Reading the profiles of this year’s PDN’s 30, you’ll notice a majority of them have followed a more traditional educational trajectory, studying photography at a university level and/or assisting before they set out on their own. Christopher Patey, Winnie Au, Keirnan Monaghan and Anand Varma are among those who built their knowledge, in part, through assisting.
Others followed non-traditional paths, turning to photography as a second career or, in David Urbanke’s case, as an ambitious high school kid. Ike Edeani, for instance, trained as an architect and graphic designer before teaching himself photography by shooting constantly, refining his work and sharing it on social media. And Juan Herrero studied economics prior to diving headlong into his pursuit of photojournalism.
Regardless of the type of education each of these photographers pursued, nearly all of them learned or received encouragement from other photographers or photo industry professionals, and those interactions often proved pivotal. Christopher Nunn, for instance, gained confidence in his work from a program that introduced him to a mentor, and to peers who gave him important feedback. Stephanie Gonot learned the business of photography by working as a rep. Edeani says colleagues at a workshop helped give him the confidence to pursue photography full-time. And assisting several photographers helped Frances F. Denny identify a career path that combines fine-art and commercial work.
We view this yearly issue as a celebration of emerging talent, but it’s also a reflection of the photography industry. These photographers’ stories not only highlight their willingness to learn the business and what it means to be professionals, they also demonstrate the impact experienced photographers—those willing to teach, to encourage and to make connections for others—can have in helping to define what professionalism will mean to new generations of photographers.
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 2016 PDN’s 30 photographers are featured in PDN’s April 2016 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.
All rights reserved. All images © the photographers.
Born:New York City
CLIENTS:Time Magazine, MSNBC, The New York Times, California Sunday Magazine, Le Monde M Magazine, Newsweek, The Fader
Awards:IWMF African Great Lakes Fellow; Getty Images Emerging Talent
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “I didn’t know how to make the leap between covering daily news in New York and going to cover a big national or international story. That leap seemed impossible. And there was also an issue of confidence—like I’m not good enough. But I hit a point where I just wanted it bad enough and realized I couldn’t wait for some miracle assignment to put me where I wanted to be. If I wanted to get paid to do this kind of work, I needed to just do it [on my own] and hope the assignments followed.”
Photojournalist Natalie Keyssar is interested in stories of social inequality and unrest. But she realized after her first trip to cover anti-government clashes in Venezuela that images of protest “told only a fraction of the story” and lacked impact because images of violence are ubiquitous.
Keyssar found her voice by taking a different approach. “I’m thinking a lot about symbols” and visual language that’s “more conceptual and emotive,” she says.
“I’m asking questions like, What does inequality look like? What does injustice look like? How can I use my pictures to give context [and] make you question what you think you know about these situations?”
While continuing her work in Venezuela, she began examining the social unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. “I wanted to look at faces. I wanted to communicate the awe and knot in my stomach when I saw a National Guard base set up in a Target parking lot. I want to talk to the activists, and Mike Brown’s neighbors, quietly, and slowly, away from the [chaos].”
Keyssar made diptychs to bring high relief to the contrasts and contradictions in both Venezuela and Ferguson. She credits MSNBC photo editor Elissa Curtis with encouraging her to experiment to find her style. “I was starting to shoot verticals and toy with the idea of diptychs, as a way I think to quite literally reframe the way I was looking at these two situations.”
Keyssar says her esthetic is also influenced by her undergraduate studies in painting and illustration. “I was really into ukiyo-e printmakers when I was in art school and I think that idea of finding formal, graphic, simplicity amid complexity and chaos still sticks with me. I also really love social realist painting and think a lot about magical realism literature when I’m working in Venezuela.”
CLIENTS:CNN, The Guardian, Toyota
Exhibitions: Hors Format Gallery, Brussels; Contretype, Brussels
Awards: POPCAP’14; WBI Grant; Smartbe; Bij
KEY LESSON: “Finding the right people has worked more than sending work around to contests and awards. Showing up and talking to people, revealing more about yourself and building long-standing relationships has not only been the best ‘promotion,’ but it’s brought me the most rewarding moments and significant encounters.”
Born in Belgium to a Congolese father and Belgian mother, Léonard Pongo grew up yearning to connect with his African roots. During his last year of university, Pongo traveled through Eastern Europe for a photography project, then decided to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011. At first he worked his NGO and media contacts but realized that what set him apart from the many foreign photographers in Kinshasa was his family. Soon, instead of rushing off to the next political rally, he was shooting everyday Congolese, going about their lives.
“It was a struggle, because I didn’t grow up in Kinshasa, so it was a world I wanted to fit into, but didn’t know all that well,” Pongo admits. “I was used to Congolese food and people and humor, but being in Kinshasa was a very different thing”
“The Uncanny,” his photographic series from the DRC, seethes with a furious power and raw energy. Pongo works exclusively in black-and-white but his palette seems richer for the texture and depth in every image.
The photos are intimate, but Pongo doesn’t try to show the “real Congo.” Instead the viewer is, like the artist, an outsider on the inside.
“This way of photographing made it clear that I was in a conflict with my environment and I started using that as part of my approach. This conflict creates the confrontation from which the images emerge,” Pongo says.
Photographer Maggie Steber first encountered Pongo’s work in the 2012 Luceo Student Awards and she remains impressed by his vision. “He leaves no stone unturned, he works hard, he has ideas—key in this world—and he is unafraid. He doesn’t worry about what people might think of his personal work, he just does it and that’s as it should be,” Steber says.
When “The Uncanny” won the POPCAP ‘14 prize it pushed his work into festivals around the world. Pongo traveled to Malaysia to participate in the Obscura Festival. It was his first time teaching college students, a “stunning” experience that he hopes to build on. He continues to work on the series with an eye towards a possible book, as well as pursuing new projects in Southeast Asia. His aim is to be always shooting, editing and printing, constantly experimenting with new techniques and approaches to the medium.
Resides: Amsterdam and New York City
Education:University of British Colombia, Vancouver; School of Visual Arts
CLIENTS: Mercedes-Benz, Montblanc, smart car, The Guardian Travel, The Calvert Journal, Universal Music Group
Exhibitions: Modern Nature Gallery, Los Angeles; Sto Werkstatt, London; Andrew Krepps Gallery, New York City; David Weinberg Gallery, Chicago; Salone del Mobile, Milan
Awards:New York Photo Awards Student Winner; The Horticultural Society of New York—Staff Pick Winner
KEY LESSON: “The most useful advice I got was to leave New York and go [live in] the places you’re interested in.”
Ryan Koopmans took his first photos as part of his application to architecture school and he fell in love with the medium. He gave up architecture, and spent time documenting poverty in Vancouver instead. He moved to New York to study photography, and because his student visa didn’t allow him to work, he took any unpaid photo job he could: shooting concerts, events and fashion. In school, his interest turned back to architecture, and to documenting the world’s megacities, supporting himself with assignments that applied what he had learned shooting a wide variety of work.
After he graduated, Koopmans traveled to Sochi for the winter Olympics, then to Kiev, just as clashes broke out in Maidan Square. He supported himself with freelance editorial assignments while also shooting architecture for himself. From the journalists who gathered in bars at the end of each day, Koopmans learned how to maneuver in stressful situations where he needed to hire translators and drivers, and how to ask for access, a skill he’s applied whenever he needs to get onto roofs and balconies in order to document urban sprawl in China, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Iraqi Kurdistan as part of his ongoing personal project.
In 2014, he landed his first big commercial assignment: a global travel series for Mercedes-Benz. In his personal work, he’s interested in photographing Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Ideally, there would be no line between his paying and his personal work. “When you’re doing too much of one you always want more of the other.”
