Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi

AGE: 38

BORN: Comănești, Romania

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: Johns Hopkins University, American University


CLIENTS: The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, VICE, Le Monde, Away, Higher Grounds Trading

EXHIBITIONS: Visa Pour L’Image, Perpignan, France; Galerie Causette, Paris; United Nations, New York City; Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

AWARDS: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Humanitarian Visa d’Or Award; Allard Prize for International Integrity—Photography Award; LensCulture Emerging Talent Award

KEY LESSON: “Always keep at the very forefront of your thoughts the reason why you started down this path to begin with.… Making a profession out of photography requires a lot of work on the business and logistical side of things, so it’s easy to lose sight of your core motivation.”

Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi was born in Romania to a Romanian mother and an Iraqi father. At the age of 8, she and her family were refugees, driven to the former Yugoslavia by the volatile political situation in their home countries. Eventually they settled in Canada.

Alhindawi explored painting, then neuroscience, then became interested in humanitarian work and landed a job through the United Nations, working in crisis zones. As she gained experience, she was given more administrative responsibilities and did less of the field work she enjoyed. While she was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an eruption in the decades-long civil war brought in a flood of international photographers. She cornered some of them to learn how they worked.

In New York City, she took a photography class, “just to prove to myself I know how to take a picture,” she says. She used her savings to return to the Congo and started photographing whatever caught her interest. Thanks to her contacts and knowledge of the country, she knew about the Minova Rape Trials: a trial of 39 Congolese soldiers who had attacked women and girls during a ten-day rampage in 2012. She spent a week documenting the proceedings and doing interviews. She sent the project to editors, and the images were eventually picked up by Al Jazeera America.

She searched for photo contests that would be fitting for her subject matter. Her entries won the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Humanitarian Visa d’Or Award in 2015. The award brought her numerous assignments in Central and East Africa, and she has recently focused on pitching her own stories to clients.

To Alhindawi, what matters most is “being honest with yourself, about what drives you, what your interests really are. If I close my eyes [I ask myself] where do I want to be, where do I see myself. And then make it happen. Whatever it takes, just make it happen.”
—Mimi Ko

Sarah Blesener

AGE: 26

BORN: Minneapolis

RESIDES: New York City

EDUCATION: International Center of Photography, New York City; Bookvar Russian Language Academy, Minneapolis; North Central University, Minneapolis


CLIENTS: National Geographic, The California Sunday Magazine, TIME, The Guardian, The New York Times, Amnesty International, New Republic

EXHIBITIONS: International Center of Photography, New York; Oberstdorfer Fotogipfel, Oberstdorf, Germany; Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick, NJ; Fondo Malerba per la Fotografia, Milan, Italy; Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles

AWARDS: Alexia Foundation Professional Grant; CatchLight Fellowship; Magenta Foundation Flash Forward Emerging Photographer; Picture Story Award of Excellence, POYi; PHmuseum Women Photographers Grant honorable mention

KEY LESSON: “I believe pursuing personal work and projects is vital. In a competitive industry where it is easy to get lost in the hustle, it’s important to [stay] centered, and to remind yourself of the topics that drove you to become a photographer in the first place.”

When Sarah Blesener studied at the International Center of Photography, an instructor advised her to buy a one-way ticket out of New York City. She flew to Russia immediately after graduation to begin her first personal project: “Toy Soldiers,” about paramilitary training programs for Russian teens.

“I am a believer in not waiting for the right timing or the right opportunities,” says Blesener, “but in taking risks and whenever possible, taking the less-traveled route.” In 2017, she won an Alexia Foundation Professional Grant to continue the project. “It greatly impacted my trajectory as a photographer. I was able to devote an entire year to dig deep into a project.” Her interest in youth culture, nationalism and patriotism continued in assignments she shot in the U.S. and abroad for National Geographic and other publications.

Grants allowed her the freedom to pursue topics she cared about, and helped her learn about her process. She discovered that to grow as a photographer, she needed to continually reevaluate her work. “My approach has changed greatly since I first began working on personal projects,” says Blesener. “I had to learn that not everything is visual, and that some things are too visual.” She discovered this when showing “Toy Soldiers,” which had many photos of kids with guns. Those images tended to be the first ones editors would select. Without a larger, more nuanced context for those images, she says, “the story becomes a different narrative.”

Blesener has recently focused on “the off moments” and “quieter” images. Inspired by the empathy of Eugene Richards, Susan Meiselas and other photographers she admires, she says, “It’s not enough to find an interesting story or angle. You have to understand and struggle with what motivates you as an individual. Those self-searching questions are what make you a genuine photographer.”
— Terry Sullivan

Ted Cavanaugh

AGE: 29

BORN: Kalamazoo, MI

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: Rochester Institute of Technology


CLIENTS: Bon Appétit, Bloomingdale’s, Bloomberg Pursuits, Men’s Health, Shape, The Wall Street Journal

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “It’s so easy to compare yourself to others, and let that get you down. I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself wholeheartedly, and to never make an excuse as to why something isn’t happening. To begin a career as a photographer, one must relentlessly make a body of work, oftentimes without any recognition.”

Last year, still-life photographer Ted Cavanaugh posted a behind-the-scenes, time-lapse video showing how he and some collaborators produced the August cover of Bon Appétit: an image of a peach cut in half. The video, which condenses parts of three days of shooting to 90 seconds, shows Cavanaugh is never alone on the set. The crew talks, sets up, laughs, rearranges props, moves equipment, shoots, then repeats.

Such collaborations have been crucial to Cavanaugh’s career: “I found that my most meaningful relationships were built while on-set of a photo shoot.”

The video also reveals that being a professional photographer is more than taking photos. “Most of my time is spent invoicing, retouching, paying vendors, preparing taxes and maintaining workflows and metadata,” he says. But all these tasks are important. “I’ve learned that there are no shortcuts, and that running a small business is an all-encompassing lifestyle that doesn’t end when the shoot is over.”

Cavanaugh began assisting in 2011, “and my first published commission was in 2015.” In between, he was building a portfolio, and learning from photographers he assisted such as Martin Wonnacott and Travis Rathbone. “During my years as an assistant, I learned that the most successful photographers are, among many things, extremely accommodating, quick to solve issues and never leave perfection to chance,” he says.

His goal, he says, is to satisfy his customers. “Many of the photographers that I assisted for and admire to this day are all extremely passionate about their work, feel fortunate to be in their position and never complain. Additionally, they always put their client’s happiness first. I feel as though these traits are great traits to live by.”—Terry Sullivan

Matthew Cicanese

AGE: 26

BORN: Tampa Bay, Florida

RESIDES: Dade City, Florida

EDUCATION: Florida Southern College, Duke University


CLIENTS: National Geographic Partners, Dilmah Conservation, Canadian Wildlife Magazine, Cochlear Americas

EXHIBITIONS: Light Grey Art Lab, Minneapolis; Royal Photographic Society, London; Power Plant Gallery, Durham, NC; Louise Jones Brown Gallery, Durham, NC

AWARDS: National Geographic Young Explorer Grant; Finalist, Atkins CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the Year

Biggest Challenge: “Being a person with disabilities that are invisible to others presents daily challenges that go unnoticed, but are ever-present in my life. Half of the battle is being an advocate for others with disabilities, and showing that this community (despite our limitations) can be empowered. At the end of the day, my disabilities drive me to pursue my goals. They shape how I perceive and experience the environments we live in.”

Matthew Cicanese has used photography to express his fascination with nature since he was 14. Deaf in his right ear and blind in his left eye since a childhood bout with meningitis, “my camera was the ‘missing link’ I needed to make up for those lost senses.” His passion is using macro photography to document mosses, lichens, “the outliers and underdogs in nature.”

