As you read through our 16th annual PDN ’s 30 feature, you’ll notice these photographers shared some of the “Key Lessons” they’ve learned, “Best Advice” they’ve received and “Biggest Challenges” they’ve overcome. These footnotes to the photographers’ stories are honest, insightful, sometimes funny and, we hope, useful to photographers at all stages of their careers.
One of the “Key Lessons” I keep thinking of came from commercial and editorial photographer Michael Clinard. He said: “There is no substitute for good field work; get out there and get dirty.” In other words, put yourself and your work into the world and see what happens. Take the risk. Accept the challenge. Do the work you want to do. All of the photographers in this year’s PDN ’s 30 have built their careers through some version of getting out there and getting dirty.
To launch her career, Annalisa Natali Murri spent vacations from her engineering job on self-assigned trips to cover critical social issues. Paul Colangelo worked for years on conservation projects in the Canadian wilderness. Maurizio Di Iorio and Erin O’Keefe left established careers to pursue passions for photography. Amanda Mustard moved from Pennsylvania to Cairo, Egypt, and taught herself photojournalism.
For many of these photographers, “getting out there” also meant building relationships with subjects, fellow photographers, clients and others. None of the work you see here was created in a vacuum. Some of these photographers have relied on networks of colleagues who offer critiques, advice and referrals. Others, like Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, have worked for years with their subjects, establishing trust and mutual respect. Rus Anson pointed out how important crewmembers and models are to what she does.
Fear comes up quite a few times in these stories: fear of the unknown; fear of failure. Those feelings aren’t surprising. Photography is a tough business, and establishing a creative vision takes guts. But many of the photographers who admit to some self-doubt and anxiety also mention how exhilarating it is to face those feelings. And they say that one of the best ways to work through them is to get out and shoot.
About PDN’s 30
Each year since 1999, the editors of PDN have selected 30 emerging photographers who represent a variety of styles and genres and have demonstrated a distinctive vision, creativity, and versatility. This year, the editors reviewed the work of more than 300 photographers from around the world. To be considered, the photographers must have been shooting on their own professionally for five years or less. Most were nominated by photo editors, art directors, curators, educators and fellow photographers around the world, and some were invited by editors based on work seen in promotions, portfolio reviews or photo contests.
Profiles on each of the 2015 PDN’s 30 photographers are featured in PDN’s April 2015 issue. Thanks to support of the PDN's 30 sponsors, PDN will also hosts six panel discussions on career strategies for emerging photographers at photo schools, workshops and festivals around the U.S. throughout the year.
Born: Barcelona, Spain
Resides: Venice, California
Education: Ramon Llull University, Academy of Art University
Clients: Guess Kids, Sherwin Williams, Coca-Cola, Parents, Prevention, Refinery29
Exhibitions: Porto Franco Art Gallery
Key Lesson: "To work with New York stylists and set designers and makeup artists, they were asking for high rates. Here in L.A., there are so many talented artists, they just want an exchange in terms of tests. It's easier to find people to collaborate with."
Rus Anson studied advertising and graphic design as an undergrad in Barcelona. She got a job in town after graduation at McCann Erickson, but quickly found herself at odds with “the stressful rhythm of the ad agencies.” So she borrowed a camera, entered and won a photo contest run by El Pais. The prize was her first camera, and the validation gave her the confidence to apply for (and win) a scholarship to study in San Francisco.
Anson idolized Tim Walker and Paolo Roversi in school, and quickly developed a bright, vibrant style. Her youthful energy makes her particularly suited to photographing children, and it's paid off—she's done recent campaigns for Guess Kids and features in Parents, Prevention and Babiekins magazines. Anson told PDN, “I don't mind laying around the floor and jumping with them and singing songs.”
After two years shooting in New York, she signed with Alyssa Pizer and moved to Los Angeles, where “you can shoot anywhere you want every day of the year.” Anson admits L.A. has relaxed her style a bit, and she now shoots more lifestyle fashion, “real moments with beautiful girls.”
But she's also expanding her repertoire; She just finished her first architectural and interiors campaign, for paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams. Wherever she ends up, she's sure to inspire smiles; she's out to prove that there really is no reason not to be nice. “You have models and stylists who are going to work for you and you have to treat them well and make them feel important,” she says. “Because they are all important.”
—Matthew Ismael Ruiz
Born: Camden, New Jersey
Resides: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Education: The University of the Arts, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
Exhibitions: SRO Photo Gallery, Texas Tech University; Aperture Gallery; Sol Koffler Gallery
Awards: Juror's Award, Photography 33, Perkins Center for the Arts; Photolucida Critical Mass Finalist; National Conference Award, Society for Photographic Education; Graduate Studies Grant, RISD
Best Advice: "A single photograph doesn't emerge from nothing. It is formed from past experiences of going out into the world and making photographs. All those prior photographs, both good and bad, help to shape new photographs. When I'm out photographing, I allow myself to be directed by those experiences."
In his photographs of the American landscape, Keith Yahrling follows in the footsteps of such great photographers as Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand, who examined the American ethos. “We have a grand idea of what freedom is,” Yahrling says. “But what does it look like?”
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design—where he received his MFA in 2013—Yahrling's current practice is rooted in National Park, the New Jersey town where he grew up. Its history as the site of a Revolutionary War battle, as well as his own father's experiences in Vietnam, led Yahrling to search out other battlefields in the original 13 colonies. Photos from his ongoing “For the Revolution” series have been published in Aperture and MOSSLESS.
“For the Revolution” marks a departure from an earlier series, “American Consumerism,” which depicted malls, mega-stores and the displays within them completely devoid of people. In “For the Revolution,” similarly framed images show people who “re-enact the particular rights and freedoms” fought for at each site. For example, in “Battle of Briar Creek, Sylvania, Georgia, June 24, 2012,” a cluster of families play in the creek—reflecting the American belief that citizens have the right to find pleasure wherever they want.
Yahrling cites the Graduate Studies Grant he received from RISD in 2013 as pivotal. The award enabled him to travel, and gave him the confidence to continue with the project. Since then, his work ethic has set him apart. Along with attending portfolio reviews, teaching and showing his work as much as possible, he never sits idle. “Really the only way to break through is to go out and photograph,” he says.
Annalisa Natali Murri
Born: Bologna, Italy
Resides: San Lazzaro di Savena, Italy
Education: Bologna University
Client: ActionAid Italia
Awards: Pictures of the Year International, Community Awareness Award and Feature Picture Story
Exhibition: Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea
Best Advice: "I was doing one of my first portfolio reviews, and the reviewer told me, ‘You have to learn, when people ask you what you're doing in your life, to answer you're a photographer. Even though you still do not earn your living with it. Even though you haven't published yet. Because yes you are a photographer.’ Then I understood that you have to be the first to believe in your work."
The only photo course that Annalisa Natali Murri has ever taken was “Architecture and Urban Photography.” While her classmates photographed buildings, Natali Murri—who has a doctorate in engineering—focused “on the relationship between the inhabitants and their environment.” She realized what fascinated her was not the environment, “but the people.”