Born: Broomall, PA
Education:Fashion Institute of Technology
CLIENTS:The New York Times Magazine, Vice, Vanity Fair, Business Week, Barney’s, Samsung
Exhibitions:Photoville Festival, Brooklyn, NY; Steinsland Berliner, Stockholm; The Standard Hotel, Los Angeles; Bat Haus, Brooklyn, NY; Signal, Brooklyn, NY
Awards:VSCO Artist Initiative Grant
KEY LESSon:“Trusting your vision is the most important thing you can do as a photographer. So many times, people have told me I couldn’t do things, but I stuck to my vision, as delusional as it might have seemed at the time.”
In her photography career, Amy Lombard has attended a hermit crab beauty pageant, been invited to make a dildo, and lived in a legal brothel for a week. “People always wonder how I deal with such weird situations,” she says. The answer? “I go in with an open mind, and I’m not fazed by anything. I just document what I see non-judgmentally.”
That ability has made her the go-to photographer for edgy, racy assignments, where her use of bright flash picks up every lurid detail. She has photographed “Bronies” (adults who like to dress up as characters from My Little Pony) as well as women college students protesting campus rape, both for New York magazine. She has been to dog proms, witch festivals and—perhaps most terrifyingly—a Brady Bunch fan convention.
Lombard was initially told by teachers and friends that her style was not right for editorial or fashion photography—advice she decided to prove wrong. It helped when, as a photography intern at Life.com, she found offbeat stories in the archives, like the one about a seeing-eye cat. “I loved seeing what went under the radar,” she says. “It showed me what was possible.”
Having her work featured on FlakPhoto and Feature Shoot led to her first big breaks. Emily Shornick, then a photo editor at New York, hired Lombard to photograph female football fans for The Cut. An early assignment with Vice writer Mitchell Sunderland led to frequent collaborations: the two have worked together on several stories, including profiles of Nick Jonas and Rachel Dolezal.
Lombard says she is driven by a need to understand people’s desires, and would like to emulate her idol, Cindy Sherman, by making “big cultural statements combined with humor.” Sherman is “pretty much the equivalent of my Beyoncé,” Lombard says. “You know, she can do no wrong.”
Born:Seoul, South Korea
Education: School of Visual Arts
CLIENTS:Shiseido, New York, The New York Times Magazine, DuJour
Exhibitions:Christopher Guye Galerie, Zurich; Hyères Festival, France; Foley Gallery, New York City; G/P Gallery, Tokyo
Awards:Magenta Flash Forward; Foam Talent
KEY LESSON: “Submit your work to festivals and magazines. Not every juror might like your work but one might really love it and that’s all it takes.”
As an art student, Ina Jang says, she had no particular plans to pursue gallery representation or commercial clients: “I wanted to focus on forming my visual language.” She still wakes up every morning eager to try out the ideas she has sketched, but now her dreamy images, often showing faces she obscures by placing objects in the frame, or by collaging pieces of film, have been exhibited internationally, and have also attracted clients who hire her to create unexpected views of beauty. “I think my work is in an intersection of fine art and also fashion and beauty. I don’t think of it as just following in one category,” she says.
Jang first gained exposure though her senior show at SVA, where her mentor, Jimmy Moffat, co-founder of Art + Commerce, helped her choose the images to show. Her work was well received by industry leaders, “and they wanted to see my portfolio.” Before she graduated from SVA’s masters in fashion photography program in 2012, she submitted work for Foam magazine’s annual emerging talent issue and to the Hyères photo festival; she was accepted in both. Gallery owner Christophe Guye saw Foam and decided to include her work in a group exhibition, an experience that taught Jang about sizing and editioning prints. She eventually signed with Guye and with Foley Gallery in New York City.
Creative directors at Shiseido saw her work in a show in Tokyo and asked her to shoot for their in-house magazine. “I was very lucky to meet people who were open to my ideas,” says Jang, who went on to shoot two cover stories for the magazine. “It’s important to listen to the clients’ needs and ideas, but it’s also important to listen to what you want as the image creator, because it will be under your name.”
She is always eager to get back to her own work. “Sometimes commercial work can be consuming when I’m trying to do my best and then I don’t have energy to work on my personal work.” She is currently working on a variety of ideas, incorporating drawing into her images and combining images of still-life elements. “At the end of the day, it only takes one person who needs to be satisfied and that person is me.”
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Education:Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana; London College of Communication, University of the Arts London
CLIENTS:National Geographic, Geo, The New York Times, The Sunday Times, Der Spiegel, WIRED UK, Nova KBM, Telekom Slovenije
Exhibitions:Rencontres d’Arles, France; Les Boreales, Caen, France.
Awards:PDN Photo Annual; Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award; National Geographic Award at Eddie Adams Workshop; Magnum 30 under 30; The Royal Photographic Society Environmental Bursary
KEY LESSon:“You don’t want to go somewhere and work on a story because you think it’ll sell. You have to work on things that you are crazy about. That’s powerful. Because when you spend five to six weeks on a story, you don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you just photograph.”
“I was always inspired by photographers who have worked on long-term projects for years,” says Ciril Jazbec, who has documented communities affected by climate change and other issues. “It’s not about the length of one trip,” he says. “I try to get very close to communities.” He first gets to know people, not taking photos. After funding a trip to Greenland with an environmental grant, he made two more trips with support from National Geographic. His photos became more intimate upon his return. “I brought a backpack of prints to give as gifts. People started to invite me to family parties and on trips.”
Jazbec took photo workshops while studying economics, then enrolled in photo school. For his senior project, he photographed residents in Kiribati, the South Pacific nation disappearing as oceans rise. He entered the series in competitions, and caught the eye of Ruth Eichhorn, director of photography (now editor at large) at German Geo. She sent Jazbec for a month to an island in northwest Alaska where villagers can no longer support themselves by hunting or fishing. The story helped Jazbec win the Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award, one of several honors that “opened a lot of doors,” and introduced him to National Geographic editors.
He funds projects through grants and advertising assignments. Last year, when waves of asylum seekers began passing through a Slovenian village an hour and a half from his home, he wanted a different way to cover the refugee crisis. He focused on the bewildered response of the villagers themselves, after spending time earning their trust. National Geographic published the images online.
“I believe to make good work, you have to enjoy it 100 percent,” he says. “In the last few years it’s been like I’m living a dream.”
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Born:New York City
Resides:New York City
Education:Rochester Institute of Technology
CLIENTS:Barneys New York, David Webb Jewelry, Vogue, T Magazine, Gather Journal, Departures, Bloomberg Business Week
Awards: SPD Gold Medal
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“My process is pretty laborious. Sometimes [clients] think that an image is something I got out and about and will be surprised it was made entirely in the studio. It is such an expensive process putting together sets and threading together the objects. The biggest trick is how to give somebody close to what they want on the budget they’re giving me.”
Keirnan Monaghan is blind in one eye. “It’s something I don’t think about much,” he says, but his rich, enigmatic still lifes reveal a mysterious flatness that sets his work apart. He studied photography in college, where he met Theo Vamvounakis, now his wife, a stylist with whom he often collaborates. After graduation, he moved to New York City and worked as an assistant, a digital tech and a lighting tech. He made his own work—“very stark studio portraits, honest, awkward, with a little bit of humor”—but kept the images mostly to himself. For close to 15 years, “I got caught up in the time warp of assisting,” he says.
That changed in 2013. On a shoot, Vamvounakis mentioned Monaghan’s work to Gather Journal creative director Michele Outland, who hired him to shoot a story that won a Society of Publication Designers award. “I used it to get my foot in the door to start meeting with people,” says Monaghan. Since then, he has sent out one printed promo, and the work has started to flow.