After getting a degree in environmental studies and taking some photography classes, he pursued an MFA. At Duke, professors helped him “think beyond the boundaries of science” and tap his “childlike wonder and imagination.” He also enrolled in a seminar where students collaborated with the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative.

He landed a grant from National Geographic to document lichen diversity in Iceland in 2016. “It’s not just a grant: You’re becoming part of a community,” Cicanese says. The Society invited him to a workshop on storytelling and “how to pitch to different parts of National Geographic.” He stays in touch with editors in different departments. “A big part of it comes down to having a niche that you’re really passionate about and being willing to put your neck out there,” he says. National Geographic connections led to a collaboration with a lichenologist in 2017 and publication of his work in an upcoming science book for kids.

As an Emerging member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, he’s met and learned from such veteran nature photographers as Ronan Donovan and Piotr Naskrecki. Cicanese’s advice: “Build a network that can support you through your hard times, and celebrate with you for the good times.”
—Holly Stuart Hughes

Cody Cobb

AGE: 33

BORN: Shreveport, LA

RESIDES: Seattle


CLIENTS: Aesop, The California Sunday Magazine, Filson, Samsung, Wiede+Kennedy

EXHIBITIONS: Lenz Photography Festival, Manchester, UK; Black Eye Gallery, Sydney; FOCUS Photo LA, Los Angeles; FotoFilmic touring exhibition

AWARDS: Photolucida Critical Mass Top 50; PDN Emerging Photographer; PDN Exposure

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Finding my own voice or trying to make landscape photography compelling because it’s something we’ve seen so much ofIt’s not about making these images, it’s about being out in these places, and maybe that opens me up to new observations while I’m out there, just being at peace with it, not trying to force images. Being OK with not shooting anything when I’m out there.”

The images we see of the natural world on social media and in popular culture often focus on “the human experience of the landscape or showing how we interact with the land,” notes photographer Cody Cobb. “I’m trying to do something that shows the land itself, or a more internal connection with the land.” His photographs are keenly observed, reverent studies of the interactions of light, color and weather with the natural world, and they evoke the “feeling of calm and stillness” that comes with “being alone in big places.”

Cobb creates his images on solo missions into wilderness areas. He’s interested in less-traveled “landscapes that don’t have a name,” and vistas that aren’t frequently photographed. Even when he’s hiking a well known route, he’s more interested in “the things you pass on the way to viewpoints.” He’s deliberate in his process, shooting sparingly and waiting several weeks or more to review his images, even when he’s shooting with a digital camera.

Though he’s made photographs for several years while freelancing as a designer of motion graphics, it’s only in the past year that Cobb has actively pursued a career in photography. He took his work to the Exposure LA and Filter Photo Festival portfolio reviews, where he connected with editors, gallerists and fellow photographers and got “guidance about what I can do with the images and how I can build a career.” He’s pursuing exhibitions and publishing opportunities as well as travel and editorial work.
—Conor Risch

Gabriella Demczuk

AGE: 26

BORN: Stockholm, Sweden

RESIDES: Washington, D.C.

EDUCATION: George Washington University


CLIENTS: The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, The Atlantic, NPR, CNN

EXHIBITIONS: Houston Center of Photography, Houston; Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles; FotoWeekDC, Washington, D.C., Angkor Photo Festival, Siem Reap, Cambodia

AWARDS: White House News Photographers Association; Emerging Talent, Getty Reportage; Women Photograph Grant

KEY LESSON: “It is vital to bring context and intention into one’s work. As social media and technology advances, and we are inundated with quick visuals, now more than ever is it critical to work slower, longer and more thoughtfully to make people stop and think and feel and, perhaps, even act.”

A photojournalist who has covered both politics and social issues, Gabriella Demczuk says her goal is always “to push creatively and conceptually, while still maintaining the ethics and boundaries of journalism.” She studied painting before she fell in love with photography. As an undergraduate, she worked on the student newspaper, and interned at four news outlets in Washington. The hours spent working in the media pool in the Capitol not only pushed her photography, but also helped her build relationships with editors and fellow photographers.

Born in Sweden to American and Lebanese parents, Demczuk spent the first years of her life in Europe before her family settled in Baltimore. Having grown up in a civically engaged family in Baltimore, Demczuk has been driven to explore issues of race and life in minority communities.

She describes herself as “a long-form photographer interested in politics, policy and history.” While working on these topics, she also finds ways to experiment creatively. Her project “Coming Home: Unionville” centers on a community founded after the Civil War by 18 black veterans from the United States Colored Troops. Her uncle, a historian, had written his dissertation on the community, and she decided to tell the story of its modern residents. A printmaking class she was taking at the time prompted her to try using the intaglio etching process, which was used in the 19th century and “evokes the esthetic of the past.”

Going forward, she intends to continue photographing in the Baltimore area and also delve into issues around immigration.— Mimi Ko

Kyle Dorosz

AGE: 31

BORN: Columbia, MD

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: Rochester Institute of Technology


CLIENTS: Bon Appétit, Diane Von Furstenberg, Harry’s, LensCrafters, New York magazine, Vulture, Nordstrom, Surface Magazine

AWARDS: PDN Emerging Photographer

BEST ADVICE: “James Wojcik once told me to push myself out of my comfort zone, get strange. To get an idea, and push that idea even further. I’m always thinking about that.”

Kyle Dorosz’s biggest break might have been when he didn’t get the photo editor job he applied for at Esquire. After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in commercial photography, he interned in the photo department at Men’s Journal, where he learned the ins and outs of editorial photography—from the administrative side. But Dorosz really excelled at making pictures.

The Esquire rejection led him to take assisting jobs with Peter Yang and James Wojcik, who became friends and mentors. He shot constantly in his spare time, but his personal work lacked focus until he made a portrait of an artist friend in 2015. “I thought, hey, doing proper portraiture of artists in their studios with reportage and still lifes could be my first actual project.”

When he had enough studio images for a portfolio, he sent the project to editors. Fortuitously, Melissa Sinclair, then the photo editor at Time Out New York, was looking for a cover image of an artist painting a mural in Bushwick—Dorosz was an obvious match for the assignment.

Work snowballed from there. Sinclair continued to hire him, as did an editor at Surface, for whom he photographed the artist Jenny Holzer. A friend recommended him for an advertising job with Nordstrom. His friend Marvin Orellana, a photo editor at New York magazine who had critiqued Dorosz’s portfolio throughout the years, hired him to shoot portraits for the publication’s design and wedding issues. Orellana says Dorosz has a “sense of daring that I think pushes the photographs beyond just a portrait.” Today, Dorosz contributes regularly to the publication’s many verticals, and has been hired to shoot celebrities such as Brit Marling, Michael Strahan, Naomi Watts and Trevor Noah.

Dorosz naturally excels at portraiture—but attributes his success to a thriving network of friends and colleagues. “It’s a small industry,” he says. “So be nice to people.” —Brienne Walsh

Emile Ducke

AGE: 23

Born: Munich


Education: University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Hannover, Germany


CLIENTS: D la Repubblica, L’Obs, Newsweek, Washington Post In Sight, ZEITmagazin

EXHIBITIONS: VGH Galerie, Hannover, Germany; PhEST, Monopoli, Italy; Lumix Festival, Hannover, Germany

AWARDS: Marty Forscher Student Fellowship; PDN Photo Annual; Kolga Tblisi Newcomer Award; College Photographer of the Year Gold Award, Documentary Photography

Biggest Challenge: “Photographing something [that] is not happening in real time in front of you [is] really a challenge, but it’s really interesting to find pictures and to translate somehow those [historic] stories into pictures.”

