend time.”

We Are The Rhoads

Ages: 28 (Chris); 29 (Sarah)

Born: Tulsa, Oklahoma (Chris); Chicago (Sarah)

Reside: Los Angeles

Education: Oklahoma State University

Clients: Converse, Kinfolk, Motorola, PepsiCo, Timex

Biggest Challenge: “Shooting and directing as a team requires large amounts of trust and collaboration … There are times when one of us sees something a certain way and the other sees it another. Ultimately we arrive at a better place where this variation happens—it allows us to both give and take and push for the things we believe in with our work.”

 

Chris and Sarah Rhoads are a husband-and-wife team whose images evoke the type of outdoorsy, laid-back world you wish you lived in. Their aspirational photographs have captured the attention of A-list clients who want to attract exactly the sort of gorgeous, enthusiastic millennials the Rhoads photograph.

According to Chris Logsdon, a senior art director at Publicis Kaplan Thaler who has hired the duo to work on projects for Pepsi and Wendy’s, their appeal lies not only in their images, but also in the pleasure everyone gets from working with them on set. “Quite simply, they bring out the best of whatever content they’re shooting,” he explains.

The duo, who recently moved to Los Angeles from Seattle, met while in school at Oklahoma State University. Although both had been shooting images since high school, neither received any formal training. They attribute their success to constantly collaborating together on personal projects. “To create with someone you share your life with is a very intimate and vulnerable type of ‘mentoring’ experience, and we are regularly pushing one another outside our respective comfort zones,” Sarah Rhoads explains.

The Rhoads got their first big commercial job in 2011, when a creative director at Sony, who had been following their work, asked them to shoot a global back-to-school campaign that featured college students. “It was a moment of utter elation and utter fear,” Chris Rhoads says of the commission. The project went off without a hitch, and the images ended up on 100-foot banners on Madison Avenue in New York City

The success of the campaign, and others like it, have allowed the Rhoads to branch out to make short films, which they direct for the likes of Subaru, Caribou Coffee and Kinfolk. “It’s just another creative muscle that serves to hone our vision and voice,” says Chris Rhoads. Passion for each other, and for their work, being the main motivator to keep doing so.

Bryan Schutmaat

Age: 30

Born: Houston

Resides: Austin, Texas

Education: University of Houston; Hartford Art School

Clients: Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, Smithsonian, The Telegraph

Awards: 2013 Daylight Photo Award; 2013 Gallerist’s Choice Award, Center; Flash Forward 2013, Magenta Foundation; 2014 Portfolio Prize, Aperture Foundation

Exhibitions: Aperture Gallery, New York City; Daylight Project Space, Hillsborough, North Carolina; Houston Center for Photography

Key lessons learned: “More than anything, [Peter Brown] has taught me that photography is a worthy pursuit in life and the anxiety that comes with pursuing it can be quelled by passion and belief in what you’re doing.”

 

Last year, after nearly a decade of tentative forays into photography, Bryan Schutmaat published Grays the Mountain Sends, his breakout monograph exploring the landscapes, people and hardscrabble towns of the American West.

“I love the surfaces of these [small towns] and the history they embody,” Schutmaat says, explaining that he’s had a long-standing fascination “for mountains and open spaces as well as the region’s cultural presence—basically the historic, mythic and emotional ‘idea’ of the West.”

That idea has been glorified for 150 years. But Schutmaat’s work “challenges this optimism. It’s a beautiful but melancholy visual prose poem,” says his friend and mentor Peter Brown, who has been photographing the Great Plains for 25 years.

Schutmaat took his first photography course in 2003, enrolled briefly in a photography program in 2005 and had been exhibited in some group shows. Unsure how to make a career of photography, he was about to become a high-school history teacher when he cold-called Brown for advice.

“He showed me his work, and it was astonishingly good,” says Brown, who encouraged Schutmaat to pursue an MFA.

Schutmaat describes graduate school as “a place [where] you go to look at photos for hours on end [and] talk about how they make you feel. Sounds crazy, but it’s a wonderful thing.”

And it taught him how to work hard. “Over the years I’ve gotten a lot more assiduous in my process—not just when I take photos, but when I look at them later and read into their meanings,” he explains. “I think the value of my work and my style come from listening to what my pictures are saying to me and editing them into something harmonious and meaningful. This is just as important as my eye for subject matter and the way I rendered it when I’m out shooting.”