Since then, Natali Murri has spent her vacations from her engineering job (and her savings) on self-assigned trips abroad, producing work that has won her Pictures of the Year International awards two years in a row. The first, in 2013, was for her series on the transgender “Hijra” communities in Bangladesh. In 2014, she won the Community Awareness Award for images of a community of women living in an abandoned building in Armenia. “I like my pictures to be very intimate, very introspective,” she says. “I like to focus on what people feel, and I'd like to try to express to other people what I can feel.”
In Bangladesh, Natali Murri documented the Rana Plaza, which collapsed in April 2013, killing 1,129 garment workers. For help connecting with survivors, she got in touch with ActionAid Italia. ActionAid wanted straight documentary photos, but Natali Murri wanted to shoot in her characteristic style: dreamy, sometimes double-exposed, suggesting a haunting presence. She did both: “I took ordinary pictures of this, and they were happy with that. Then, contemporarily, I carried out my own project.” Natali Murri's own pictures appeared on the New York Times Lens blog and in burn. magazine.
Born: Bronxville, New York
Resides: New York City
Education: Cornell University, Columbia University
Exhibitions: Pioneer Works; Frameshift Denny Gallery; Gallery 339
Awards: Camera Club Photography Competition; Humble Arts Foundation 31 Women in Art
Biggest challenge: "Time! I feel an enormous sense of urgency about getting to the studio, or out to look at things, trying to always move forward in some way."
Erin O'Keefe's more than two decades of experience as a licensed architect, professor of architecture and sculptor influence her photography, which explores how the camera “translates a three-dimensional subject into a two-dimensional image.” As she builds still life objects in her studio at home, “I am trying to anticipate the way the camera will see it, to capitalize on the distortion in some way.”
O'Keefe had long been intrigued by photography, but had little experience. In 2010, during her sabbatical from teaching, she decided to take courses at the International Center of Photography in New York City. “I didn't know anybody or anything. I didn't know the difference between a TIFF and a JPEG,” she says, but her teachers Wendy Richmond, Phil Toledano and Amy Stein were “hugely generous and supportive,” and she enjoyed the community of students.
As she gained the technical skills to achieve her vision, she began seeing her architectural training “as a bonus, rather than something to overcome.” Her process of building objects and photographing them is “fluid and reactive.” For one series, she photographed still-life setups, printed the images, and incorporated the prints into new still lifes, confusing the sense of perspective even further.
O'Keefe attended portfolio reviews and submitted to juried exhibitions to get her work in front of curators; her inclusion in a Humble Arts Foundation show gave her the confidence to pitch every photo blog she could find. A photographer she met at one show recommended her for another that opens this spring. “It seems as though one connection or opportunity leads to the next one in a pretty organic way.”
She left her academic job in 2013 to devote herself solely to photography. “It was a terrifying decision, but one that I have not regretted for a minute,” she says. “The single-mindedness has been exhilarating.”
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Born: Vancouver, British Columbia
Education: Kwantlen Community College, Focal Point Visual Arts, Vancouver Photo Workshops
Clients: Inventory, Nylon, Condé Nast Traveller, The Globe and Mail, SPIN, Aritzia, Native Shoes, Mini Cars/Winkreative, The Sleep Shirt
Exhibitions: Make Gallery; Palais De Tokyo; The Jane Hotel; Gallery Steinsland Berliner; Gallery 295
Awards: Magenta Foundation Flash Forward
Key Lesson: "My personal work has always been about observing, listening and reflecting, rather than imposing an idea. Commissioned work calls for me to be an active participant—vocal, proactive and the voice of the story or product. I have learned the importance of stepping out of my shyness and communicating with my crew to get the results I want."
Jennilee Marigomen's career proves the old axiom that “you can't teach a good eye.” She started dabbling in high school, joining a photo club and learning how to use the darkroom, but never had any formal training. Yet her work is distinguished by her innate sense for light and composition. Her recent book, Window Seat, teems with languid images of coastal Mexico, but her inclination to take the picture that no one else takes is what sets the book apart.
“A lot of my style and technique was learned from the Internet,” Marigomen admits, “watching YouTube videos and using Flickr, learning from other people by asking them directly and getting feedback by posting my work online.”
In 2010 Marigomen won the Magenta Foundation's Flash Forward competition, providing a crucial confidence boost. Meanwhile, as part of her job as photo editor of 01 Magazine, she curated exhibitions in Toronto, Vancouver and New York City, affording her crucial networking opportunities. Shooting the magazine's content also opened her up to doing commissioned work, and improved her understanding of how to use her esthetic to execute someone else's vision.
Marigomen wears many hats; she has a day job in fashion marketing, is director of communications at a Vancouver gallery and shoots commissioned and personal work. “I don't have a lot of time, but I don't depend on photography to put food on the table so I can also be selective about work I take on and make sure it reflects who I am,” she says.
Born: Caracas, Venezuela
Education: Alejandro de Humboldt University
Clients: Associated Press, Últimas Noticias, Al Jazeera, Stern, profil
Exhibitions: IdeasTap; Elemento latent, PhotoEspaña, Madrid, Spain; Les Rencontres d'Arles, Arles, France; Ian Parry Scholarship retrospective, Visa pour l'image, Perpignan, France
Awards: 30 Under 30 Magnum Photos; Ian Parry Scholarship; Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer
Key Lesson: "Being honest is the key. The people can see and feel it. It is the only way that people open the doors of their lives, and there is where the true photography is."
When Alejandro Cegarra received the call informing him he'd won the 2014 Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award, he was in the Bogotá airport in Colombia, on his way to a Magnum Photos workshop. “I was jumping and throwing punches in the air,” he recalls. “I still get excited when I remember the moment.”
Cegarra won the award for “The Other Side of the Tower of David,” his project on an unfinished high-rise in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, where more than 2,000 squatters live illegally. Cegarra's other work includes documenting street protests that erupted in Venezuela in 2014; a story about the elderly; and a report about crime in Caracas. Clampdowns on press freedom in Venezuela have made it difficult for the disenfranchised to have a say. Cegarra says he uses his work to give them a voice. “I approach them saying that I'm not the solution and I cannot promise anything [more] than just carrying the message. I'm really honest with my intentions.”
After a stint at an ad agency, Cegarra worked as a staff photographer for Últimas Noticias, a Caracas newspaper. Attending festivals in Arles and Perpignan helped him make personal connections with other photojournalists and editors. He's since worked as a stringer for Associated Press.
In 2014, Cegarra won the Ian Parry Scholarship, receiving a year's representation by Reportage by Getty Images. Getty's Patrick Di Nola, who is mentoring Cegarra, says his esthetic awareness enables his photographs “to reach a wider, more global audience, and to truly make a difference by stimulating debate/discussion, and by hopefully standing the test of time.”
Born: Tampa, Florida
Resides: Chicago, Illinois
Education: University of Central Florida, Columbia College
Exhibitions: Workspace Gallery; Calumet Gallery; Pictura Gallery; Perspective Gallery; Museum of Contemporary Photography; Haggerty Museum; Southeast Museum of Photography
Awards: Chicago Individual Artist Grant, Magenta Foundation Flash Forward, PDN's The Curator, Photolucida Critical Mass Top 50
Key lesson: "Have a community that you can get feedback from about your work. Keep it to a small group that you trust and admire."
Clarissa Bonet says she found her inspiration in 2009, when she left her native Florida and headed north to pursue an MFA. “I was instantly fascinated by the urban landscape. It was foreign to me, almost like I was dropped on another planet.”