Emile Ducke decided to put off finishing his college degree and move to Moscow last year in order to be closer to the stories he wants to tell. He had spent an exchange semester studying and teaching at Tomsk State University in Siberia, and during that time he created two projects about how communities in Siberia cope with their isolation. One depicts a Russian orthodox village reachable only by boat. The other is about a medical train that travels the Trans-Siberia railroad delivering care to doctor-less villages. Ducke is now expanding his work to document other communities in Western Siberia.

Ducke says his larger interest is investigating how “historic changes” affect communities. This grew in part from his curiosity about his Serbian stepmother’s large family, which is from the former Yugoslavia. “On one side, the family was former communists, socialists, and on the other side orthodox believers. And this contrast was very interesting to me,” he says. Photography became a tool to understand their stories, and then “communicate something of the understanding.” His interest has moved from his family to Yugoslav and Balkan history “to even further east,” he says.

His first major project was about Transnistria, a territory caught in a political struggle between Moldova and Russia. He worked on that project for two and a half years before showing it to editors in Germany and at portfolio reviews at the Visa pour l’image festival. There, he met an editor at French magazine L’Obs. The magazine has published a portfolio of his Transnistria work and his subsequent stories from Siberia. He received his first editorial assignment last year from ZEITmagazin, and he hopes to do more assignments in Russia while he continues his personal work.
—Conor Risch

Kholood Eid

AGE: 30

BORN: St. Louis, MO

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: Webster University, Webster Groves, MO; University of Missouri


CLIENTS: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN’s The Undefeated, Reuters, Bloomberg Businessweek, Refinery29, Lifetime

EXHIBITIONS: University of Delaware, Newark; Open Show, New York City

AWARDS: IWMF Adelante Reporting Fellowship, Eddie Adams Workshop

BEST ADVICE: “One thing I try to stress with my students is that, if they don’t agree with the narrative being presented in the media about a certain issue or community, they can change it. If they feel they’re being misrepresented, they can tell their stories or their community’s stories as they see fit.”

Journalism school taught Kholood Eid the journalist’s code: Don’t befriend subjects; don’t make the story about yourself. It also taught her when to bend the rules. Looking at some of her work, one professor said, “So, you’re a graphic shooter and that’s great, but you use people as props in your pictures and there’s a distance between you and them.” During school, she worked on a series about mental illness, influenced in part by her own experience with depression. The professor’s critique moved her to spend more time and share meals with her subjects, “and share more of myself with them. It’s such a privilege that we get to pop into their lives, the least we can do is share a little of ourselves in return.”

She continues to work on her mental health series when time and money allow. Her other in-depth projects have covered women in Haifa, Israel, and women in Colombia helping each other recover from war and sexual violence. That project challenges the “male-dominated narrative” about life in conflict regions, she says.

Eid has met editors and mentors through word of mouth, working with the Bronx Documentary Center and attending the Eddie Adams Workshop. For a time, the assignments she got didn’t reflect her sensibility. Then she began using Instagram to share “the type of work that I was interested in and resonated with me more.” The payoff came when The Wall Street Journal hired her to make a portrait of an ISIS defector without revealing his face. It landed on page 1. Eid says, “It was great to have someone say, ‘If you want to apply your weird moodiness to a Wall Street Journal assignment, great.’”
—Holly Stuart Hughes

Alina Fedorenko

AGE: 32

BORN: Lviv, Ukraine



CLIENTS: National Geographic

EXHIBITIONS: ACCI Gallery, San Francisco; Galeria Valid Foto, Barcelona

AWARDS: International Photographer of the Year (IPOTY); Silver winner at PX3 Prix de la Photographie, Paris; Pollux Awards winner; Eddie Adams Workshop

BEST ADVICE: “You can do better. This is a sentence I’ve heard a lot in life. It always makes me upset and it always pushes me to do better, to be better. Always be willing to learn.”

In the past two years, Alina Fedorenko has visited 14 countries while working on an ambitious story about people inhabiting difficult and eccentric living spaces: immigrants in colorful dwellings floating on rivers in Cambodia, Egyptians living among the tombs in a cemetery. Jehan Jillani, an associate photo editor for National Geographic, met Fedorenko at the Eddie Adams Workshop and was impressed by “the sheer breadth of the project.” Most importantly, she had done her research, was open to feedback and was excited to do more.

Fedorenko always travels with her young son, Romeo. He helps her quickly gain the trust of the people she photographs. She admits that, as a single mother, managing her business and marketing while making new work is her biggest challenge.

Born in the former Soviet Union, Fedorenko’s homeland became the independent state of Ukraine in 1991, the year she moved to Berlin with her family. The feeling that a true home has never existed for her led her to photograph other people’s intimate living spaces.

Fedorenko attends as many photo fairs, exhibition openings and book signings as possible. It’s important to “swim in the pool,” she says, and “meet people who understand you and your work and will offer support.” At the Unseen Photo Festival in Amsterdam, she met gallerist Wouter van Leeuwen, who has become a source of encouragement and advice.

“Always keep working and never stand still,” says Fedorenko. “Editors and publishers want to see new work, plus you’ll improve from shoot to shoot.”—Sarah Stacke

Johanna-Maria Fritz

AGE: 23

BORN: Malsch, Germany


EDUCATION: Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie, Berlin


CLIENTS: Der Spiegel, ZEITmagazin, Le Monde, National Geographic

EXHIBITIONS: Reykjavík Museum of Photography, Iceland; P7 Gallery, Berlin; United Photo Industries, Brooklyn, NY; Tan Gallery 798, Beijing; Photobastei, Zurich

AWARDS: Kolga Tbilisi Photo Newcomer Prize; Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Award; Magnum Foundation Inge Morath Award

BEST ADVICE: “Be flexible and don’t push stories. I work with super-sensitive themes. If I have an appointment with someone to shoot or talk or follow up, and they don’t show up, it’s OK. I don’t give up. It’ll happen.”

For Johanna-Maria Fritz, the moral hand-wringing over whether or not to intervene in a situation while shooting is a no-brainer.

Two ongoing projects embody this ethos. One is about the strength and shame of a heroin-addicted woman in Kabul. The other is a Polaroid series on homeless male sex workers who came to Berlin as refugees. Giving the refugees control over how they’re portrayed, she and her collaborator, Charlotte Schmitz, let the young men decide whether they want to keep the Polaroids for themselves or allow them to be published. Fritz and Schmitz are also organizing a mentorship program for the refugees. “The Berlin project changed my idea of what it means to be a photographer,” she says.

Her commitment to her subjects was instilled by her six-year friendship and mentorship with photographer Daniel Josefsohn, who died last year. “He helped me meet editors. He was tough and fun and brave.” Josephson once said: “If you go to a country at war, go to the people and put clown noses on them.” Fritz thought the advice was silly. Two years later, she started a project on circuses in Iran, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, and understood Josefsohn had simply been urging her to “connect to your subjects.”

Respecting the privacy of subjects in her Berlin and Kabul projects, Fritz does not show faces. Other elements tell the story: two arms hugging a tree trunk, needle marks on the Kabul woman’s hand. The mystery sparks our imagination and allows us to sense that the person in the picture could be someone we know—or us.

Fritz continues to seek mentors, connect with photo community members, and apply for grants and awards. She remains persistent: “Understand that mostly there’s failure. It’s normal. Don’t worry if no one is answering you; everyone has this feeling.”
—Anna Van Lenten

Julia Gartland

AGE: 28

BORN: Los Angeles

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: Parsons School of Design


CLIENTS: Food52, H&M, The Macallan, Martha Stewart, Mercedes Benz, siggi’s, Vogue

BEST ADVICE: “One of my first photo teachers I ever had used to say, ‘Make the work until you find the work.’ It takes into consideration the grit and unpleasantness of getting the work you’ve been trying to make or find. It doesn’t happen easily a lot of the time, and requires returning to the same concepts and continuing to experiment, even when you’re not sure where it’s going.”