Monaghan hopes his pictures “open up a new door to what still life can do,” and bridge the gap between product-oriented images and more conceptual, illustrative still life. While Photoshop is part of his process, his unique palette comes from the props he works with—colorful or subdued marble, textiles and natural materials. “I’ve been interested in using color to create a more two-dimensional image,” he says. Hard-edged lighting also emphasizes flatness. More important than technique is understanding the best approach to each object. A recent shoot for Barneys’ web site featuring Manolo Blahnik sandals was loosely based on Fellini movies. “Maybe the marble is a swimming pool, it could be part late ‘60s, part current day, sort of a summer morning,” says Monaghan. “It’s not like we tried to make a film still, but there’s a story there. It’s a moment.”
Education:Scuola Romana di Fotografia
Lorenzo Meloni / Magnum
CLIENTS:Time, Le Figaro, Vanity Fair, Internazionale, L’Espresso, Le Nouvel Observateur, CNN
Exhibitions: FotoLeggendo, Rome; Boutographies, Montpellier, France; Bibliothèque Départementale ABD, Marseille, France; Umbria World Fest, Foligno, Italy; Lectorinfabula, Conversano, Italy
KEY LESSon: “Just focus on taking photographs and let everything else follow. Being a photographer is a lifestyle choice, so being prepared to make sacrifices is essential.”
“My advice to others,” Lorenzo Meloni says, “is the harder you work, the luckier you’ll be.”
Meloni’s work has focused on conflict in the Middle East. Suspecting that portrayals in the media were inaccurate, he wanted to see conflicts with his own eyes. “In the case of Libya,” he explains, “the country was suddenly thrust into the spotlight and massively over-covered during the 2011 uprising. But after Gaddafi died, most of the press vanished. Documenting the turbulence of post-conflict Libya is one of my major long-term projects.”
After photography school, Meloni joined the Italian agency Contrasto, where he worked with editor Giulia Tornari, a major influence. “The qualities I appreciate the most in Lorenzo are his curiosity and his ability to look for original stories,” Tornari says. “His images are all about the will to investigate reality and never give a predictable interpretation of the facts.”
Meloni’s first major assignment was in Syria in 2012 for Vanity Fair. It was also his first experience in a conflict zone. “I got the assignment because I was already in the region, working hard to build contacts and be as active as possible,” he recalls. Nominated to Magnum Photos in 2015, Meloni says working in the field with Jérôme Sessini and Moises Saman has shown him “the importance of patience when following a story, especially if you want to get really close to a subject.”
The biggest challenges he faces are gaining access in potentially volatile situations and learning to navigate risks while still getting key shots. For example, Meloni remembers, “In Yemen, I wanted to photograph the funeral of two men killed in clashes, but I was told I couldn’t enter the mosque because I was not Muslim.” After quietly reasoning with men barring his way, he was allowed to speak to a sheikh, who permitted him to photograph the funeral. “I didn’t want to aggravate a situation that was already sensitive and highly charged.”
Meloni says, “I have learned that you cannot work without humility. Ambition should be focused on the practical work, not on self-glorification.”
Education:European University of Madrid
CLIENTS:Monocle, Financial Times Weekend Magazine, Sunset, WSJ Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, San Francisco Magazine
Exhibitions:RayKo Photo Center, San Francisco; The Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO; San Francisco City Hall; APA Something Personal Exhibition, San Francisco; Newspace Center for Photography, Portland, OR; The Art of Photography Show, San Diego
AwARDS:AI-AP Latin American Fotografía 4; Artist-in-Residence, RayKo Photo Center, San Francisco; Descubrimientos PhotoEspaña, Madrid
KEY LESSon:“You want to be selective and knock on doors that you’re really interested in. You don’t want to knock on just any doors, just for the sake of working. It’s important to have a vision of where you want to work and what kind of work you want to be doing.”
“I’m always thinking about bodies of work,” says Carlos Chavarría. “One picture has to inform the other. It’s a complementary process.” The editorial assignments and personal projects he produces are filled with gestures, landscapes, and details that suggest subtle connections from frame to frame.
While a patient approach has been Chavarría’s strong suit, his career made a leap forward in 2010 when he won an award in PhotoEspaña festival’s Descubrimientos competition, and he relocated to San Francisco. There he assisted several photographers, then began approaching photo editors. “In the States, editorial work really gives me the opportunity to put my voice there and get involved in the same way I would if I were shooting personal work,” he explains.
Launching a career in a new country was challenging, but as an artist, he felt at home right away. “I’ve always been really attracted by the American esthetic,” he says. Inspired by the New American Color movement of the 1970s, Chavarría shoots mainly on medium-format film. It’s a longstanding choice made to bring depth and cohesiveness to his work.
“When you look back, you really want to see consistency in your work,” he says. “Patience and perseverance and trusting yourself and your vision is really important, and over the years you can see that in people’s work.” For Chavarría, perseverance means working every day. He keeps “sketchbooks,” combining old pictures with his own images. “It’s like a compilation of ideas, photographic notes, and inspiration,” he says. Over time, they lay the groundwork for his projects. “I do something in a sketchbook and find some things I really like,” he explains, “and then try to do them in a deeper, more elaborate way.”
Resides: Berkeley, CA
Education: University of California, Berkeley
CLIENTS: National Geographic, The New York Times
Exhibitions:Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkeley, CA
Awards:World Press Photo; Communication Arts; PDN Photo Annual
BEST ADVICE:“David Liittschwager shared the advice that was first given to him, which was go find a photographer whose work you admire and figure out a way to be useful to them. I would not be a photographer without my experience as a photographic assistant. I stress that to anybody who comes to me looking for advice.”
Anand Varma was a sophomore studying integrative biology at Berkeley when a professor approached him about a summer job with photographer David Liittschwager, who’d contacted the school looking for an assistant. Varma had started taking pictures in high school as a way to document what he saw on hiking adventures with friends, but he hadn’t thought of it as a career. Working with Liittschwager, he realized photography “is an opportunity to do what I was hoping to do as a scientist: I get to learn about the world, and I get to communicate that with a lot of people,” he explains.
A former assistant to Richard Avedon, Liittschwager brought the technique, lighting and visual language of advertising to conservation photography. “I tried to take that in a direction of my own, which is focusing on this question of, ‘What can photographs show you that no other medium can?’” Varma says. “I’m treating the camera as a scientific tool of investigation.” After assisting Liittschwager, Joel Sartore and other photographers, Varma won a National Geographic Young Explorer Grant, then landed his first assignment for the magazine photographing “Mindsuckers,” parasites that take over the brains of host organisms. He’s since done a story on bees for the magazine, and is currently working on a third story.
Todd James, senior photo editor at National Geographic, says Varma approaches his work like a scientist conducting an experiment, taking an idea for an image and executing it repeatedly, making adjustments and seeking feedback. “He would get to a level that was pretty good, and then he’d take it to a higher place; he’d keep refining it,” James says. Using equipment he builds himself, Varma brings precise, dramatic lighting to his stories, urging viewers to focus on the individual creatures. “I think we have empathy for those bees [in his photos] and we have curiosity for the art of the science that he’s portraying,” James says.
Varma is also looking for further opportunities to use camera technology to help researchers in their work. “[There are] lots of different ways that a camera can enhance our perceptual abilities,” he says. “That’s the world that I like working in.”
Frances F. Denny
Education:Rhode Island School of Design; International Center of Photography; The Gallatin School at New York University
CLIENTS:Cherry Bombe, M.M. LaFleur, Logic & Grace, A Women’s Thing, Catbird, Architectural Digest, Chipotle Mexican Grill
Exhibitions:ClampArt, New York City; Schneider Gallery, Chicago
Awards:LensCulture Emerging Talent; Magenta Foundation Flash Forward; Critical Mass Top 50
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“Using social media to promote my work. I am hesitant to post about winning awards or promoting my shows, it feels boring and self-congratulatory, and I always fear that people will think me a showboat—or worse, a humble-bragger.”