Traveling on foot and by train gave her a different perspective than Florida's car culture had. “We all live in this small proximity to each other and we never talk to each other,” she notes. “I thought that was really fascinating—the density of strangers and the sense of anonymity that comes with living in the city.”
Photographing the city grew into the long-term projects “City Space” and “Dark City.” While she draws inspiration from street photographers, Bonet carefully constructs each image. “I make my work based on my personal experience,” she says, “and for me, the sense of overwhelmingness of the city was what I really wanted to get across.”
When her city work was honored in PDN’s 2012 The Curator contest student category, the exposure snowballed and led to exhibitions as well as licensing inquiries and commissions. Bonet has kept the momentum going by attending events like Review Santa Fe and by writing grant applications.
She's currently gearing up to show her “Dark City” series, which will strike a chord with anyone who has gazed up at a vast constellation of city windows at night. “I've been working with this subject for the past five years,” she says “but I feel there's so much more for me to investigate.”
Andrew B. Myers
Born: London, Ontario
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Ryerson University
Clients: Google, Leo Burnett, Sirius XM, Target, Universal Music, TIME, Fast Company, M: Le Magazine du Monde, The New York Times Magazine, WIRED
Key lesson: "Just make your own work. Don't be so obsessed with the business side of it."
“There's not much I do that isn't fun in some way to me,” says Andrew Myers. The images he devises in his studio highlight meticulous arrangements, a tightly controlled palette of light and color, and what feels like keen comic timing.
Myers builds and styles the elements himself. “There's something about making everything and photographing it that I really enjoy,” he says. “It's not just about clicking the shutter. It's about the whole process.”
His early artistic interests were illustration and architecture. Myers picked up a camera in high school and impulsively decided to apply to photography programs. “Midway through school I started to do things that were more graphic and realized that was something I really enjoyed,” he says. His confident style drew attention, and Myers had a rep by the time he graduated.
He broke into the editorial world when he got his first assignment for The Globe and Mail, but had his eye on the American market. “Two years later I got to do a cover story for TIME,” he says. “That was the most excited I ever was.” He recently moved to New York.
Myers treasures working on his own for the freedom it gives him to follow his creative whims. “You yourself are the keeper of your destiny,” he says. “That's both amazing and kind of frightening. But it's still one of the most exciting things one could be doing. I love it.”
Born: Pärnu, Estonia
Resides: New York City
Education: Arts University Bournemouth
Clients: MilK, The Times, Junior, Kidd.O, Naif, Oeuf, Boden, Clarks, Xenia Joost, Very French Gangsters
Exhibitions: Evald Okas Museum; Estonian Parliament; Tallinn Design and Architecture Gallery
Awards: PDN’s The LOOK
Key Lesson: "To trust my instincts and be able to let go. Especially when working with children, sometimes things just don't work out the way you've planned. So the best option is to adapt to the new situation and make the most of it. It might even work out better than originally planned."
Katrina Tang's favorite reaction in response to her work is, “What? Children?!” Tang enjoys subverting the expectation that one can't build a serious photography career by focusing on kids. Tang first realized her calling when she showed her “Summer Camp” series, which she created at a children's camp in Estonia, during a critique at university. Her classmates unanimously agreed these were the “most Katrina” images she'd produced. “It was such a moment of relief, because I knew in my core that it's who I am,” she explains.
Capturing the delicacy and joy of childhood, Tang's photographs attracted the attention of an agent in London, who began getting her assignments. In 2012 she moved to New York to pursue her career more seriously. Initially discouraged by rejection and empty promises from potential clients and agents, Tang was picked up Angela De Bona Agency, the firm that represents Patrick Demarchelier, and her client list rapidly expanded.
According to Kate Van Der Hage, a stylist who has worked with Tang, what sets her apart is “her joy and satisfaction when she gets the shot she has been dreaming about.” Her images often evoke the nostalgia she feels for the tiny country schools she attended in Estonia. In the campaigns she shot for nursery furniture company Oeuf, she felt an affinity for the tight-knit communities in Bolivia that produce products for the line. Like the community where she grew up, they value family and togetherness. “I just want to bring the world closer to my little world,” she says of her style.
Born: Laurinburg, North Carolina
Resides: San Francisco, California
Education: Davidson College, Academy of Art University
Editorial clients: Harper's, Oxford American, The Guardian, La Magazine du Monde, Vice, AFAR, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, USA Today, Wired.com, Random House, Inc.
Exhibitions: Book & Job Gallery; Cochran Gallery; Slow Exposures, Zebulon, Georgia; RayKo Gallery
Awards: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2-Year Interactive Documentary Project Grant; Judge's 1st Place, A Juried Exhibition Celebrating Photography of the Rural South, Slow Exposures; Curator's Choice Award, 1st Place, CENTER; LOOK3 Scholarship, Academy of Art University
Best Advice: From Alec Soth: "There must be a rise and fall of all human emotions for a project to work. A great project needs that edge."
Born and raised in North Carolina, the scion of a prominent farming family, McNair Evans discovered photography while making images as an anthropology student at Davidson College. Within a few years of graduation, Evans became a successful “editorial, commercial and outdoor sports-adventure photographer,” but something was missing.
“I had some great life experiences but I really didn't feel a major connection to the work I was making,” he remembers. The MFA program at San Francisco's Academy of Art helped him hone his technical skills and learn about photography as an art form, while studying other artistic mediums enabled him to “look at photography visually and make it a little less literal of a practice.”
After winning a residency at San Francisco's RayKo Photo Center and Gallery in 2013, Evans exhibited “Confessions For A Son,” a tender but unflinching examination of his father's passing and the subsequent ruin of the family business. In September 2014, the project was released as a book at the New York Art Book Fair; it quickly sold out. Evans ended the year by winning the John Guttman Photography Fellowship.
“There's an emotional spaciousness in McNair's work that draws you in and makes you want to see and know more,” says Julian Cox, a curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Evans' latest project is called “In Search of Great Men.” Two years in the making, it documents life on America's railways. Images from the project have already been published by CNN and Harper's.
Born: Stamford, Connecticut
Resides: Vancouver, British Columbia
Education: Wilfrid Laurier University, Langara College
Clients: Patagonia, The Pew Charitable Trusts, World Wildlife Fund, Tourism British Columbia
Exhibitions: Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Nevada City, California; Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival; Smithers Art Gallery
Awards: Magenta Foundation Flash Forward
Biggest Challenge: "Working in the field on a long-term project when no one knows or cares that you're there. You have no sponsors, no assignment; all you have is your belief in the story."
For the past five years, photojournalist Paul Colangelo has focused on Canada's environmental hot spots, capturing the soaring beauty of the landscape, the drama of its threatened wildlife and the cultures and individuals who depend upon the land. “For generations, Canada's vast wilderness has been a celebrated part of our national identity,” Colangelo explains, “but in a seismic shift in national values, we're now viewing the wilderness as a stockpile of natural resources.” He's documenting the shift as part of his ongoing project called “Our Home and Native Land,” determined to make Canadians aware of what they stand to lose.