Julia Gartland was studying fine-art photography when health issues changed the course of her career. Illness forced her to cook nearly all of the food she ate herself. She “fell in love with food and cooking,” and decided to create a food blog, Sassy Kitchen, to document her experience. She was “not naturally good” at photographing food, but she enjoyed the challenge. “I was all in,” she recalls. Gartland didn’t completely abandon her fine-art training, however. As a student, she had been drawn to films by Godard, Fellini, Antonioni and Hitchcock, and the work of Cindy Sherman. She shows her interest in bold, graphic imagery as she creates dramatic food and still-life images.

Lacking technical training, Gartland initially found it hard to break into food photography as an assistant. Stylist Michelle Gatton “gave me a chance” and became a mentor, Gartland says. Working as Gatton’s first assistant for two years, she was able to connect with stylists looking to make test images. Then she began “reaching out specifically to women photographers,” and got assisting work. Clients have found her through her blog and Instagram, and in-person meetings have been important, she says.

She’s also pushed herself to combine “my fine-art background and my editorial life” as she continues to develop her work, using food in a more sculptural way and building more narrative into her images. “Straight still life and straight food photography [are] beautiful and lovely and I like doing them, but I feel like there’s room to kind of mess it up a little and deepen it.”—Conor Risch

Jennifer Garza-Cuen

AGE: 45

BORN: Seattle

RESIDES: Corpus Christi, TX

EDUCATION: The American University in Cairo; Rhode Island School of Design

EXHIBITIONS: Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY; Light Work, Syracuse, NY; Site:Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY; The Light Factory, Charlotte, NC; US Pavilion—Venice Architecture Biennale 2016

AWARDS: Robert Rauschenberg Residency Award, Photolucida; Light Work Artist-in-Residence; Research Enhancement Grant, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “One persistent challenge is knowing when not to make images. Photographs are so ubiquitous, they’ve become a cultural compulsion, and making them often gets in the way of lived experience, which gets in the way of more deliberate kinds of image-making.”

Jennifer Garza-Cuen’s fine-art photography is driven by her fascination with place as a defining characteristic of individual identity. “What is it that makes us of a place?” is the question underlying her ongoing project called “Imag[in]ing America,” for which she has been immersing herself in disparate American locales—Reno, Detroit and a rural Vermont town called Eden, to name several. The images she makes are “simultaneously real and staged” to reflect the essence of national, regional and local identities.

“I’m looking for what remains of place-based distinctions while also trying to capture an essential American-ness,” she says.

Garza-Cuen started the project in search of her own identity. In her late teens, she backpacked around Central and South America. She attended The American University in Cairo, and spent summers traveling in Europe. Her camera “was often my only companion. It was a mediator that gave me license to be places that were really uncomfortable.”

After university, she cold-called photographers’ agents in London, and ended up assisting several commercial photographers, including Grey Zisser, John Lamb and Rankin.

Garza-Cuen’s return to the U.S. was inspired in part by a Hemingway line “that says artists have to put their feet back on their own soil to [create] anything of consequence,” she says. “There was something gnawing about it and I knew I would have to deal with it at some point.”

Having a hard time re-assimilating, she once again turned to her camera. “That’s where a lot of that ‘Imag[in]ing America’ work came from,” she says. “‘What makes me of America?’ That’s a question you can ask for a very long time.”
—David Walker

Matthew Genitempo

AGE: 34

BORN: Houston


EDUCATION: Baylor University, Waco, TX; University of Hartford


CLIENTS: Acne Studios, Monocle, Undertow Records

EXHIBITIONS: Farewell Books Gallery, Austin, TX; Kominek Gallery, Berlin; Joseloff Gallery, Hartford, CT

AWARDS: LensCulture Emerging Talent Award; FotoFilmic’s SOLO III Award; Mary Frey Award

KEY LESSON: “Awards have been very helpful for getting my work out there… I think if you make good work, it will find its way into the right hands.”


“I’ve always been attracted to societal outliers,” says Matthew Genitempo. “For the past few years, I’ve been shooting in Arkansas and Missouri, in the Ozarks, photographing hermitic men who have chosen to live in solitude.” They, along with the rugged landscape, are the subjects of his graduate thesis, a photo book he’s titled Jasper.

He shot the project using black-and-white 4x5 film on a large-format view camera. “A lot of these people don’t come in contact with a lot of strangers,” says Genitempo, a long-time film shooter, “and are a little xenophobic. When you shoot with a view camera, it’s a slow process to take pictures that way. Also, taking pictures of these people takes a lot of time because you have to get to know them. And you have to move slowly. So, I think a view camera helped facilitate that relationship.” He was able to spend time in each place by camping or sleeping in his truck. “Film, food and gas were my only expenses, really.”

The landscapes have the gravitas of the nocturnal images of Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz, while his photos of people call to mind the great portraitists of the 19th century. But the shots of interiors appear both humdrum and surreal, and look like settings for the TV horror series The Walking Dead.

Though he has shot assignments for clients who found him through Instagram, his website or word of mouth, the book is Genitempo’s first completed major project. “I’ve been shooting for a while,” he says, “but a big part of why I decided to go to grad school at the University of Hartford is because this program requires you to have a finished project.” Genitempo is currently seeking a publisher for Jasper.—Terry Sullivan


AGE: 33

BORN: Bronx, NY

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: Smith College

CLIENTS: Bloomberg Businessweek, Champion, The New York Times, Nike, PowerBar, Urban Outfitters, WIRED

EXHIBITIONS: International Center of Photography, New York City; Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York City; Silver Eye Center for Photography, Pittsburgh; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

AWARDS: American Library Association Rainbow List; Brooklyn Arts Council Community Arts Grant; Do Something Grant

KEY LESSON: “Keeping in touch with people—editors, producers and other photographers—has been key for me: finding the right balance between pestering someone and reminding that person that you’re still around and making new work and would love to collaborate. Also, engaging with a larger photo community and learning from my peers and the people around me has been tremendously helpful.”

Laurel Golio

Growing up in Ossining, New York, Laurel Golio knew she was different from other kids. A self-described “tomboy who loved sports and building spaceships out of cardboard,” Golio was always on the fringes, an outsider. Now, she’s known for her work documenting subcultures and alternative communities. She is also the co-founder of We Are the Youth, a photography project centered around LGBTQ youth from all over the U.S. telling their own stories.

“I’m really interested in the idea of finding authenticity when shooting people,” she says. She strives for images that are natural—natural light over studio lighting, candid over posed—and it’s that quality that her clients seek out. Clinton Cargill, director of photography at Bloomberg Businessweek, was introduced to Golio’s work by colleagues Caroline Tompkins and Alis Atwell, who hired Golio to photograph an Olympic rower in 2016. “Admittedly the subject was quite photogenic (Olympians usually are), but Laurel’s edit had 64 images, and of those easily 20 could have been the select in another assignment,” Cargill tells PDN. “The light was painterly and naturalistic, and very elegant.”