Juggling careers in fine-art, editorial and commercial photography, Frances F. Denny has focused on making work about the formation of female identity “and the various factors that impact that development,” she says. “The same themes and preoccupations still propel much of my work, but the style and technique do shift from series to series. For me, the way I shoot a project is always defined by the concepts behind it.”
Two years after completing her MFA, Denny has completed two bodies of award-winning work. “Let Virtue Be Your Guide,” a project she began as a graduate student at RISD, was recently published by Radius Books. Denny used available light, a medium-format camera and film, and a quiet, formal approach to examine the dynamics of her own family. In particular, she reflects and questions the changing roles of women within the family’s reserved, privileged and patriarchal traditions.
With her second project, titled “Pink Crush,” Denny turned her attentionto ‘90s pop culture to examine “the seemingly innocuous feminine signifiers of ‘girliness’ that have lasting effects”—from hair-dos to glitter to friendship bracelets and more. As with her first project, Denny’s style follows substance: She reflects and reinforces the girliness of her subject matter with her use of strobe lights and colored gels.
Denny’s intellectually disciplined work is informed by her studies in both liberal arts and fine arts. As an undergraduate, she concentrated on feminist theory and women’s studies. “I’m always thinking really carefully about how I represent anyone, but particularly women,” she says.
After graduating from NYU, she began studying photography seriously. She enrolled in ICP’s General Studies program, then assisted photographer Hannah Whitaker at W magazine. Denny says that by observing Whitaker at work, and several other photographers from a distance, she realized it was possible to balance commercial and fine art careers, so she pursued an MFA, graduating from RISD in 2014.
Education:Universidad Complutense de Madrid
CLIENTS:The New Yorker, Time, Der Spiegel, Red Bull, Geox, Emirates Airlines
Awards:Reuters-Pulitzer Center Hostile Environment Training grant; Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grant; Edward R. Murrow Award, Video News Series; Global Post/GroundTruth fellowship for young reporters; Eddie Adams Workshop
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“My father and other people close to me did not quite understand or believe in what I wanted to do with my life. I had no examples of creative people around me to follow, so stepping into the unknown was difficult. I overcame all of that because I believed in myself, as simple as that. I knew in my heart I could make it. As long as we believe in ourselves we can do anything. Anything.”
The definitive event of Juan Herrero’s photography career was a mistake. After earning a degree in economics, he traveled to Sanaa, Yemen, in a desperate bid to kick-start his dreams of being a photographer. He arrived as a neophyte, self-taught photojournalist with little more than a camera and “one or two online contacts.” While still getting his feet wet, Herrero sent a link to some photographs to a friend who, not realizing that it was not meant for public consumption, shared it on Twitter. Herrero was furious, until Human Rights Watch saw the photos and commissioned him for three more projects. He would end up working in Yemen for almost two years, a step off a path of “a predictable, non-stimulating life as an economist” and onto the proverbial road less traveled.
“I definitely recommend a change of air like that to any person pursuing photography seriously,” Herrero explains. “It doesn’t have to be a conflict zone or dangerous place, just somewhere you can find enough inspiration to change things inside you, and evolve in the desired direction.”
By the time he left Yemen in 2013, Herrero had a wealth of contacts in the industry and an invitation to the Eddie Adams Workshop. It was a turning point that impressed upon Herrero exactly how far he had come in such a short time. The workshop also boosted the young photographer’s profile, helping him attract assignments and grants.
Herrero’s portfolio is testament to his versatility as an artist and a professional. Whether photographing modernity and antiquity rubbing elbows in a Yemen poised on the brink of war, or unemployed millennials in Spain, or a progressive university in bustling Kigali, Herrero shows an ability to find the visual heart of his subjects.
Born:New York City
Education:Lehigh University; International Center of Photography
CLIENTS:The Wall Street Journal, Google, ESPN The Magazine, Time.com, Bon Appétit
Exhibitions:Brazilian Embassy, Berlin; Ricoh Ring Cube, Tokyo; Angkor Photography Festival, Siem Reap, Cambodia; Rita K. Hillman Education Gallery, New York City; Photoville, Brooklyn, NY; Laatikkomo, Jyvāskylä, Finland
Awards:Henry Margolis Foundation and Josephine Lyons Merit Scholarships; Getty Images Award; Eddie Adams Workshop; Latin American Fotografia Winner
GREATEST CHALLENGE:“Devising creative ways to make money to live and work in New York City. I used to work in the corporate world, so I know what it means to have and make money in New York and to live comfortably. But as photographers, we are never comfortable, we are always concerned that no one will ever call again, we worry all of the time about being broke and we are desperate to keep working no matter what.”
After years working in finance, Adrienne Grunwald made the first step in her career change thanks to a holiday bonus check. She spent the whole amount around the corner from her job, working in the darkroom of the International Center of Photography. Grunwald took a marketing position with the NBA, but kept plugging away in the darkroom at every opportunity. Despite her fears about giving up the financial security of the corporate world, she decided to apply to the ICP Documentary Photography Program.
“Once I started it was obvious that I wanted to be a photographer,” she remembers, “and then once you actually take that jump, maybe you are not making as much money as you used to, but opportunities come along, and things start to happen.”
After leaving ICP in 2010, Grunwald traveled to Brazil to begin a personal project about female professional soccer players. “Guerreiras,” as the project was called, turned out to be a catalyst for her professional career. Time and ESPN the Magazineboth featured the work, and Grunwald was invited to show “Guerreiras” at the Brazilian Embassy in Berlin during the 2011 Women’s World Cup.
“It was the first time that I was showing that work outside of the photo community and I was amazed to meet all of the incredible people, from all types of backgrounds and interests, who came to view the show,” Grunwald says.
Ever the hustler, she also landed an assignment to shoot the World Cup from the field for Getty Images. As a former Division 1 college athlete, Grunwald’s lifelong love of sports informs her unique approach to the subject. She shoots with a Hasselblad 500CM, a choice that encourages her to “slow down and look for the more quiet moments that occur on and off the field.”
Education: Bradford College
CLIENTS:The Telegraph, Financial Times, The Wire, CNN Photos, De Correspondent
Exhibitions:Saatchi Gallery, London; Neue Galerie im Höhmannhaus, Augsburg, Germany; Photobookshow F&G Book Show, Tokyo Institute of Photography
BEST ADVICE:“Photographers only show the best parts of their career and their achievements, and it’s all part of the self-promotion process. In reality, everyone struggles, most of us are broke, and most of us take more bad pictures than good pictures. It’s a constant struggle and learning process. Just keep going.”
Born and raised in England, Christopher Nunn was first drawn by family ties to photograph in the Ukraine. His grandmother was born in Kalush, a city at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains; she arrived in the United Kingdom as a displaced person in the aftermath of World War II. In 2013, when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Nunn decided to travel to Kalush to make portraits of the people he encountered there. “I didn’t want to make a story about my family history,” Nunn says. “I went to see how I’d respond to it.”
At the time, Nunn was just beginning his career as a professional photographer. After spending much of his young-adult life traveling and doing odd jobs, he was studying in Hang, a nine-month professional development course run by Redeye (The Photography Network) and Impressions Gallery in Bradford, England. He credits his acceptance into the program as his first big professional break. It gave him the support network he had been craving. “Without feedback, it’s hard to know if you’re going in the right direction.” It also put his work in front of editors at major publications, including the Financial Times, which began commissioning him to make portraits for its sport section.
Although the program lasted only nine months, Nunn continues to work with Anne McNeill, the director of Impressions Gallery, who has become his mentor. He travels to Ukraine frequently to add to his ongoing series documenting daily life. In 2015, he published a book of his Ukraine photographs, Holy Water, with Village Press. To fund his personal work, he takes commissions from news organizations.
Although Ukraine is a conflict zone—the Russian military invaded the eastern part of the country in 2014—Nunn is not what Josh Lustig, his editor at Financial Times, describes as a “bang bang” photographer. “He doesn’t chase headlines or stories—his approach is extremely considered and delicate.”