 

Mosa’ab Elshamy

Age: 23

Born: Sana’a, Yemen

Resides: Cairo

Education: Zagazig University

Clients: The Economist, Foreign Policy, Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, TIME

Key Lessons Learned: “Great photos will always be in the most unlikely places. They demand hard work ... There’s a great photo waiting for the photographer who breaks a line, who hurries forward when people run away and who stays the longest when people are leaving.”

 

War photographer Robert Capa’s famous dictum, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” helps explain Mosa’ab Elshamy’s meteoric rise. His photographs of the revolution and political violence in Egypt are filled with blood, sweat and tear gas because he is always in the middle of the action.

Until the 2011 mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square against President Hosni Mubarak, Elshamy was not a photographer. “I went in 2011 with my camera as a citizen journalist,” he explains. Like thousands of young Egyptians who took to the streets, “I took my camera with the intention of having a personal witness to whatever might manifest that day.” He credits social media with bringing his photos of demonstrators clashing with Egyptian armed forces to international attention and launching his photojournalism career.

“Mosa’ab has a remarkable eye for someone his age, and a deep commitment to documenting what’s happening in his country,” says TIME photo editor Patrick Witty.

Elshamy’s Twitter following now numbers more than 38,000. He also uses Flickr and Facebook to promote his images.

His most recent work has a more documentary flavor. He has produced photo essays on Egyptian culture, such as its hip-hop scene, and the lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula.

“Covering the revolution is my life project for now, but the revolution extends beyond the frontlines and the daily clashes,” says Elshamy, who also plans to try producing multimedia. “There are countless stories of those who have been affected by it on different levels, which I would like to extend my work on.”

 

Bryan Derballa

Age: 31

Born: Orlando, Florida

Resides: New York City

Education: University of California, Berkeley

Clients: The FADER, J.Crew, The Wall Street Journal, Vice, WIRED

Key lessons learned: “One thing that all my favorite photos have in common is an element of serendipity—a happy accident, an unexpected turn, a glimmer of light in the dark. It’s those details that can breathe life into otherwise static images. Be open to it and ready to snap.”

Bryan Derballa had just returned to New York City in 2009 from a self-assignment in Colombia and Venezuela, and was hanging out with some photographer buddies at a bar. Another photographer-type joined them, and Derballa started talking about his work.

“I just assumed he was another photographer guy. I wasn’t selling myself, I was just speaking passionately about what I do,” recalls Derballa. A few days later, the guy from the bar, Matthew Craig, called Derballa with an assignment. It turned out Craig was then a photo editor at The Wall Street Journal.

At the time Derballa was a “dirt-poor, struggling photography kid,” who had been working a variety of jobs, including as a bike delivery person. Craig sent him to cover a gala attended by Wall Street and Hollywood’s richest people. As Derballa recalls, he “said ‘Go and do your thing, get us photos of these people and use your wit and humor to make it interesting.’” After a few more assignments from the newspaper, Derballa felt confident he could make photography his career.

Since then Derballa has built his editorial client list and done commercial jobs. He hones his style in personal work by organizing trips for friends to swimming holes and beaches and photographing them. It’s not that Derballa just likes water: He sees his friends moving into what society would call responsible, adult lives, with kids, cars and mortgages. Derballa feels the building pressure to do likewise.

“I’ve been exploring these ideas, just photographing my friends who are going through the same thing at the same time, and trying to grab on to those last moments of fleeting youth,” he says. This personal interest spreads into his professional work. “I think that putting an element of yourself in all your work in the long run is going to go so much farther than just creating a static work solely for the client.”

Greer Muldowney

Age: 29

Born: Trenton, New Jersey

Resides: Boston

Education: Clark University; Savannah College of Art & Design

Exhibitions: Gallery Kayafas, Boston; Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, Massachusetts; New Art Center, Newtonville, Massachusetts; Magenta Foundation Flash Forward 2012, Toronto

Key Lessons Learned: “Ingratiate yourself with a community of artists. You can’t work in a vacuum. You need to find a balance between your own work and being part of a community.”

 

The work that brought Greer Muldowney to national attention was her master’s thesis at Savannah College of Art & Design, a series on residential high-rises in Hong Kong she made in 2010 and 2011. Titled “6,426 per km2,” a reference to the population density of Hong Kong, the series includes no people.

Feeling that photographs of overcrowding, squalor, industrialization and pollution in China only create “media fatigue,” Muldowney went in the opposite direction, seeking a look that was “as Disney, candy-colored-acid-trip pretty as possible” to portray the middle-class residential towers.

For Muldowney, a photograph “really has to be beautiful for people to be drawn to it. I can’t make something ugly to make a commentary.”

Her esthetic seduction continues in her most recent body of work, photographs of wind turbines in urban and residential environments.