Professional anxiety is a reality of Golio’s life, as it is for any artist in a place as competitive and expensive as New York. She says she faces that anxiety by constantly working and building her skills through repetition. In 2015 she completed a different body of work every month of the year as part of a project called “12 of Twelve.” It was a brutal year, but looking back she knows it increased her confidence. Golio has learned that community is as important to her growth as a busy schedule. “The more I connect with like-minded people, and the more I shoot and engage with projects that I feel passionate about, the more confident I feel.”—Dzana Tsomondo

Brian Guido

AGE: 32

BORN: Detroit

RESIDES: Los Angeles

EDUCATION: Columbia College Chicago


CLIENTS: Apple, Bloomberg Businessweek, Monocle, Metropolis, Outside, Rolling Stone, WIRED, YouTube

AWARDS: Albert P. Weisman Award

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “The greatest challenge is staying motivated to make work you believe in and not just work you think will get you [assignments]. Following that advice is hard, but I definitely try to just go out and make pictures if I get into that funk.”

Brian Guido makes just about everything and everyone he photographs look inviting. He specializes in portraiture, while pursuing personal projects about the people and places he encounters on his periodic travels. “His portraits are loose, fun and are more in line with capturing a natural moment than a formal portrait,” says Rolling Stone photo editor Ahmed Fakhr. Guido is also versatile (and tasteful) with a flash, has a sharp eye for color and detail and an appreciation for the absurd.

But he didn’t find his footing easily. After graduating in 2008, he spent years as a digital tech and assistant—first for local Chicago photographers, later for nationally known talents including Joe Pugliese, Martin Schoeller, Rob Howard and Jennifer Livingston.

Guido landed his first big commercial job, a national campaign for Kraft Lunchables, in 2014. Though it was a success, he had an existential crisis afterward. He felt he didn’t have a distinctive style. He recalls: “I thought, ‘Is this who I am as a photographer? Is this what I want to shoot?’ I got stuck.”

He spent the next year focusing on personal work. With his then-girlfriend, now wife, photographer Julia Stotz, he spent time traveling in Asia and also drove a van around the U.S. Over several months, he says, “I really started to see a style and voice.” He was also able to identify portraiture as his particular strength.

The experience taught him: “When in doubt, keep shooting! [That’s] the golden rule of photography, I think.”

Guido continues to experiment. “Outside of assignment work, I also carry my camera and flash with me whenever I travel,” he says. “I’ve been focusing on keeping things simple with the equipment I carry and trying to modify available light…with whatever seems appropriate at the time, and not getting too locked into any one style.”—David Walker

R.J. Kern

AGE: 39

BORN: Peekskill, NY

RESIDES: Minneapolis

EDUCATION: Colgate University, Hamilton, NY; University of Colorado at Boulder

CLIENTS: National Geographic

EXHIBITIONS: Klompching Gallery, Brooklyn, NY; Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA; National Portrait Gallery, London

AWARDS: CENTER Curator’s Choice Award (2017), Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grants

KEY LESSON: “One of my favorite things about portfolio reviews is expanding your peer group, and looking at each other’s work until 1:30 in the morning, critiquing and sequencing and editing and sharing ideas.”

R.J. Kern was a wedding photographer before wandering into a fine-art career. After shooting a wedding a few years ago, he drove into the Irish countryside to try some lighting ideas, and for the “happy, guilt-free pleasure” of shooting personal work. He photographed some sheep because they were plentiful and cooperative. “I was looking at how to find beauty in the common, and that was it,” he says.

Thus began his project photographing sheep and goats in lush pastoral settings, using a painterly style. This spring, Kern will release his first monograph, titled The Sheep and the Goats. Grants he’s won to support the work led to another project, “The Unchosen Ones,” for which he shoots formal portraits of teens and their animals at livestock competitions at county fairs.

His work “demonstrate[s] a unique voice and point of view...not only in the images, but also in the final form of the prints—a complete artistic concept,” says Lisa Volpe, associate curator of Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Kern studied art history and geography in college, then taught himself photography by studying books and lighting tutorials. He also studied paintings, and tried to “reverse-engineer” the lighting.

While earning a living as a wedding photographer, and continually pushing his lighting technique, he says, “I was always trying to do something different, and rebelling against any formulaic approach.”

He sold two sheep portrait prints for $1,000 each in 2015. Subsequent sales came much harder, though. Kern started connecting with peers and mentors by attending portfolio reviews, workshops and other industry events.

“It’s important to be objective about your work, and draw input from others,” he says. Their advice taught him everything from finding a publisher to landing a gallery to pricing and self-promotion, “things that they don’t teach you in art school,” he says.—David Walker

Joyce Kim

AGE: 32

BORN: Rochester, NY

RESIDES: Los Angeles

EDUCATION: Maryland Institute College of Art


CLIENTS: Bloomberg Businessweek, Dior,
The California
Sunday Magazine
, The FADER, The New York Times, Undefeated, Urban Outfitters

KEY LESSON: “Early on, I used to take all sorts of jobs because I wanted any experience I could get. I quickly learned what kind of work I didn’t want to be doing, and
how to say no to those opportunities. It can be really tempting when you’re just starting out to always say yes. I think it’s important to just trust your instincts, and be selective about the opportunities you seek and take….
Your time and energy is too valuable to not be making
the sorts of images you want today.”

Joyce Kim always loved taking photographs, but photography didn’t seem like a practical career path. After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a degree in video, she eventually landed a position as a photo producer for Urban Outfitters.

A year of office work burned her out. “I did [all this work], but I had nothing to show for it,” she says. Determined to take a break, she moved to Los Angeles. Friends from school were making films and music videos there, and Kim volunteered to photograph behind the scenes on their sets to build her portfolio. To make ends meet, she delivered cakes, walked dogs and apprenticed for woodworkers.

A big break came when a friend recommended her work to Geordie Wood, then the photo editor at The FADER. “I was looking for people who were untapped, who I could help bring into the fold,” he says. “I liked photography that was stripped down and intimate, so that’s what drew me to Joyce’s work initially.”

Kim began shooting portraits for almost every issue of The FADER. Other editorial clients began to find her—first The California Sunday Magazine reached out, and then Brutus in Japan and Spex in Germany. Assignments snowballed from there. Kim is also building her commercial portfolio. An advertising client introduced her to the agents at DSREPS, who represent her and have helped her land work with brands such as Dior.

Looking back, Kim feels her initial ambivalence about a photo career was vital. “All of that self-doubt and hesitation was important for me to get here.”

—Brienne Walsh

Daria Kobayashi Ritch

AGE: 26

BORN: Los Angeles

RESIDES: Los Angeles and New York

EDUCATION: UCLA; ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, CA


CLIENTS: Dior, Marc Jacobs, Diane Von Furstenberg, Nordstrom, W Magazine, i-D, Interview Germany

EXHIBITIONS: Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “A really big challenge has been fighting for what it is that I want [a job to look like]. It’s been a challenge for me to speak up and say, ‘No, this is what I think.’ Because in the end what [clients] want is your vision. [One solution has been] having a really strong team. I have great assistants who are friends of mine now. One will come up to me and say, ‘You know this isn’t you, right?’”


Daria Kobayashi Ritch was a student at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena when she got her first big assignment: a 10-page story in Nylon on the year’s hot trends in beauty. “I definitely was surprised, and I think a lot of my peers were surprised,” she says, but the job didn’t come out of the blue. It was the result of effort that Kobayashi Ritch traces as far back as fourth grade, when she entered her first photo contest. Today she is an in-demand photographer whose clients range from Converse to Diane Von Furstenberg. Her dreamy, romantic portraits and fashion work have been published in Vogue, W and i-D, and earned her more than 50,000 Instagram followers. Since graduating in 2015, “I really haven’t stopped working—it’s kind of my life.”

Kobayashi Ritch began to take photography seriously in high school, when she started to study independently with two photographers she knew through her mom, a graphic designer. After transferring from UCLA to ArtCenter, she interned and was “constantly making work on the side” to submit to publications.