Colangelo was given a camera upon graduation from business school, and it abruptly changed the course of his life. “I was completely obsessed,” he says. Too shy to photograph people, he focused on wildlife, and went back to school for photography. Afterwards, he landed an internship with Frans Lanting, who emphasized the importance of people in stories about wildlife. “My inspiration gradually shifted from straight wildlife photographers to those who focus on the human components of these stories,” Colangelo says.
Supporting his project with grants and editorial assignments, he has been honing his skills and learning a comprehensive approach to storytelling from various photographers, editors and conservationists, such as National Geographic contributor Paul Nicklen. “His work shows that he's thought it out, and waited for the right light,” Nicklen says of Colangelo. “He's very painterly.”
Colangelo says he plans to continue “Our Home and Native Land.” “The more I work on stories related to this one main issue I'm trying to tackle, the better I understand it, the deeper I can go. You find layers that you just can't find spending two weeks on a story and moving on.”
Maurizio Di Iorio
Born: Chieti, Italy
Resides: Pescara, Italy
Clients: Marc by Marc Jacobs, WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, Vice, It's Nice That
Exhibitions: Biennale di Venezia; Museo Michetti; Pomo Gallery
Biggest challenge: "I spent two and a half years with no work, with the fear of not becoming a photographer. But that's what I wanted to be. I spent those two years doing stuff for myself."
Steph Gillies, an art director who featured Maurizio Di Iorio's still lifes in the 2015 Vice Fiction Issue, describes the Italian photographer's work as "Dark Pop."
“I like the definition,” Di Iorio says. “I always try to represent an ambiguous, elusive and even dark sense of things.” Di Iorio's an emerging photographer at 50; after decades as a copywriter, he risked it all to follow his passion for photography. After his creative direction at work began to make him feel more like an art director than a copywriter, he was compelled to pivot. “I gave the words to the client, but I came home with the images in my mind.”
The Vice Fiction Issue was his first breakthrough, but Di Iorio credits his work with James Cartwright, an art director at It's Nice That, as some of his best. Cartwright commissioned him to shoot the cover of Printed Pages (It's Nice That's print publication), which Di Iorio calls “one of the commissions I like the most. It portrays fully my esthetic language, as well.” The exposure from Vice and It's Nice That led to commissions from WIRED (both U.S. and U.K.), and a recommendation from an art director at Art and Council led to a campaign for Marc by Marc Jacobs.
Di Iorio says “I'm not talented,” but admits that “every single choice is influenced by my past work.” In one of his favorite images, a hero shot of an otherwise mundane toothbrush is given a texture that betrays its violence; the brush's bristles are rendered steely, and one is reminded that it's an instrument of death—even if only for plaque.
But his style is mostly ambiguous, and Di Iorio relishes the duality. “I prefer acid and contrasting colors,” he says. “They constitute the violent component of my photographs. Pop style always hides a dark side.” Since almost all of his clients—including WIRED, Marc by Marc Jacobs and It's Nice That—are based in the U.S. or the U.K., his plans for 2015 include improving his English in anticipation of a future move.
—Matthew Ismael Ruiz
Born: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Education: Pathshala South Asian Media Institute
Exhibitions: Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography, Bangladesh; Noorderlicht Photofestival 20|20, Groningen, The Netherlands; PhotoVisa International Festival of Photography, Russia
Awards: Prix Mark Grosset Internationales De Photographie; Joop Swart Masterclass
Biggest Challenge: "Finding my own stories is always challenging, but the more challenging part is to add something that makes it my own and unique."
With ethereal lighting, muted colors and minimalist composition, photographer Sarker Protick captures suspended moments and evokes quiet mystery. “I am driven by the story, and also by atmosphere,” says Protick, whose projects include “What Remains,” about his aging grandparents; “Of River And Lost Lands,” about the aftermath of the Padma River floods; and ”Love Me Or Kill Me,“ a humorous, behind-the-scenes look at the Bangladesh film industry.
“He is fascinated by light, and he looks at [it] in a different way than most photographers,” says Ruth Eichhorn, director of photography at GEO. Protick works slowly and deliberately, awaiting specific light—for instance, “soft and pale,” in the case of “What Remains”—to achieve mood and coherence. He also works close to home. “I want to tell my own stories, rather than going very far, or working on something that I barely connect to,” he says.
Before taking up photography, Protick worked for a pharmaceutical company. Out of boredom, he spent afternoons in the company library, perusing National Geographic, TIME and other magazines. “It shaped me later to become a storyteller,” he says. Among his first projects was a study of urban spaces at night. “I was working with a 35mm digital camera but my work process was more like large-format photography. Later on, that formal image construction continued with other [projects].”
Protick says he's been inspired by artists such as William Eggleston, Robert Adams, Edward Hopper and René Magritte. “The way they have used color, narrative, and an ‘on the road’ approach has always moved me,” he says. But music has been an even greater influence, he says, citing the minimalist composers Erik Satie, Arvo Pärt and John Cage. “I find [photography] close to the medium of music in the sense of building emotion and mood,” he says.
Sara Naomi Lewkowicz
Born: New York City
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Education: University of North Carolina, Ohio University
Clients: TIME, Al Jazeera America, AARP The Magazine, Stern, Der Spiegel
Awards: World Press Photo; Ville de Perpignan Remi Ochlik Award; Alexia Foundation Student Grant
Key Lesson: "Find people you care about who care about you and will push you without damaging you. Take their critiques in that spirit."
Sara Naomi Lewkowicz has formed relationships with her documentary subjects that have lasted for years. “A long-term project that lets you connect with someone—that's what gets me going,” she says.
Though newspaper internships sharpened her news instincts, she was searching for a long-term project when, in 2010, she met Alex, a sex worker who struggled with heroin addiction. Lewkowicz submitted her intimate images of Alex's life when she applied to Ohio University and the Eddie Adams Workshop; she still photographs Alex, and continues to stay in touch.
In 2012, Lewkowicz had just arrived in Ohio when, at a country fair, she met Maggie, her kids and her boyfriend, Shane, who had recently been released from prison. Lewkowicz thought that by documenting their lives, she would explore the obstacles a felon faces upon re-entry into society, but the story changed when, one night, Shane took his anger out on Maggie. Lewkowicz brought the photos to photographer Donna Ferrato, a pioneer in documenting domestic violence. Ferrato introduced Lewkowicz's project to editors, and TIME photo editor Paul Moakley published the work on TIME Lightbox in 2013. With a student grant from the Alexia Foundation, Lewkowicz was able to visit Maggie in Alaska, where she had moved in hopes of reconciling with her kids' father. Lewkowicz plans to visit Maggie, now back in Ohio, this spring.
Lewkowicz, who graduates in May, is now pitching stories to editorial clients. “I've been lucky, but you can't wait for people to come to you,” she says. TIME assigned her to photograph the Prancing Elites dance team from Alabama, and she's honed her portraiture on assignments from AARP The Magazine and Der Spiegel.
After her “crazy big start,” Lewkowicz says, “my goal is to keep making work I care about, and be known as a good photographer, rather than a photographer who produced this good story.”