McNeill, who has watched Nunn’s work blossom since 2013, adds,“His photographs are the antidote to photojournalism; they are subtle and thoughtful and present a certain truth about living in a country undergoing change.”
“At the end of the day it all comes down to making work with integrity and honesty,” Nunn says. “If you believe in your own work and really care about the subjects you photograph, then there is a much bigger chance that other people will care too.”
Born:San Jose, CA
Resides:New York City
Education:California College of the Arts, Brooks Institute of Photography [left before graduation]
CLIENTS:Clinique, L’Oreal, Maybelline, New York, Opening Ceremony, Vfiles, Refinery29
Exhibitions:Red Bull Studios, New York City; Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Awards:California College of the Arts Creative Achievement Award
KEY LESSon:“There’s so much unsaid on-set etiquette in how you interact with people. I think it’s important to have positive energy. I pay attention to how people treat other people, and I think models do, too.”
“I think every great photographer is probably a hoarder,” says fashion and beauty photographer Christine Hahn. A collector of photo books, keeper of notebooks, and aficionada of bygone artistic movements, she draws upon an eclectic range of influences and a meticulous attention to color and design to create her images.
Hahn started photo school early, but had to leave early too when she ran out of funds. “I’m super thankful, because I think it just pushed me harder,” she says. She sought out mentors in the fashion photography world, interned, and honed her skills as a digital tech for e-commerce companies before getting promoted to work behind the camera.
She used the access to studio space at her job to fill her free time with portfolio-building shoots—and her outgoing personality to build a professional network. Soon she was getting work from clients who had heard good things about her or seen her work on Instagram, and also attracted an agent who now represents her. She is assiduous about pursuing editors she wants to work for via e-mail and phone.
On set, Hahn cultivates an atmosphere that supports the artistry of her collaborators.“Great models, I think, have vivid imaginations,” she says. “They’re performers.” She looks for charismatic personalities and idiosyncrasies in her models.
Hahn’s own personality is marked by artistic ambition. She says she wants to work with heftier budgets and bigger productions someday. “I want to create more environments and shoot in more unseen places.” Armed with both technical skills and artistic inspiration, she wants to pursue the interests that first led her to pick up a camera as a teenager. “Part of being a photographer,” she says, “is being a magician and really pushing your own imagination.”
Education:ECAM Institut Supérieur Industriel, le septandcinq
CLIENTS:Huffington Post, CNN, SmithsonianMagazine, Libération, Courrier international, GUP Magazine
Exhibitions:Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Seattle; Dakar Biennale of Contemporary Art, Dakar, Sénégal; Institut Français, Dakar; Institut des Cultures Islam, Paris; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain; 10ème Rencontres de la Photographie, Bamako, Mali
BEST ADVICE:“Start with yourself, who you are, your history, your background, your beliefs, your fears, your anger. It is the collision between all these elements and the world that will define your style and interest.”
“I think the biggest challenge as a photographer is to create an identity, a signature,” says Fabrice Monteiro. “Once you have identified your own style, things start to come more naturally.”
Over the past five years, Monteiro has been working steadily to refine his dynamic convergence of fashion and photojournalism. His work, made in Burundi, Benin and Sénégal, explores historical and contemporary sociopolitical issues on the African continent.
Monteiro learned photography and lighting while working as an international model and observing great fashion photographers in action. In 2007, while modeling, Monteiro met photographer Alfonse Pagano, who gave him access to his studio and equipment. Pagano also gave him a helpful piece of advice: “Technically, you have three tools in photography: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. The rest is about mixing them to create magic.”
He landed his first group shows in 2011, and signed with Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in 2014. “That kind of event is very important because it makes you believe in what you do,” he says. He also credits a rise in the popularity of African photography with contributing to the inclusion of his work in festivals, and in public and private collections. He says, “I believe I have one great luck, and it is to be working in Africa.”
He conceived his latest project, “The Prophecy,” showing models in elaborate costumes fashioned from found garbage, when he returned to Sénégal after living in Belgium and was shocked to discover how polluted the country had become. To raise awareness, Monteiro wrote a short story inspired by African animism, then shot the illustrations. By “mixing art and tradition,” he hopes to engage all demographics in the country in a conversation about how to protect the land. “Artists have to bring questions to the table,” says Monteiro.
Resides:New York City
Education:Osaka University of Arts; International Center of Photography
Exhibitions:Pictura Gallery, Bloomington, IN; LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph, Charlottesville, VA; United Photo Industries, Brooklyn, NY; foto/pods, Brooklyn, NY.
Awards:Grand Prix, Tokyo International Photography Competition; Photolucida Critical Mass Top 50; Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Award
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“Making new work is my biggest challenge. I spend a lot of time figuring out methods to convey a story intuitively. I try to break the rules of what I’ve done before.”
When Ayumi Tanaka left Japan for New York City in 2008, she was hoping to find a community of artists. In the process, she found something else: raw material for her evocative work.
“While I was adjusting to the lifestyle in a foreign country, a lot of emotions that I used to have as a kid came back to me,” Tanaka says. “I sometimes felt as if I was psychologically retracing my girlhood at that time.”
This nostalgia became the inspiration for her images. In two series, “Hide and Seek” and “Wish You Were Here,” Tanaka has found innovative ways to capture the oblique, haunting feelings her memories inspire. She makes her work with figures and objects cut out of family snapshots and found images, which she collages on sheets of transparent film. Next, Tanaka arranges the sheets in a diorama box to create a three-dimensional scene, lights it to produce shadows and depth, and photographs it in black and white.
The results—at once dreamy and jarring—have brought Tanaka art world attention. In 2011 she submitted work through an open call and was exhibited at the Dumbo Arts Festival. Her work was next chosen for a group show at New York’s 25 CPW Gallery, whose director recommended her for the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph.
“No one is making work that looks like Ayumi’s,” says Alison Zavos, editor of Feature Shoot, which gave Tanaka its first Emerging Photography Award. “Her process alone is incredibly unique.” Tanaka says persistence has contributed to her success. “I think it’s important to set short-term deadlines and goals,”she says. “You have to keep looking for opportunities that will be a fit for your work.”
Education:University of California, Davis
CLIENTS: Target, Adobe, Adidas, TOMS, Sagmeister & Walsh, WIRED, Fast Company, Bloomberg Businessweek, Refinery29, NYLON
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“Having enough self-confidence to do bigger [commercial] jobs….Every so often a job would come along that felt like it was something I hadn’t done before; I didn’t know how to put it together and kind of didn’t want to do it for that reason. But after a while I was just saying yes to everything and saying in my head, ‘I’ll figure this out as I go along. Or I’ll ask my friends how to do certain things.’”
“I love arranging things and seeing what things are going to look like when I put them together,” says Los Angeles-based still-life photographer Stephanie Gonot. “Whether it’s personal or commercial doesn’t really matter. I like the act of making things and bringing these things to life.”
Gonot learned the photography business as a rep working with Redeye under the tutelage of Maren Levinson. Though she had always made her own photos, “I wouldn’t have a photo career right now if it weren’t for being a rep,” Gonot says. “I got to see what you do as a professional photographer and how you get work, and that it was possible for me to do that.”
When Gonot met Levinson, she was working in an ice cream truck, curating little shows and making food images on the side. She saw Levinson speak at Art Center College of Design, connected, and got a job. She continued to build her skills on her own and in collaborations with set designer Adi Goodrich, who helped her gain “the confidence to move past the food on colored backdrop photos that I had been making.”
Gonot sent out her first promo of her food images in late 2012, and started getting work from clients such as Bloomberg Businessweek. Sarah Kissell, then art director for retailer Nasty Gal, hired Gonot for a shoot in 2013, and the pair collaborated on several more. “These small and frequent still life jobs were like a little photo school for me, and helped me build confidence in my art direction and styling skills,” Gonot says. Last year she decided she had enough work to focus on photography full-time, and she already had a rep—Redeye.