A few weeks after she graduated, she shot her first ad campaign. “And it just kind of kept going from there,” she says. Though classes at ArtCenter covered some practical topics, “you don’t really know how to do it until you get out,” she says. “This past year I just realized the benefits of having multiple assistants that really know what they’re doing.” She also asks for advice from people in the industry.

Early success meant that for a while, “I was saying yes to everything, because everything sounded exciting,” she says. “It got to the point where I was stretched too thin.” Last year she signed with Jones Management. Her agent had her write down “my reach clients, the things I wanted to do,” which has helped steer her. One goal is to take on high-fashion campaigns. She is also focusing on shooting work for herself, and has recently made a few motion pieces. Today, she says, “I have more of an idea of where I’m headed, but it changes as I keep working.”
—Rebecca Robertson

Álvaro Laiz

AGE: 37

BORN: Léon, Spain


EDUCATION: Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca


CLIENTS: Forbes, National Geographic, The New York Times

EXHIBITIONS: Galería Freijo, Madrid; Museo de la Minería Sabero, León, Spain; Fundación Cerezales, León, Spain; PhotOn Festival, Valencia, Spain; Cortona on the Move, Cortona, Italy; ilmondo gallery, Barcelona

AWARDS: National Geographic Explorer grant; Juror’s Choice, CENTER; FotoVisura Grant; POPCAP

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Getting to know the market in which you’re working and how you fit. That involves everything: Your principles, the things you’re willing to do, the things you don’t want to do. It’s complicated. I have discussed it with so many friends [and] photographers, [including] fashion photographers, and we are somehow all in the same place.”

Álvaro Laiz was working on his project “Transmongolia” when he turned a corner in his nascent career as a photographer. Documenting the lives of transgender Mongolians, Laiz began collaborating with his subjects on posed portraits, moving away from the strict photojournalistic style he’d used to that point. Since expanding his visual language, he’s “committed to this idea [that] if it’s good for the story, and I am honest with the people I am photographing and, of course, honest with the public, there is no wrong thing for me in photography.” He’s since shown his work in galleries and museums, and he recently published his first book, The Hunt (Dewi Lewis), about a Siberian tiger that hunted down and killed a poacher who’d wounded it.

Laiz studied journalism and worked as a political reporter prior to launching his photography career. When he started working on his own photography projects, “I felt somehow I found my place,” he says. While pursuing projects on LGBTQ human rights—in addition to “Transmongolia,” Laiz also created a project about trans people in indigenous societies in Venezuela—he’s also interested in animism and shamanism, and the influence of technology on indigenous societies. In 2016, he won a National Geographic Explorer grant to pursue his project “The Edge,” about Paleo-Siberian people who for thousands of years have inhabited the area in Russia’s Far East along the Bering Strait.

The National Geographic grant has been “game changing for me,” Laiz says. While a “huge responsibility,” the grant has provided him the opportunity to challenge himself creatively. “You have the time, you have the resources, so let’s make something special, let’s do something new,” he says.
—Conor Risch

Eva O’Leary

AGE: 28

BORN: Chicago

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: California College of the Arts; Yale School of Art


CLIENTS: Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, WIRED

EXHIBITIONS: MEYOHAS, Queens, New York; CrushCuratorial, New York City; Vontobel, Zurich; Biblioteca Panizzi, Reggio Emilia, Italy; Petzel Gallery, New York City; Aperture Foundation, New York City; Christophe Guye Galerie, Zurich

AWARDS: Vontobel Contemporary Photography Prize, Zurich; Foam Talent, Amsterdam

KEY LESSON: “Translate and move toward uncomfortable and terrifying ideas, and believe your experiences have urgency and value. That’s something I learned while working for Hank Willis Thomas. Also: have a disciplined artist practice and work all of the time.”

As an undergraduate at California College of the Arts, Eva O’Leary began photographing teenage girls and middle-aged women. She was interested in how, even in a “post-feminist world,” women across generations still feel pressure to present themselves as overly sexualized beings that do not age. Furious, terrified and disgusted by her own teenage transformation into “a Barbie clone,” she says, she wanted to push against the ideal. “I am making photographs of girls and women that go against traditional notions of beauty,” she says.

After graduation, she moved to New York, where she worked in the studios of a number of artists, including Hank Willis Thomas. He inspired her to pursue a career as a professional artist. After she completed her MFA at Yale in 2016, she returned to New York with massive student loan debt. To keep herself afloat, she’s shot editorial work for Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker. “Her work is very modern, but there’s also an almost hallucinatory feel to it,” The New Yorker’s Joanna Milter told PDN. “There’s something underneath that’s kind of dark and interesting.”

Winning the Vontobel Contemporary Photography Prize in 2017 led to a solo exhibition where O’Leary showed recent work, including “Splitting Image”: large-format images of teenagers looking at themselves in a two-way mirror.

“In terms of making pictures and getting paid for making pictures, I think a year and a half out of grad school, I’ve found a pretty ideal balance,” she says.—Brienne Walsh

Brad Ogbonna

AGE: 29

BORN: Saint Paul, Minnesota

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: University of Wisconsin-River Falls


CLIENTS: Google, Airbnb, The New York Times, The FADER, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Esquire

EXHIBITIONS: CAGE Gallery, New York City

BEST ADVICE: “I don’t remember who told me this first: ‘Being a successful professional photographer has less to do with how good your pictures are and more to do with how good your relationship skills are.’ I’ve learned that while it is important to have work that is good, navigating photography as an actual career has a lot to do with the relationships you form over time, whether that’s with editors, art directors, buyers, etc.”

As an undergraduate, Brad Ogbonna studied international relations and political science, because he was interested in “culture, traveling, immersing myself in different places.” Now, having turned his long-time interest in photography into a career, “I’ve been able to work on projects that have related to what I initially set out to do.” Recently, for example, he photographed a playwright for The New York Times, then a few days later went to the Congo with painter Kehinde Wiley, a long-time client, to document Wiley’s latest project.

He first used photography to document other cultures when, in late 2011, he traveled to Nigeria for the first time since childhood to attend his father’s funeral. He stayed two months, shooting photos and videos. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, he was able to self-publish a book of the work. It caught the attention of Diesel apparel marketers, who hired him to shoot a project in three cities in Africa.

Self-taught, Ogbonna says that assisting New York photographer Aaron Richter steadily from 2013 to 2016 trained him in the business side of photography, including managing sets and “administrative things like contracts, invoices [and] negotiating rates.” He had landed some assignments—including his job documenting Wiley’s work—through word of mouth and connections. But two years ago, he got serious about promoting his work. He mailed a booklet of his favorite work of the year to several editors, and got an immediate response from The FADER, The New York Times and others. Last year he signed with Redux Pictures, and together they’ve expanded his mailing list. “I’ve been able to drum up a lot of new work this way and at the very least stay on people’s radar,” he says. Regularly posting assignment and personal work on Instagram “has been really helpful,” he adds.

Whether shooting portraits, fashion or his travels, what Ogbonna enjoys most is getting “to connect with people.” He notes: “The editors who know me know I’m easy to work with and build a rapport with people pretty fast. I can break down awkwardness. That’s one of my greatest strengths.”—Holly Stuart Hughes

Paola + Murray

AGE: Paola Ambrosi de Magistris, 39; Murray Hall, 38

BORN: Paola: Rome; Murray: Sydney

RESIDE: Brooklyn, NY

EDUCATION: Paola: Istituto Superiore di Fotografia, Rome; Murray: Design Centre Enmore, Sydney


CLIENTS: Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times Magazine, Departures, Food & Wine, Virgin Australia Voyeur magazine, Pentagram, MGM Bellagio

BEST ADVICE: “Leave no stone unturned.”