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Born: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Resides: Bangkok, Thailand
Education: Eddie Adams Workshop XXVI, Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) Training
Clients: TIME, Telegraph, Vice, Christian Science Monitor, Monocle, Mondelez International
Exhibitions: Studio A; Frontline Freelance Register Group Exhibition; Radar Gallery
Awards: 30 Under 30 Women Photographers; IPA Honorable Mention; FRAMED Awards Nominee Best Documentary Photographer; PDN The Shot
Key Lesson: "[When] covering emotionally weighted or dangerous stories, ‘proving yourself’ as a photographer is never worth sacrificing your well-being or mental health. If you feel like you should step back and take some time to breathe or decompress during a story, always give yourself that space."
When Amanda Mustard decided to pursue photojournalism as a career, she moved to Cairo to cover the Arab Spring and its reverberations. She was inexperienced, but the low cost of living allowed her time to learn by studying online and shooting “tons.” Mustard also networked with other photojournalists, some of whom became mentors and helped her land her first assignments.
Working in Egypt as a woman, and “having to face and plan for [the prospect of] sexual violence,” was challenging, Mustard says, and limited her access to certain stories. She learned to turn her camera on “the less action-packed and more emotional moments that offered a different or deeper perspective.” Mustard also pursued slice-of-life projects—about Cairo's pigeon enthusiasts and the “CaiRollers,” an all-girl roller derby team—that added a different dimension to her Egypt coverage. She also paid attention to “moments of comic relief that can take the edge off of an otherwise heavy scene.”
Mustard's interest in unique angles and underreported stories led her to pursue “Survivors of a Forgotten Genocide,” her project about Japan's 1937 occupation of Nanjing, China, when more than 300,000 Chinese were killed. She funded the work with a Kickstarter campaign.
Mustard cofounded a collective and became a board member of Frontline Freelance Register, an organization that advocates for the rights of freelance journalists. Launching her career involved a “steep, bumpy learning curve,” she says, but she is happy with the results. “I took a fraction of a college degree's price tag and spent it on traveling to fully immerse myself in the field, and learn through trial and error.”
Born: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Resides: New York City and Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
Education: New York University's Tisch School of the Arts
Clients: The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vogue.com
Awards: Founder's Day Award, New York University; Sony World Photography Awards Student Focus finalist
Key lessons: "Do the things you love. Have fun. Try to stay productive and positive even when you're miserable. Don't stop pushing until you can't go any further. Be polite. Ask for what you want. Always tell the truth, and be straightforward."
Jonno Rattman is a textbook example of how new talent often comes to the attention of mainstream media. He got his first assignment the day he graduated from New York University.
Rattman had met photo editor Matt McCann at a New York Times Lens Blog portfolio review. McCann then published pictures from a series of nocturnal street scenes Rattman had made while suffering from insomnia. The New York Times Magazine deputy photo editor Joanna Milter liked them, and gave Rattman his graduation day assignment: following the young candidate vying for Representative Charles Rangel's congressional seat.
Rattman's subsequent magazine assignments, as well as his ongoing “Historical Fictions” and “Ritual Characters” series, are made up of slice-of-life images that remind us that the present in a photograph is always the past.
“I'm most interested in American history and culture in the complicated present,” he says. “I was brought up to pay close attention to the news, history, politics and injustice.”
Rattman has studied informally with Larry Fink since he was 16 years old, and has printed for Gilles Peress, Rosalind Fox Solomon and Neil Selkirk for the estate of Diane Arbus.
Whitney Johnson, the former director of photography at The New Yorker (now at National Geographic) met Rattman when he took her photojournalism class.
“His style is influenced by the classics,” including Diane Arbus as well as Fink, says Johnson. “But don't get me wrong, his vision is uniquely his own. He's a rising star, and one whom I hope I have the honor of working with for many decades to come.”
“I'm surprised at the reception my work has had,” says Rattman. “I really didn't expect this.”
—Edgar Allen Beem
Born: Memphis, Tennessee
Resides: Quincy, Massachusetts
Education: University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Exhibitions: Griffin Museum of Photography; Danforth Museum of Art; 808 Commonwealth Gallery
Awards: Photolucida Critical Mass, finalist; Review Santa Fe 100; Elisa and Bill Warner Discovery Award, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Best Advice: "Eugene Richards encouraged me to continue writing poetry as another form of creative expression. His encouragement of an area of my creative life that was tremendously important to me, but that I hadn't studied formally, helped me embrace my personal experiences as part of the texture of my photography."
Molly Lamb always loved being behind the camera, but didn't think she could make it a career. But as she studied for a biomedical engineering degree, she was introduced to a photojournalism professor; she would soon leave school to work as a staff photographer for the Valley News in Lebanon, New Hampshire. She freelanced, then returned to school to finish her undergraduate degree in American Studies. In 2007, she started teaching. Her interests shifted from photojournalism to fine art, so she got her MFA, graduating in 2014.
“I was trying to understand my own life by capturing the social issues I was seeing around me,” Lamb says. “Then, I began to focus on my own experiences.”
For her series “Ghost Stepping,” Lamb photographed objects she inherited from family members to create moody meditations on the fragility of memory. Although she received awards and praise for the series, Lamb credits her acceptance into Review Santa Fe in 2014 as the big break that cemented her career. “I got to apply everything I learned in graduate school right away,” she said of the event, which she attended two weeks after graduation. “It opened up so many possibilities.”
Lamb had two solo exhibitions in 2014. This year she plans to have further exhibitions, attend the Photolucida portfolio reviews, and search for a publisher for “Ghost Stepping.” She's also nourishing her professional relationships in the Boston area, which have provided her “support, encouragement and inspiration,” she says. “Being part of a rich and vibrant creative community has helped sustain me as an artist.”
Born: Hammond, Indiana
Resides: Chicago, Illinois
Education: Columbia College
Editorial clients: TIME, Runners World, Esquire, The FADER
Exhibitions: Front Room Gallery; Working Title; I Hate The Blues; Chaos/Control; Albert P. Weisman Award Exhibition; Pingyao International Photo Festival, China
Awards: Albert P. Weisman Award
Best Advice: "I would get hung up or depressed [when] I was just out of school and I had no idea what I was going to do. I would just sit around. [Daniel Shea] said, ‘You should be out taking photos, figuring out who you are. Keep working and pushing through everything, and you'll have some kind of clarity through that.’
Whether he's shooting for TIME amidst the intense heat inside an Indiana steel mill or documenting a day in the life of a young rapper, Ryan Lowry's intuition helps him find pictures. “I like being in the world and observing and reacting to how I personally feel in a situation,“ he says, “and then figuring out how to make that into an interesting photo.”
After graduating from Columbia College, Lowry landed an assignment for the Chicago Reader through a friend. His portrait of a punk musician led to a Reader cover assignment to photograph a group of Chicago rappers. Other rap music work followed, most consistently from The FADER. Lowry has a section of his website devoted to his rap photographs, because he believes it shows “my ability to be thrown into a situation and make something out of it.”
Lowry's first assignment for TIME came through a referral from Daniel Shea, whom Lowry once assisted, and who is among a group of photographers Lowry has “Internet crit groups with” and “will take time to be constructive.”
To drum up assignments, Lowry emails clients, often with an edit of photographs he thinks will appeal to their interests. He says working in Chicago's less-saturated market has benefitted his nascent career, and he also isn't shy about telling clients he has a car and is happy to drive for assignments. But more and more, people call him because they feel he's right for a job, not because of his location. Lowry feels that “getting more assignments that fit me better personally” is the next step in his career.