Muldowney says her greatest challenge has been “finding the time to make her work” while working as a technician at Panopticon Imaging and as an adjunct faculty member at Boston College, New Hampshire Institute of Art and New England Institute of Art.

She says it has been important to find people to champion her work. She cites Aline Smithson, founding editor of Lenscratch, a daily online journal of photography, as someone who helped her find both an audience and a gallery.

Smithson says Muldowney “brings a unique intelligence to the photographic community, through her curating, teaching, writing and image-making.”

 

 

Kyle Johnson

Age: 30

Born: San Jose, California

Resides: Seattle

Education: The Art Institute of Seattle

Clients: Bloomberg Businessweek, Filson, Martha Stewart Living, The New York Times Magazine, Wallpaper*

Key Lessons Learned: “Looking at your work [and portfolio] every four or five months is a good exercise for a photographer. It helps you put your work together in a context [so] that maybe you can figure out a style that you’re excited about after looking at prints in a physical, tangible way instead of just on the Internet.”

 

Kyle Johnson once thought that living in the Northwest might limit him professionally. But after landing meetings with magazines in New York City and national advertising clients, he’s turned his location into an asset.

“I’ve been working hard to show people that I’m someone who has a vision and who lives here,” says the Seattle resident. “I can’t help but be affected by the landscape and the vibe here. And I think that has helped give my photography a direction that has had people hire me for that kind of a feeling.”

Johnson points to one of his first breakthrough assignments: shooting an architecture story for Wallpaper* in 2011. He had shot smaller portrait jobs for the magazine when photo director James Reid asked him if he knew of an architectural photographer for a feature on five homes in Vancouver that were built by the same architect. Johnson, with little experience photographing buildings, said he could do it.

He says he told the editor, “I think visually my style is a really good fit for this architect because his work is very Northwest, it looks a lot like stuff I would shoot.” He says, “It was exciting to get hired based on my esthetic or other photos that weren’t necessarily architecture.”

Johnson, who learned the business by assisting photographers traveling through Seattle and a network of colleagues that he could turn to for advice, says he is focused on maintaining his esthetic and palette through all his work, from food to portraiture. He develops it in part through personal work, like his summer project last year photographing Washington State’s old fire towers and the people around them.

That project ”balanced all the things I enjoy shooting, like portraits and outdoors, and had kind of a historical element to it,” he says. ”It’s important to balance work with projects that aren’t always paid. And sometimes they can turn into work.”

 

Fabio Bucciarelli

Age: 33

Born: Turin, Italy

Resides: Turin & Pineto, Italy

Education: Polytechnic University of Turin

Clients: Die Zeit, Il Fatto Quotidiano, La Stampa, Paris Match, TIME

Awards: Photo Prize, 20th Bayeux-Calvados Award; The Robert Capa Gold Medal Award, 2012 Overseas Press Club of America; Second Place, New Picture Story, 70th POYi; Second Prize, Spot News, 2013 World Press Photo

Biggest Challenge: “When you go to a war zone, everywhere is dangerous. If someone says he’s not afraid, don’t trust him. The point is not eliminating the fear, but controlling it by focusing on your work.”

 

A compelling photo story could be out in the open, on the front lines of a conflict or hidden from sight, requiring investigation. You have to be prepared to face the unexpected.

That’s what Fabio Bucciarelli has learned in recent years. Take a story he shot in Haiti in 2013. Bucciarelli had heard rumors about a rundown psychiatric hospital. When he and a friend finally found it, what they saw was worse than they had expected: patients locked in stinking cells with concrete slab beds, eating food out of dirty buckets, no doctors in sight. “There were people doing great stories on Haiti, but no one had found this place,” says Bucciarelli. Thanks to his pictures, a nonprofit is now working at the hospital.

Most of the time, Bucciarelli is filing urgent, powerful stories from scenes of war: Burma, Libya, Mali, Sudan. Last year, his heart-stopping portfolio of images from Syria won the Overseas Press Club of America’s Robert Capa Gold Medal Award.

Trained as an engineer, Bucciarelli credits mentors Philip Blenkinsop, whose workshop he took in 2008, and veteran Italian journalist Mimmo Candito, with whom he traveled into his first war zone in 2011, for his rapid rise in photography. Friends also referred him to agencies like Luz and Agence France-Presse. “When you go to a war zone with other journalists, it’s like a family,” he says.

Above all, he says, it’s important to know yourself. “Working in conflict zones, you see a lot of pain, and you need to understand the reason you’re there. You have to think: I’m only a journalist, a photographer—not a hero.”