Eight years ago, while they were both photo assistants, Paola Ambrosi de Magistris and Murray Hall met and showed each other their work. They knew immediately they would either compete against one another or collaborate. Collaboration—and love—won out.

First, they found common ground in a “photojournalistic/reportage approach” to shooting. Over the years, as they built portfolios, their style became elegant and graphic. But it was hard: two creators, one end product. “Getting past our egos and creating something from love and passion was the key to overcoming all the obstacles,” says Ambrosi de Magistris.

Ambrosi de Magistris assisted Andrea Gentl and Marty Hyers, who taught her to “work hard, be humble, patient; love and breathe photography.” Hall says every photographer he assisted “was a mentor in some way or another.”

A pivotal assignment for them as a team was a Condé Nast Traveler cover story about Italy’s Dolomites. Says Ambrosi de Magistris, “Clients still talk to us about it. It was a candid moment; we learned that in many cases those turn out to be the most authentic photographs.”

Clients have given them opportunities to expand their repertoire. “From the food we photograph on our travel assignments, lately we have been asked to reproduce that feeling in studio food shoots,” says Hall. “We get attention for our use of color, its vibrancy and the emotions it exudes. I think we have taken this technique forward since we started photographing food.”

Apart from a website, Instagram account, agency blog and mail blasts to clients, Ambrosi de Magistris says, “word of mouth has been our best promoter.” The lesson for anyone starting out: over-deliver. Photo editor Nancy Jo Iacoi observes: “They know how to dig in and cover a project by capturing more than what was assigned. Another important piece to their success is their kindness. It’s not just how they shoot; the access they receive is a testament to their approach and openness.” —Anna Van Lenten

Jordi Pizarro

AGE: 32

BORN: Barcelona, Spain

RESIDES: Barcelona, Spain

EDUCATION: Self-taught


CLIENTS: TIME magazine, National Geographic, Washington Post, Le Monde, GEO magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, Foreign Policy

EXHIBITIONS: Perspektivet Museum, Tromso, Norway; Photolux Festival, Lucca, Italy; Instituto Cervantes, New Delhi, India; PhotOn Festival, Valencia, Spain; Photoville, Brooklyn

BEST LESSON: “I believe in slow journalism. Long-term projects are the only way that we can go deep with the people and the context that we want to tell others.”

In the three years Pizarro lived in India, he worked on long-term projects he plans one day to publish as books. He first traveled to India to photograph the pilgrimage in Allahabad for what has become “The Believers,” a project that he hopes will offer “a global view of the search for something between heaven and earth.” He has shot photos for the project in Israel, Cuba, Poland and other countries, but says, “It’s about 50 percent done.” After falling in love with India, he moved to New Delhi. While based there, he made repeated trips to document life on Ghoramara, an island in the Bay of Bengal that has lost 75 percent of its territory to rising seas. He shot the project digitally and on film because, he says, “You have to use more imagination and thinking before you shoot analogue.”

Through research, talking to locals and small, local NGOs, he found stories he pitched to editors, and he published work on punk music in Myanmar, a hospital train serving poor rural communities in India and a solar panel factory employing women in Rajasthan. He spent a few months living in Cambodia, spending time “looking at what I’m shooting and why I’m shooting.” He recently moved to a small studio in Barcelona, and is now looking for a few commercial assignments that will support his personal work. “My idea is to spend more time shooting for me.” —Holly Stuart Hughes

Hannah Reyes Morales

AGE: 27

BORN: Manila, Philippines

RESIDES: Manila, Philippines

EDUCATION: University of the Philippines Diliman


CLIENTS: The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Geographic, Médecins Sans Frontières

AWARDS: Chris Hondros Fund award; 6x6 Program (World Press Photo); National Geographic Society Grantee; IWMF Fellow

KEY LESSON: “I was much more traditionally Filipina when I was starting out, but I quickly learned that I needed to learn how to communicate to Western thought, and to be more assertive and forthcoming than I naturally am…. I practiced, I stopped panicking. Learning to code-switch culturally has been really useful in speaking with editors, in writing grants, in translating my local knowledge and stories so they can be understood by a broader audience.”

When Hannah Reyes Morales was 14, she saved up to buy Annie Griffiths’ book A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel, and read it over and over. Since then, she dreamed of becoming a National Geographic photographer. However, money was tight. It was not until university that she finally got her first DSLR camera.

She landed a student internship with the European Pressphoto Agency, began shooting assignments and got work published in The New York Times. To make ends meet, she resold used clothes, and for a time she lived in her aunt’s dental clinic. In 2014, National Geographic Society awarded her a grant. They also set her up in a mentorship with Erika Larsen. Assignments picked up after that.

Morales had thought that she wanted to use photography to travel the world. But after moving to Cambodia and living there for three years, she returned to the Philippines. Seeing her country with fresh eyes, she realized she could use photography to translate for others what she was seeing at home.

She has covered the country’s violent war on drugs. With a fellowship from the GroundTruth Project, she documented Filipina women displaced by Typhoon Haiyan who fell into the sex trade. She is now working with National Geographic on a project about the Filipino diaspora.

“I’m trying to make sense of my own identity and my own portrayal of my own country so I don’t sink into the stereotypes of it,” she says. She still wants to tell international stories, she says, “but I think it is very important that I have a clear understanding of where I am from. So I’m trying to do both.”—Mimi Ko

Maggie Shannon

AGE: 30

BORN: Boston

RESIDES: Los Angeles

EDUCATION: Hampshire College, Amherst, MA; School of Visual Arts, New York City


CLIENTS: Opening Ceremony, VICE, Need Supply, Coveteur, Man Repeller, Bloomberg Businessweek

EXHIBITIONS: RUBBER FACTORY, New York City; A/D/O, Brooklyn, NY; Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles; The Society of Korean Photography, Busan, Korea; Press Street Gallery, New Orleans; Dossier Outpost, New York City

AWARDS: Magnum Photos 30 under 30

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “The loneliness of being freelance is a tough one. It’s great when work’s consistent but sometimes it’s not, and it can go a week or, heaven forbid, three with no jobs and then you start freaking out. It’s [important] to have a support group of friends to grab a coffee with, to ask questions and bounce ideas off of.”

After graduate school, Maggie Shannon worked as a product photographer in New York “at this really crummy sales company,” she recalls. “It was pretty awful. But I was sending work out,” entering contests and applying for grants to support the portrait series she’d made into her thesis project. Then she won Magnum’s 30 Under 30—“such a huge boon,” she says. She quit her day job. The prize offered portfolio reviews and meetings with editors and working photographers who showed her the steps to creating a career as an editorial shooter. The most important advice she got was to shoot the work she wanted to be hired for.

Shannon began documenting women who make experimental music, which became her series “Noise Girls.” Her images show women in the artful chaos of their makeshift studios, often lit with poppy flash. She emailed editors, and got meetings and jobs. Her first real assignment was for Brooklyn Magazine, photographing a musician at a Brooklyn bar. While “Noise Girls” had prepared her to work in different kinds of environments, she says editorial assignments forced her think fast on her feet. Recently, Shannon has brought her airy palette and eye for strange shapes to fashion stories and look books. “It’s been fun flexing that creative muscle,” she says.

But personal projects remain essential. An interest in Martha’s Vineyard’s annual shark fishing contest led to an assignment from The New Yorker to go out with a boat during the hunt. The series became “Swamp Yankee,” which Shannon published as a book. Her interest in the Greenbrier bunker, which was once prepared to house members of Congress in the event of nuclear war, landed her an assignment to shoot it for Topic.

When Shannon moved from New York to Los Angeles last year, she found herself without a personal project. “I had a week or two where I was frantic and I felt like I needed to shoot something,” she says. Eventually she “got really obsessed with this utopian town in Arizona” called Arcosanti. Like the Greenbrier, the place is “forgotten but represents this moment in American history,” she says.