Born: Tbilisi, Georgia
Resides: Tbilisi and Kiev, Ukraine
Education: Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Yuri Mechitov Photography Art School
Exhibitions: Galerie Kontrast; Contemporary Art Space; Sky Gallery
Awards: Open Society Distribution Grant for Central Asia/South Caucasus; Special Prize and Special Author Prize, Kolga Tbilisi Photo
Best Advice: "I read somewhere Abbas' words, ‘Get a good pair of walking shoes and fall in love.’ That's why I'm always in love."
Dina Oganova photographs under the pseudonym Dikarka, which means “wild girl” in Russian. Her wild love affair with the people of Georgia and her adopted home in Ukraine has manifested itself in three ongoing projects that portray the worn social fabric of these former Soviet republics.
Oganova began her “I Am Georgia” series as a student; It was a mature body of work by the time she submitted it for the Open Society Foundation grant she won in 2012.
The grant opened the door to exhibitions, publication in photo magazines and on The New Yorker's Photo Booth blog, and led to invitations to workshops with Yuri Kozyrev, Thomas Dworzak and Andrei Polikanov. She was also accepted into the Joop Swart Masterclass. Dworzak says Oganova captures the hopes, regrets and dreams of her post-Soviet generation “in a remarkably gentle, tender, close way. The little dummy of portraits, pictures and writings she put together during our workshop is one of the most honest and poetic things coming out of this part of the world I know.”
But Oganova is wary of influence; she believes photography cannot be taught. “If you have some ‘magic’ inside which wants to come out in your photos, you are a lucky guy,” says Oganova. “If not, you can study in the best photography institute, you can perfect technical skills, but you will never be ‘real.’”
She is open to whatever comes next. “We all live in one big world called the Internet,” she says. “There are no borders, so now it's easier to promote your work. You put photos on Facebook, some magazine will publish your work or you do an exhibition. The next day you don't know who will write you an email. It's all up to you which door you prefer to open.”
—Edgar Allen Beem
Born: Tourcoing, France
Resides: Lille, France
Education: School of Applied Art of Vevey, Switzerland
Clients: Le Monde, M: Le Magazine du Monde, Causette
Exhibitions: Angkor Photo Festival, Cambodia; Seoul Lunar Photo Fest, South Korea; Guernsey Photography Festival, Guernsey; Encontros da Imagen, Braga, Portugal
Awards: Getty Images Emerging Talent Award; LensCulture Emerging Talent Award; Bourse du talent #57; Photolucida Critical Mass Top 50
Biggest Challenge: "Keep the faith in what you are doing. So many times you are by yourself when making your images. You can discuss things with others, but you will always be by yourself when you are actually doing it."
Antoine Bruy first discovered his passion for travel as a teen, on a trip to Brazil that he calls a “revelation.” Many journeys later, he's turned his wanderlust into a portfolio of award-winning projects. Bruy was traveling through Australia after high school when he was introduced to the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) movement. While working as a WWOOFer in Europe, he met families and individuals who chose to live off the grid. His interest in their relationships to their environment and the dwellings they had crafted inspired Bruy's most widely seen project, “Scrublands.” Shooting mostly with medium-format cameras, he portrays individuals as the masters of their own lives, removed from civilization.
In an age where digital and social-media promotion are ubiquitous, Bruy has taken a more traditional approach, submitting his work to festivals, photo competitions and juried exhibitions. In the past year, his photographs have been exhibited in group shows around the world. He has also participated in portfolio reviews, which he values for the opportunities they provide to meet colleagues and curators.
Bruy is currently working on multiple long-term projects at once, while also shooting editorial assignments. In 2015, Bruy plans to continue adding to “Scrublands” by traveling in the U.S., and eventually hopes to turn the project into a book. “So far, I'm quite happy with what's happened. 2014 was a very intense year for me.”
Born: Thousand Oaks, California
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Rochester Institute of Technology
Clients: Sony Records, Nike, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, ESPN The Magazine
Exhibitions: Public Assembly; Clic Gallery; Humble Arts Foundation Group Show
Biggest challenge: "I'm always constantly looking for validation, like, ‘Am I good enough?’ There's always that bit of self-doubt, which I think is necessary to push you a little harder, and light that fire under your ass. It can be really self-defeating, at the same time. You need just the perfect amount, the pinch of self-doubt."
Christaan Felber studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, but was so burnt out from the intense curriculum that after graduation, he needed a breather. He stopped shooting “to experience life a little bit.”
After a spell playing drums and bass guitar in rock bands and making street art, he scored a job at the agency Art Department. But as he retouched other photographers' work and managed their pages on Art Department's website, he thought about how many hours he had invested in the craft, and decided to make use of it.
One day, during his commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, a building plastered with boxing fight posters drew his attention. He followed them to a family-owned gym called Zaragoza's, and spent the next two years photographing fighters and trainers. His photos, which captured moments of frailty and quiet introspection between the spurts of violence in the ring, were featured on The New Yorker's Photo Booth blog. When they were later published in a book, Boxeo Clasico, Joyce Carol Oates wrote the foreword.
In his short career, Felber has mostly stuck to using ambient or available light sources, often to dramatic effect. A recent series of portraits of his neighbors in Brooklyn is shot exclusively at night, under the lights of the local bodegas. But he's begun to find inspiration in tastefully lit portraits from the likes of Stefan Ruiz and Ryan Pfluger, and plans to expand his repertoire. He hopes to establish a consistent esthetic across editorial, commercial and personal work.
“When everything is on the same level, and you can't tell the difference, you're gold,” he says.
—Matthew Ismael Ruiz
Born: Hayward, California
Lives: Brooklyn, New York
Education: International Center of Photography
Clients: Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harper's, The Atlantic, Esquire, The Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Marc Jacobs, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Award: Pictures of the Year International
Key Lesson: "When making images, be hyper-present, focus on the visuals and thoroughly report and gather as much content as possible in real-time. Then, craft the thoughtful and fresh narrative at a time when you can honestly and articulately author the work."
The past year has been a period of growth for Philip Montgomery. After shooting assignments for clients such as The Wall Street Journal, he says, “In January of 2014, an assignment came along that completely changed the direction of my work and allowed me to tap into my voice as a photographer.” For The Atlantic, he explored the controversial “Stop and Frisk” policing technique. For the first time, he says, he was given full creative freedom, and the opportunity “lit a fire and passion inside me that I hadn't felt before.”
The Atlantic’s art director, Darhil Crooks, contacted Montgomery after seeing his work for WSJ after Hurricane Sandy. He calls Montgomery's work “really raw and honest. You get a sense of a personal connection between him and the people he's photographing. Like he is right there in the moment, and it comes through in his photography.”
Last year, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Diana Suryakusuma sent Montgomery to cover protests in Ferguson, Missouri. “Rather than focusing solely on the violence,” she says, “he shone a light on the human effect and offered hope for a community eager to heal from this incident.”
Montgomery says promoting his work to clients used to make him uncomfortable until friend and fellow photographer Bryan Derballa said to him, “If you, the freelance photographer, don't promote your work, who will?” Even now, Montgomery says, “Sometimes, I'm still anticipating I'll wake up from this wild dream state to find myself back in my hometown coffee shop sweating over an espresso machine. It's a true privilege to be taking pictures for a living.”