WIRED senior art director Allie Fisher praises Gonot’s ability to “take a concept and run with it,” adding “excitement” to still-life stories with her use of color, texture and creative lighting. “Stephanie always brings really amazing ideas to the table. She is just a great collaborator,” Fisher says.
Gonot’s priority this year is to keep getting bigger jobs that allow her to put together “great teams of people who I like working with” because they help her to continue to grow. She also has personal projects she wants to find time for. “I want to get bigger and go smaller,” she laughs.
Resides:New York City
Education:Brandeis University, University of Mainz, Germany, International Center of Photography, Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism Program
CLIENTS:The New York Times, Mother Jones, VICE, Makeshift Magazine, The Irish Times
Exhibitions:ICP Rita K. Hillman Education Gallery, New York City
Awards:Rangefinder Grand Prize Winner, Take Your Best Shot Portraiture Competition; IPA Awards, Honorable Mention, Video Category; ICP Rita K. Hillman Award for Excellence
BEST ADVICE:“If you’re working on a [documentary] project, hone in on one or two policy points that if they changed, they would change the [situation] for the better.“
When Jacobia Dahm was a kids’ portrait photographer in Berlin, she made a point of showing the messy parts of childhood, “taking a picture when your kid was crying,” because she knew it was an important part of the story. When she got serious about pursuing documentary stories, she moved to the U.S. and enrolled at ICP. There, her longstanding interest in social justice developed into a photographic project documenting the buses that transport visitors to upstate prisons from New York City. Riding again and again with the women and children who make the 24-hour trips, Dahm slowly gained the trust of the women. Though she was an outsider, they accepted her. “It helped that I was European, and was coming at this from a different angle,” she says. The project was featured on The New York Times’Lens blog and elsewhere.
Last summer, Syrian refugees were pouring into Europe, and Dahm set out to photograph them traveling through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans on their way to Germany and beyond. Embedding herself with families and small groups, she made intimate portraits that were featured in The Irish Times and will be used in a German ad campaign supporting immigration.
For Dahm, photography is a tool that allows her access to other worlds, but the privilege of connecting with strangers has a price. “I feel if I’m taking someone’s picture, I’m taking something from them,” she says. “I need to feel like I’m giving something back.”
Education: Kent State University
CLIENTS: Dwell, Maxim, The Atlantic, Monocle, The Fader, The New York Times, Google, Samsung
KEY LESSon:“I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of talented photographer buddies when I was figuring out [the business]. You see a guy’s work online and think: He’s killing it. Then you meet them and think: Oh, you’re still figuring it all out, too. That’s helpful to see because it teaches you to just suck it up and keep going.”
Trained as an architect, Ike Edeani became interested in photography while working as a graphic designer in San Francisco. The discipline still influences how he composes each frame, he says, but adds, “Storytelling has always been a huge part of who I am as an artist.”
Making pictures changed from a hobby to an obsession after he borrowed a friend’s 35mm film camera: “That first roll of film—I loved it. Something snapped in my head.” He bought one for himself, then more, including medium-format cameras. “I shot more and more,” he says, but rarely showed his work to anyone. Then he got an iPhone. “With film, you feel that each photo should be great. Posting on Instagram allowed me to take photos of anything I found interesting,” he says. A job as an art director for a fashion company gave him studio photography experience, but he wanted to do more. Unsure he could make it as a professional photographer, in 2012 he applied for and was accepted into PhootCamp, the weekend-long gathering of professionals. There, Gabriele Herman encouraged him to pursue his dream. He took a part-time job shooting catalogues to support himself while he worked on his portfolio and promotions. Soon after, Julia Sabot, then photo editor at Dwell, saw his Instagram feed and called him about an assignment to photograph a residence; Bloomberg Businessweek hired him to cover an event the same week. Further assignments shooting environmental portraits, architecture and “day in the life” stories for corporate and editorial clients gave him “visibility and validation.”
Through mentors such as Sabot and photographer Jake Stangel, and by following photographers on Tumblr, he learned the business, including how to reach out to clients. “I’m not going to cut and paste an email. With editors, I want to have a relationship. That’s been valuable.”
In 2014, after spending a month in East Africa shooting for Mama Hope, a San Francisco-based education philanthropy, he moved to New York City to pursue a broader variety of clients than he could get in tech-oriented San Francisco. “I have this habit of jumping off a cliff when I feel it’s something that I should be doing.” Assignments from The New York Times and Maxim convinced him he made the right move: “I’m doing what I love and am lucky to be doing it.”
—Holly Stuart Hughes
Resides:New York City
CLIENTS:W, Flaunt, InStyle, OUT, Nylon, Opening Ceremony, Tumblr
Exhibitions:Dune Studios, New York City
KEY LESSon:“Organization is key. Stay on top of emails, details and facts… Learn from your mistakes. For example, I started using cloud storage after my hard drive went down in a freak accident. It was devastating for me. Now I back up my work once a day.”
The personalities of his models come through in David Urbanke’s fashion shoots, and that’s intentional. “I’m trying to mix portraiture and fashion. I try not to get distracted by the clothes,” Urbanke says. Self-taught in photography, Urbanke takes inspiration from the intimate portraits of Richard Avedon and David Armstrong, and says his connection with his subjects is a key part of his style, which he has refined over the past five years.
When Urbanke was 16, the New York Post and ABC News tagged him as an up-and-coming fashion photographer after his popular Flickr page caught their attention. Urbanke became the subject of stories such as “Whipper Snapper: Teen Photographer Shoots High Fashion in New York”— though many of the models in his portfolio were girls from his high school. “The coverage gave me the confidence to get started moving forward. It had the potential to open doors.” With his family’s support, Urbanke skipped college and moved to New York City at age 17.
Youth had its advantages. Many of his subjects were roughly his age—between 15 and 23—generating a natural connection. The challenge was convincing editors to trust him on assignments. “[Some editors] would meet with me and say ‘Your work looks great, don’t change anything, but let’s see what happens as you get older.’” Urbanke took the challenge head on: He used his own apartment as a studio, and New York City as a backdrop, to shoot tests he shared online and on social media—shifting from Flickr to Instagram. He notes that social media remains his principal form of networking. His big break, he says, was an assignment to shoot a cover story for WWD in 2015. “It took me time to figure out how I wanted to shoot fashion,” he says. “I like to keep my work clean and focused on the subjects.”
Born:Des Moines, IA
Education:Dartmouth College; Rhode Island School of Design
CLIENTS:Victory Journal , MSNBC, Puma, Powerade, Nike, Spotify
Awards:Review Santa Fe
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“Staying the course before I broke through was hard; I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up and go home. It was a long road. You have to have faith that you’re good enough, that eventually it will happen.”
Watch a wrestling match, a football game or a rodeo, and you’ll probably witness some intense emotion. “Joy, exultation, tears—that’s what sport is about,” says Nils Ericson. By using a muted, retro color palette that recalls Kodachrome slide film, and by focusing on nuance as well as climactic moments, Ericson has found an intriguing new way of looking at athletic competition.
Though he had played sports from an early age, Ericson didn’t immediately think of sports as a subject for photography. As a student, he was inspired by the work of Sally Mann and Emmet Gowin, and at first tried to emulate their lyrical style in large format, black-and-white narrative photographs. After graduating, he went to New York, where—smartly, as it turned out—he took a job as a janitor at Fast Ashleys photo studio in Brooklyn.