Born: Washington, D.C.
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Oberlin College, International Center for Photography, School of Visual Arts
Clients: Mary Douglas Drysdale Interior Design, Star Chefs, Kantara Crafts, Bright Ideas, German GEO, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Urban Omnibus
Awards: Magenta Foundation Flash Forward; Alice-Beck Odette Scholarship
Best Advice: "I've had big grants and awards that have been majorly helpful for me. Teachers will always say, ‘At least look at who the panel of judges are. If you want those people to see your work, it's worth it to submit even if you don't win because then they're going to see your work, and you never know what might happen from that.’"
Anna Beeke was a student looking for a photo project when she decided to explore the San Juan Islands in Washington, after her parents mentioned she'd been conceived there. “The images that resonated the most with me were in the forest,” she says. She began photographing woodlands around the country. Aware of the importance of forests in myth, Beeke felt her artistic exploration followed the arc of a journey into the unknown, “and then eventually you come out of the forest and you have this better sense of yourself, or sense of the world.” Shelving her strict documentary education, Beeke included herself in the photos, encouraged by photographer Elinor Carucci, one of her teachers at the International Center of Photography.
To fund the “Sylvania” series, Beeke applied for a small grant from Daylight Books. She didn't win the grant, but Daylight decided to publish a book of the work anyway. The Kickstarter campaign Beeke launched last fall to fund the book's production raised more than $29,000, boosted by a feature on The New York Times Lens blog.
Beeke says applying for grants, scholarships and juried exhibitions has helped fund “Sylvania,” and her new project on the culture aboard cruise ships. The rest of her funding “comes from my own shallow pockets.” Beeke shoots weddings, takes commercial assignments and works part-time in a restaurant. “[I] am forever broke, because all of my spare money goes into shooting trips or gear.”
Born: Mobile, Alabama
Resides: Bellevue, Washington
Education: Memphis College of Art, University of Iowa
Clients: Adweek, Esquire, Fast Company, Lucky Peach, Scientific American; TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Dollar Shave Club, Mitsubishi Electronics, Brooks Running Shoes, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Exhibitions: Humble Arts Foundation; Acid Rain Production; Center for Fine Art Photography
Awards: Addy Award; Magenta Foundation Flash Forward; Emerging Photographer, honorable mention
Key Lesson: "There is no substitute for good field work; get out there and get dirty."
Michael Clinard's colorful, often quirky commercial and editorial photographs are rooted in his education in conceptual art. After receiving his MA from the University of Iowa, Clinard needed a break from “art,” as defined by academia. He moved to Seattle and began assisting commercial photographers “as a form of apprenticeship,” earning “a mini-Ph.D in commercial photography,” he says, adding, “I had a blast.”
Drawing on contacts he made while assisting, Clinard pursued editorial and commercial photography as media through which to make art. “I'm a commercial photographer, an editorial photographer, but I feel like I'm making little master works,” he says. That's most evident in his personal projects, in which he's explored subjects like fatherhood and personal identity with wit and heart.
Early on, Clinard showed the work he wanted to make to editors who might let him do it. A breakthrough came with Mental Floss magazine. Editor Winslow Taft needed an illustration for an article, and Clinard sketched concepts. Since then, “drawing has become an integral part of my process,” he says. The sketches show his clients “exactly what they are going to get,” and he offers only things he knows he can deliver.
Clinard's skill at negotiating and his willingness to put himself out there has also served him well. He's unafraid to engage a PR rep in an argument about ethics if it will help him get his shot. “One must be fearless at times,” he says. He also values face-to-face critiques of his portfolio. “I know immediately where I stand with that [client]. It can be a very powerful tool for a photographer developing a distinct style or point of view.”
Born: Dallas, Texas
Resides: Venice, California
Education: California College of the Arts
Clients: Adidas, The North Face, Coldsmoke Apparel, Google, OTZShoes
Exhibition: Merchant Modern
Biggest Challenge: "To keep growing and evolving with the changing subject matter that inspires me. "
With an eye for gorgeous light, unscripted moments and a full range of human emotions, Pascal Shirley has honed an authentic style that stands out against the forced exuberance of so much commercial lifestyle photography. “I never force anything. Images should come naturally, even if they require some set-up time,” says Shirley, whose subjects are primarily youthful, adventurous friends he takes on road trips in California's backcountry.
Shirley earned an MFA at the California College of the Arts, and says his education shaped his work in important ways. “Having people critique your work over and over is one of the best things you can do for yourself as an artist,” he says, adding that the dialogue “is crucial in developing your photographic vocabulary.” Among his professors was the late Larry Sultan, who challenged him to photograph the ordinary. “He would always remind me that you don't need to look far to take great pictures, they are usually right in front of you.”
For more practical and technical training after graduation, Shirley moved to Los Angeles, where he assisted a variety of fashion, beauty and advertising photographers. Shirley says New York-based photographer Patric Shaw was “a great mentor.” “He taught me that the energy you bring to a shoot dictates what you get back. If you are lighthearted, friendly, passionate and genuine, then great images are created.”
Shirley briefly tried fashion photography, but “it didn't really click with me,” he says. So he focused on shooting personal work of friends. “We took trips, and I documented [them].” He put the images on social media, and commercial clients noticed. “Surround yourself with people that inspire you,” Shirley says. “You will get by with a little help from your friends.”
Born: Stockholm, Sweden
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Education: International Center of Photography
Clients: The New York Times, The FADER, The New Yorker, TIME, Budweiser, Converse, Nike
Key lesson: "Be a part of as many communities as possible. In photography, a lot of people hang out with the same people. That's not the best way to be a journalist. Having a broad network of people helps you evolve more as a person, helps you think about stories in a new way."
Malin Fezehai has worked on projects about displacement and dislocation in Ethiopia, Haiti, Kiribati and Israel. Along the way, she's funded her travels by pitching editorial clients stories she's researched, from a travel feature on Ethiopia's Danakil desert to an essay on an Ethiopian wedding in Israel. “If you are breaking into the business you have to come in with some fresh angle, because it's a very saturated market,” Fezehai says. “A photographer has to be more of a journalist.”
Having the confidence to approach editors took time, however. After studying at the International Center of Photography, Fezehai traveled, then spent two years working in photographers' studios and at Print Space, a New York City print lab. Then she took a break from photography. About three years ago, “something snapped,” she says, and she convinced herself to go out and ask people for work. “Before that, I was holding myself back,” she says. Fezehai looked for photo editors whose work she admired, such as Phil Bicker at The FADER, and wrote them personalized emails. Pitching her ideas to writers she had met in her travels—who then pitched editors—helped her win assignments.
Fezehai, whose father is Eritrean, had heard about asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who have been required under Israeli law to report to a detention center. She pitched the idea to Bicker, now at TIME. Published on TIME Lightbox, “A Kind of Purgatory” earned international attention for an under-reported story on an immigration battle, and brought Fezehai's work to a large audience.
Sharing images on Instagram has also helped her credibility, “because you can only show so much in a 30-minute meeting.” A meeting with an art producer at Anomaly, a friend-of-a-friend, led to increasingly large ad gigs—all shot in her documentary style. The commercial fees in turn fund her travels for documentary work.