“I was the night guy there, sweeping floors and cleaning toilets, but the whole time, I was absorbing stuff,” Ericson says. He was also making connections. Years later, people he’d met at Fast Ashleys gave him his first big break in editorial photography (shooting kick-boxing for the upscale sports magazine Victory Journal) and advertising (a campaign for Puma). “With that first kick-boxing assignment, something clicked,” Ericson says. “I love sports, and it all made sense.” He threw himself into it. His second piece for Victory Journal, on the National Collegiate Athletic Association wrestling championship, was widely admired and, in Ericson’s words, his career “really took off” from there.
Ericson shoots regularly for Victory Journaland has also worked for MSNBC, Nike and Powerade. Whether photographing a West Point football game or the Kentucky Derby, he uses VSCO filters and Lightroom to achieve his signature style: muted colors and velvety textures that highlight the passions of athletes and fans. “If I can get at something really emotional and visceral,” Ericson says, “then I feel I’ve done my job.”
Born: Toulouse, France
Education:Gobelins, l’École de l’Image
CLIENTS: Dior, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, AirBnB, OUUR Media, Kinfolk, Le Monde, The New Yorker, Vogue, Elle UK
Exhibitions:French Institute (multiple cities); Musée Nicéphore Niepce, Chalon-sur-Saône, France; Emmanuel Fremin Gallery, New York City; Rencontres d’Arles, France
Awards:HSBC Prize for Photography; Prix PHPA; Entrevues
BIGGESt challenge:“To keep trying something new. I have to force myself to work in the moment, and not try to do the same thing all of the time.”
Even though his medium was poetry rather than photography, Arthur Rimbaud, the peripatetic and revolutionary 19th century poet, is Maia Flore’s biggest influence. “He was always there for me as a figure since I first started reading him as a teenager,” Flore says. “I feel connected to the way he writes, thinks, believes.”
Rimbaud influenced many surrealist artists in the 20th century; the surreal is very much present in Flore’s work. Brightly colored, her photographs depict dreamlike scenarios that Flore imagines and creates either in camera or by compositing images. “I don’t believe that humans are made of just hearts and livers—I think we have a lot of intangible things happening that need to be shown.”
Her eye for the fantastic has attracted clients such as Dior, Louis Vuitton and Cartier, who are looking for imaginative ways to showcase their luxury products. She credits her success to being selected for a two-person exhibition at Rencontres d’Arles in 2011. The exhibition drew national and international attention, and coincided with Flore signing with Agence VU’ in Paris.
In order to keep her work fresh, Flore constantly travels. She has lived in both San Francisco and New York. When in a new place, she tries to connect with clients and other photographers she admires. “I’m always amazed people take the time to meet me,” she says. Keeping in touch has led to a number of gigs, including spending the summer of 2015 as an art director at Kinfolk.
Balance is her biggest struggle now. “When you have too much time, you’re like, ‘great, no one cares about me,’” she laughs. “But when you have too much work, you have no personal time.” In the coming year, she wants to expand beyond the image into immersive exhibitions. “I feel selfish that I experience so much in my body, and I want to share that with other people.”
Born:Panorama City, CA
CLIENTS:Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“When I started shooting more after being an assistant for so long, I had a hard time letting go of micromanaging the nuts and bolts, and thinking more about establishing a connection with my subject and shooting an interesting picture….If you spend too much time focusing on the nuts and bolts you’re not going to have that organic, natural moment that you need to have with the subject.”
In making celebrity portraits for editorial clients, Christopher Patey looks for “little off moments” from his subjects, which are often inspired by his interactions with them. It’s something he picked up while assisting Joe Pugliese, who would “get his subjects talking and moving” during sessions. “Before I watched Joe do that, I was getting the picture you would expect someone to get,” he recalls.
During his eight years as an assistant to Pugliese, Art Streiber, Frank Ockenfels 3, Norman Jean Roy and “dozens” of other photographers, Patey observed some of the best in the business, and learned from each one. “A little bit of every photographer rubs off on you,” he says. “You watch a lot of things happen and you decide what works for you.” A friend he met in community college got him into assisting, and Patey believes his work ethic, “mind for mechanical things” and level of attention helped him become a top assistant. After two years, he started shooting for himself in his spare time, building a portfolio by making portraits of young talent for a publicist.
He started promoting his work to editors in 2013, and has built his career steadily since then. His professionalism stands out, says Jennifer Laski, photo and video director for The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. “There are tons of excellent photographers who shoot nice pictures, but I really like a person who is pleasant to be around so that the talent walks out and not only do they like the pictures, they had a good experience.” Flexibility is key, Patey says. “You don’t want to get too locked into an idea or a specific picture….You have to be humble as well. There’s a time when you put your foot down and you convey what you want to do because it’s the best for that scenario, and there’s a time when you just need to make the photograph.”
Education:Academy of Art University
CLIENTS:The Stranger, The New York Times, KQED Public Television, Phillips
Exhibitions:Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, OR; SOMArts, San Francisco; President’s Gallery at John Jay College, City University of New York
Awards:Artist-in-Residence, Rayko Photo Center; New Works Photography Awards #17 Fellowship, En Foco
KEY LESSON:“The photographer Jim Goldberg once told me that you have to believe in what you’re doing, in your work. That you have to create work that is close to your heart, and that you can identify with.”
Paccarik Orue was an undocumented immigrant for his first 13 years in the United States; he arrived in Miami from Lima in 1993 at the age of 17. “I always knew I wanted to go to be a photographer, but I couldn’t get a driver’s license, I had to work under the table, and I couldn’t apply to schools,” he explains. “It was incredibly frustrating.” Orue got his Permanent Resident card in 2006, and that year was accepted at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He got his U.S. citizenship in 2010.
Although he loved the network he developed in school, he struggled to find his voice. “I was absorbing all of this knowledge, and it confused the hell out of me,” he says. It wasn’t until he began to use a medium-format film camera before he graduated in 2011 that he found his stride. “It slowed me down,” he says.
In 2012, Orue traveled to Peru, a country he hadn’t visited since he left. “I needed to reconnect with my roots.” He went to Cerro De Pasco, a mining town in the Andes that is slowly disappearing thanks to the expanding mine pit located right in its center—in a decade or so, it will be gone. “It felt important to make a record of it.”
There, he made the series “El Muqui”—the name is based on a folkloric character who is both highly respected and feared by miners in the Andes—which includes portraits of miners and their families, and images of daily life in the city. The series won Orue a fellowship from En Foco, a nonprofit that supports Latin American photographers. En Foco published the images in their journal Nueva Luz, where they caught the eye of James Estrin, who published the work on The New York Times’ Lens photo blog in January 2015. That same year, Orue won a residency at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco.
“Orue’s images are exquisite, beautifully constructed, heart-breaking in their strength, and his color palette is muted perfection, conveying the stories of his subjects,” says Ann Jastrab, the gallery director at Rayko.
Emine Gozde Sevim
CLIENTS:United Nations, UNHCR, UNICEF
Exhibitions:Just Another Photo Festival, India; Photography Days Festival, Turkey; Photoville, Brooklyn, NY; Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Austria; DEPO, Turkey
Awards:Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund; Conscientious Portfolio Competition Winner
BIGGEST CHALLENGE:“The most important thing I’ve learned has been to stay critical and analytical, and to go all the way, to be truly dedicated.”
Emine Gozde Sevim’s projects, created in Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and Turkey, demonstrate her desire to experiment. She moves between fine-art and documentary photography, color and black-and-white, shooting with both 35mm and medium format. “I want to defy categories,” she says. Although obsessed with history, Sevim does not intend her work to relay “facts.” Instead, she looks at the “existentialist complexities” of daily life within contested geographies and attempts to capture the feelings she experiences in response to a time or place.
Last year Sevim published her first book, Embed in Egypt, featuring images she made between 2011 and 2013. Her quiet photographs obliquely reference the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall from power. “It’s a very genuine, vulnerable statement,” Sevim says of her documentary photography. “Nobody has to agree with it. I just hope that it’s felt throughout the work.”
After studying sociology, international relations and photography, she worked for Magnum photographers Susan Meiselas and Gilles Peress. Sevim says, “I have been extremely lucky to be surrounded by an army of people who have influenced me as a person, in the formation of my perspective, and in defining my relationship to the world around me.” She landed early assignments for NGOs such as UNHCR and UNICEF through referrals, then worked to build relationships with clients. She funds her personal work through freelance assignments, as well as print sales and, more recently, grants.
“Generally speaking,” she says of her journey, “it seems like it will take a lot of hard work and some luck to achieve any success, and to find the right combination of the two requires a lifetime of patience.”
Born: Los Angeles
Resides:Diamond Bar, CA
Education:Art Center College of Design
CLIENTS:The New York Times Magazine, WIRED, Fast Company, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Fortune, Medium
KEY LESSON:“Being able to constantly keep pressure on yourself and your work while also having some sort of outlet outside of photography to relieve stress is key. Having interests beyond photography is as important as challenging yourself to make new, relevant work, keeping your business running smoothly and keeping client relationships up.”
With carefully directed re-enactments and portraits, and his eye for in-between moments and irony, Damon Casarez explores the tension between middle class aspiration and ennui. His breakthrough project, titled “Boomerang Kids,” comprised a series of environmental portraits of twenty-something college graduates forced to move back home with their parents because of crippling student debt.
“I have always drawn inspiration from [my] personal experiences, the neighborhood I grew up in, and the culture of suburbia,” he says. The idea for “Boomerang Kids” came to him shortly after he was forced to move back in with his own parents because he wasn’t making enough as a photo assistant and photographer to cover his rent. “I knew this was something thousands of other people were going through across the country,” he says.
He used Craigslist to find subjects, and collaborated with them to recreate scenes from their lives in a way that was “as realistic as possible, but heightened [by] lighting and composition.” One subject, for instance, is in his childhood bedroom, re-enacting how he learned from a YouTube video how to tie a necktie for a job interview.
Casarez began developing his style at Art Center College of Design, where he staged elaborate scenes to simulate the look of documentary photographs. He also takes inspiration from the staged and cinematic work of Jeff Wall, Alec Soth, Stefan Ruiz, Hannah Starkey and Cindy Sherman and others.
Those influences are reflected in other projects, including “Dioramas,” a series of images of visual ironies and disconnects that appear to be street-style photographs, but are actually scenes that Casarez has carefully reconstructed from memory. And he brings his imaginative approach to a steady flow of portraiture and reportage assignments from The New York Times Magazine, WIRED, Fast Company, and other publications.
Resides:Manhattan Beach, CA
Education:Art Center College of Design (left before graduation)
CLIENTS:Nike, Puma, Leo Burnett, Dockers, Finish Line
KEY LESSon:“Go take the picture because you want to take the picture. Don’t take the picture hoping that it’s going to get you a job. As soon as you do that, you’ve totally lost sight of why you decided to take out your camera in the first place.”
“Why would you ever sail a boat across an ocean when you could just take a plane flight?” asks River Jordan. His answer to that question drives both his commercial work and his personal projects: “It’s for the adventure of it.” Jordan has developed an approach to photographing outdoor and team sports that focuses on the emotion of the experiences more than results, on the 5 AM practice more than the winning touchdown.
His thirst for adventure began when Jordan was 12. His parents packed up their family of five and moved onto a 47-foot sailboat for three years of cruising. Traveling and meeting fellow cruisers of all stripes instilled in him the personal skills required to build a professional network and coordinate a successful commercial shoot.
After his sailing days, Jordan became a high school athlete, and the love of sports he discovered helped him find direction when he embarked on his photography career, after honing his business and lighting acumen through assisting. While shooting a personal project on the daily life of an American football team in Italy, he realized: “This is exactly what I want to do. I want to tell athletes’ stories.” He showed the project to Nike Football, and landed his first big assignment. “I was able to shoot for a lot of the other brands pretty quickly,” he recalls.
Jordan’s portrayals of the everyday joys and travails of athletic pursuits meet a growing demand from sports and outdoor brands for content marketing campaigns. “The tide is changing from just trying to get three images out of the day,” he explains. “What they need is a library of images they can pull from to tell a more complete story and a narrative. And that’s what I’m trying to specialize in.”
Resides: San Francisco
Education:School of Photography at Orange Coast College
CLIENTS:Anki, Levi’s, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, AMD, JetBlue, Men’s Journal, Inc. Magazine, ESPN Magazine, Popular Science, Variety
BEST ADVICE:“My [college] instructor that I assisted told me that Wayne Gretzky quote: ‘You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.’ I love that one.”
Cody Pickens’s interest in photography grew out of skateboarding and music culture, which he took in through the pages of magazines such as Rolling Stoneand Spin “back when they were an inch thick.” Portraiture resonated with him “for one reason or another,” he says. It was clear to him that he couldn’t make a living photographing skateboarding. Pickens began assisting a number of photographers in Los Angeles, then did the same in San Francisco. He mostly assisted photographers who did what he wanted to do—environmental portraiture and sports—but says it was important to assist photographers shooting other types of work, “just to get a taste of that world as well.”
While assisting, Pickens was also testing, building a portfolio with photographs of friends, aspiring models and other subjects, “just trying to make it look like the work I wanted to get,” he recalls. He sent his work to editors he wanted to shoot for, which landed him early assignments from WIRED and Inc. Now Pickens is creating portraits and sports images for editorial and commercial clients, and “getting busier and busier every year.”
Pickens composes his portraits “in a way that looks smart and interesting, but also natural and not too forced,” says Variety director of photography Bailey Franklin. His skill at “creating something out of nothing” when faced with a camera-shy studio executive or a drab location sets Pickens apart, he says. “I could throw him into pretty much any situation and he’d find something interesting that he could work with and play off of with the person and create some kind of tension and dynamic.”
Now Pickens is branching into video, and adding images to his portfolio in a looser style that draws on his early experience photographing skateboarding. Pickens notes that it’s important to him to continue his progression. “I made a conscious decision to start incorporating these newer styles of work.”
Resides: New York City
CLIENTS:Coca Cola, Panera Bread, Google, J. Crew, Elle, Bon Appétit, Old Navy
Exhibitions:Buckwild Gallery, Los Angeles; The Icon, Los Angeles; The Fence at Photoville, Brooklyn, NY; Milk Gallery, New York City
Awards:PDN’s Best Friends; PDN & Sony’s Emerging Photographer Photo Feed; PDN Photo Annual; American Photography 31
KEY LESSon:“If you’re an assistant, be smart, save and leave when you are ready. When I left, I felt like I was firing myself from a comfortable job. It was scary, but you have to invest in yourself the same way a business or startup would.”
Winnie Au credits a 2013 assignment from Refinery29 for helping her find her style. The story was called “Month of Visionaries,” and Au shot 30 environmental portraits of inspirational subjects, such as Marcus Samuelsson and Nate Silver, over several weeks. “The assignment made me realize that I love shooting environmental portraiture… after that, I had a clear direction that I wanted my work to move towards.”
Prior to that assignment, Au’s portfolio contained a mix of subjects, from food to pets. After Au graduated from Boston University, a chance internship with commercial photographer Joshua Dalsimer convinced her to turn her then-hobby into a career. Au moved to New York City and managed Richard Corman’s studio, then took on a number of assisting and digital tech jobs before making the decision to try to launch her own career as a photographer in 2010.
“Initially I said yes to pretty much every shooting opportunity—paid, unpaid, low pay, paid through meals, whatever. If you’re in the boat of being an assistant or tech and want to transition, you have to realize that you’re going to take a pay cut,” Au says.
Looking back, Au says that aggressive marketing of her work, building confidence in herself, and learning how to manage and delegate certain tasks has helped her land new clients, gain recognition, and put her in the position of getting assigned the environmental portraits that she loves.