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Born: Flemington, New Jersey
Resides: Los Angeles, California
Education: Dartmouth College
Clients: The New York Times Magazine, TIME, GQ, Monocle, Outside
Key Lesson: "The composition and all of those nuts and bolts of what makes a picture comes pretty easily to me. What really makes work meaningful and important is [the] emotional side and the concept. It's taken me longer to figure that out."
Peter Bohler's first editorial assignment was a big one: Kathy Ryan of The New York Times Magazine hired him to shoot a story he had found and pitched to her. Bohler had learned about the “Polish Woodstock,” which takes place in a muddy field near the Polish town of Kostrzyn nad Odra, just weeks before.
At the time, he says, “I was really motivated to shoot a ton of work like that and remake my book.” He had assisted dozens of photographers, but was afraid it would become a permanent gig. To show clients the kind of stories he wanted to shoot, he spent a summer shooting and researching stories. He didn't know Ryan, but he decided to email her with the idea. While figuring out how to pay for the trip, he sold one of his stock images through Corbis. “That paid for my plane ticket, so I was like, ‘Okay, I'm doing this.'” He was about to board the plane when Ryan contacted him. “It was funny because it was by far the biggest moment in my career, my first real, true commission,” he says. “I wanted to call my mom and I didn't have time.”
The story, published in 2011, won a gold medal from the Society of Publication Designers. He pitched other stories on gatherings of subcultures, leading to more assignments for The New York Times Magazine and other publications: documenting deer hunters, pilgrims to Lourdes and veterans participating in mixed martial arts, among other topics.
Bohler still shoots personal work. “I really love going into situations and just immersing myself in them. I'm still trying to figure out how to keep that sustainable over a longer period of time.”
Born: Spring, Texas
Resides: Brooklyn, New York
Education: New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, School of Visual Arts
Clients: M&C Saatchi, Merge Records, Condé Nast Traveler, Brooklyn Magazine, The L Magazine
Exhibitions: Center for Photography at Woodstock; College of William & Mary; Photo Ireland Festival, Dublin, Ireland.
Awards: Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer's Fellowship; SVA Alumni Grant; NYU Tobias Award
Key Lesson: "Be curious about other people's stories. Treating them like friends has definitely helped me with shooting and approaching photo editors and people at big events."
Sara Macel's work occupies a niche at the intersection of photography, storytelling and memory. Her breakout success with “May the Road Rise to Meet You,” about her father's work as a salesman, firmly established her style of “using photography to explore memory and how stories can change over time.” The series emerged from a larger project, her ongoing series “Rodeo Texas,” in which she explores “where I came from and the clichés of Texas, mixed with identifying as a Texan.”
For her thesis at New York University, she gathered stories about people's most memorable intimate encounters and then photographed each location. The project, “Kiss & Tell” was her first attempt to recreate memories in her photos.
After graduation, Macel spent two years as Bruce Davidson's studio manager before returning to Texas. When she moved back to New York to work as a producer for the agency Art Department, she continued the “Rodeo Texas” series on vacations to Texas, but with no end date in mind. Seeking more structure, Macel enrolled in the School of Visual Arts' MFA program. “Grad school completely changed my life,” she says. “It was there that I realized all the traveling around was really inspired by my dad's story, and why not just tell that first?”
Macel is now teaching and freelancing for editorial and media clients. Last year, she scored her first ad job for M&C Saatchi client Societe Generale, a "complete dream job," she says, documenting the international bank in her own style.
Her biggest challenge now is managing her time as she balances teaching and creating. "That kind of juggling, when it's all to benefit my career, is such a joy," she says. "It's nice to work hard when it's for yourself."
Born: Burnley, England
Resides: London, England
Education: Arts University Bournemouth
Clients: British Vogue, Esquire, Vanity Fair France, Mr Porter, M: Le Magazine du Monde, The Travel Almanac, Monocle, Telegraph Magazine, FT Weekend, Harrods, The Independent, Philips, Samsung
Awards: Magenta Foundation Flash Forward; Portrait Salon
Key lesson: "Don't be a jerk. At the end of the day, it's a really nice job to do. You're not doing brain surgery or anything like that. You're going to take photographs. If you can go out and just have a nice day, and the people that you're working with can as well, that's really important."
In a profession brimming with technological gadgetry, Benjamin McMahon opts for a spare, old-fashioned approach to creating honest portraits. “I try to keep things quite simple and always have,” he says. He likes to shoot film with a Linhof Technika 4x5 or a medium-format camera, often working with available light.
His success has come from old-fashioned persistence. After earning a degree in commercial photography in 2007, McMahon made it a habit to keep in touch with photo editors, by sending pictures out whenever he shot something he thought a given editor might enjoy.
McMahon got his first big break after he sent a photo editor at Vogue a portrait from his personal series on photo assistants, accompanied by a note that simply said, “I thought you might like this.” Landing the assignment was, says McMahon, “sort of how you imagine it should work but it never really seems to, so it was nice that it did for once.”
McMahon's curiosity has led him to shoot landscapes and travel pieces. Demonstrating that breadth has brought him adventurous assignments like shooting sea cucumber farmers in Madagascar and landscapes in Iceland.
"Hopefully," says McMahon, “it just sort of continues that way and it gets bigger and the work gets better and I get pushed to make more interesting work and do more interesting projects and go to places I haven't been and meet people I haven't met and just make better pictures out of it all.”
Born: Daegu, South Korea
Resides: New York City
Education: Hangdong Global University, International Center of Photography
Clients: The New York Times, Newsday, Corbis Image, Megabox Inc., KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency)
Awards: Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund Grant; International Center of Photography Rita K. Hillman Award
Key Lesson: "I've always kept in touch with my subjects. It's all about trust. I'd be very suspicious and frustrated if a photographer photographs and never contacts [me]."
Yeong-Ung Yang has attracted a lot of attention with his ongoing documentation of the bus-kkun—Korean and Chinese immigrants who ride buses daily from Flushing, New York, to the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in order to make money selling the complementary gambling vouchers the casino provides. His sympathetic photographs have shed light on this sad subculture and earned him a growing reputation as a photojournalist.
“My goal,” Yang says, “was to go beyond the social assumptions and shallow media coverage of the marginalized Asians.”
Yang majored in film in college in South Korea, and started his career as a videographer covering the war in Iraq while serving in the Korean army. He credits Magnum Photos workshops in South Korea with propelling him towards still photography. From 2010–2012, he worked as a reporter and photographer on the New York-based Korea Daily. It was then that he was introduced to the bus-kkun.
After a year studying at the International Center of Photography, Yang was admitted to the Eddie Adams Workshop and received a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund Grant to continue the bus-kkun project.
“They encouraged me to expand the project by using all possible platforms,” says Yang, who shot video and recorded interviews with the commuters.
His exploration of Asian-American culture has grown to include nail salon workers, bar hostesses, and elderly and homeless immigrants. The sense of alienation and loneliness he captures echoes the paintings of Edward Hopper, whom he credits as one of his influences.
“Yeong's photographs are both compassionate and daring,” says documentary photographer Paula Allen, who taught Yang at ICP. “His love for photography, along with his unique story ideas, thoughtfulness and humility, make it all the more exciting to see what he will create in the future.”
—Edgar Allen Beem