Shannon says that when she fell for photography in college, she didn’t know what form her career would take. “I just knew I was obsessed with going out and exploring and using the camera as an excuse to talk to people and see more,” she says. Her pursuit continues.
—Rebecca Robertson


AGE: 46

BORN: New Brunswick, NJ

RESIDES: Philadelphia

EDUCATION: Pratt Institute; Yale University School of Art


CLIENTS: The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, ACLU

EXHIBITIONS: Aperture Gallery, New York City; National Art Museum, Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Danziger Gallery, New York City; Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles; Ely Center of Contemporary Art, New Haven, CT

AWARDS: John Ferguson Weir Award and Schickle-Collingwood Prize, Yale; fellowship, Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights/Yale Law School

KEY LESSON: “Not all rejection or failure is bad…It can make you work harder and lead you in directions that are ultimately better for you and your work…I usually give myself two or three days to feel sorry for myself after a rejection and then I force myself to get back up and start working again. Even if I believe all the negativity in my head, I start working.”

At 18, Danna Singer worked in a one-hour photo lab in her hometown of Toms River, New Jersey. Though in love with photography, she had no particular plan to build her life around it. But using the darkroom to make his own black-and-white prints was someone from her neighborhood: music photographer Danny Clinch. “I felt like I wanted to be that person,” she says.

Fifteen years later, after a stint in Seattle raising a family and waitressing, Singer returned east, and briefly interned with Clinch. For the next decade, she persistently sent her work to him, galleries, editors and grantmakers.

Then came Yale at age 44. Before, she was making formal black-and-white pictures. After her first crit, “I made the ugliest pictures I could of the ugly subject matter that I saw around me when I was growing up. And I came back with raw, real pictures that wound up being good.”

At Yale she met writer Rick Moody, who advised her: “Be vulnerable and tell your truth.” Her recent pictures focus on cycles of poverty, teen pregnancy, addiction and abuse. To capture this emotional terrain, she studies the “architecture of the space, its claustrophobia—how it collapses on you, or you go outside and there’s something beautiful against something despairing and ugly. It’s also a description of my relationship to growing up in that type of place.”

Her mentor and professor Gregory Crewdson says, “Danna’s work is very challenging—disturbing even—but she captures beauty, humanity and a yearning for grace and possibility. It recalls the documentary photography of Arbus and Goldin, but also feels completely relevant to the present moment.”

Today, she earns a living teaching and doing editorial assignments; she is working on a long-term project for The New York Times Magazine. Going forward, she wants “to tell stories about America, and to make work outside the States.” —Anna Van Lenten

Daniele Volpe

AGE: 36

BORN: Priverno, Italy

RESIDES: Guatemala City, Guatemala

EDUCATION: Self-taught


CLIENTS: GEO, International Committee of the Red Cross, The New York Times, Stern, UNHCR, UNICEF

EXHIBITIONS: Festival della Fotografia Etica, Lodi, Italy; Istituto Italiano de Cultura, Guatemala City, Guatemala

AWARDS: Foundry Photojournalism Fellowship; Eddie Adams Workshop; POY Latam (Photographer of the Year Latin America), 2nd Place

BEST ADVICE: “I was an engineering student when I met Paolo Pellegrin in Rome. I naively asked him about how to become a photojournalist. He answered something like: ‘If you have a story to tell, you’ll get it.’ It was simple advice, but it still moves me to this day. My interpretation of that was always, ‘Find your own story, tell the story your way.’... That’s why I think it is important to be emotionally close to the issue.”

Daniele Volpe focuses on human rights and social justice in Latin America, but he grew up in a small town in Italy. He moved to Guatemala in 2006 after he had earned an engineering degree in Rome, only to find himself bored by office life. Volpe left his job and volunteered in Guatemala’s Western Highlands with Italian humanitarian organization Caritas Italiana. After two years in the countryside, he moved to Guatemala City. One of the first friends he made there was then-AP staff photographer Rodrigo Abd.

“I did a web search and it was a great surprise to know he was an award-winning photojournalist. I had no experience [with] how to work as a photojournalist, [even] less in as complicated a country as Guatemala. The friendship with Rodrigo was the greatest workshop I took,” Volpe says.

In 2013, The Wall Street Journal gave him his first assignment. He learned an important lesson looking at how editor Julien Jourdes edited his story. “I learned…how the story could get power. From then, I paid more attention [to editing] when I looked at colleagues’ works and exhibitions. Freelancers often edit their own work before pitching it to media, so this ‘discovery’ was really useful for me,” Volpe explains.

Since then, he has pursued personal projects locally, entered awards competitions, published a book and exhibited in Italy and Guatemala. The book, Chukel, is the fruit of his long-term project about the Ixil genocide in Guatemala. He continues that work, but also spent the last two years investigating Central America’s refugee migration and the wider crisis it has fueled in the Americas. “I came here thinking it would be for a year, and one became two, and two became four,” Volpe says. “It’s my base now.”—Dzana Tsomondo


AGE: 28

BORN: Pasadena, CA

RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY


CLIENTS: adidas, Bloomberg Businessweek, Chelsea FC, Inc. Magazine, Kith, Popular Mechanics, The New York Times

KEY LESSON: “I can be a bit scatterbrained….One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to take my time. If I have five minutes with a subject, that means I need to take my time in other ways—preparation, research, pulling references or asking to show up to set as early as I think I need.”

The most important stop on Cole Wilson’s career path was Salt Lake City, where he assisted photographer/director Michael Friberg, whom he met at a mutual friend’s wedding. The two of them hit it off, and Friberg offered Wilson, who was working as a bike mechanic in San Francisco, a position as his studio manager/assistant. Wilson, who’d left art school convinced he’d never work as a photographer, didn’t even own a camera at the time, but he took the job and hasn’t looked back.

“In addition to learning many technical aspects under his tutelage, Mike was crucial in impressing upon me the value of hustle and the importance of the back-end of freelance photography. The finances, emails, managing clients and fighting for what you deserve,” Wilson explains.

After three years of assisting and making his own work in Salt Lake City, Wilson moved to New York City in 2015. Since then, he has shot for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Vice Magazine and WIRED. A lifelong soccer fan, Wilson did a personal project about amateur soccer in the Balkans that helped him land commercial work for adidas and Puma. “As much as I love the challenge of making an interesting portrait in a dingy office, the decision to meld my love of soccer with my career was a natural and necessary one, for both my sanity and the longevity of my career,” Wilson explains. “I reached out to several soccer media outlets, and after working many assignments for free or very little pay, I’ve been able to pave the way to more commercial work in that area.”

Friberg believes one of Wilson’s strengths is his ability to build rapport with subjects. “Cole is hilarious and a people person who has never met a stranger. I think ultimately this is what makes him a successful photographer,” Friberg explains. “He is genuinely interested in people and is always making sure everybody is having a great time.”
—Dzana Tsomondo

An Rong Xu

AGE: 28

BORN: Taishan, Guangdong Province, China

RESIDES: New York City

EDUCATION: School of Visual Arts, New York City


CLIENTS: The New York Times, TIME, The Washington Post, GQ Taiwan, A&E, Airbnb, Google

EXHIBITIONS: American Pacific Place, Jakarta; Gallery 360, Boston; Suwon International Photo Festival, Suwon, South Korea; En Foco, New York City; Alice Austen House, New York City

BEST ADVICE: “Someone once told me to ‘Always trust your gut’ …. When I am making work, I always let my gut lead me down a street, into a space, or just to talk to a stranger. It might be uncomfortable, but only then will I grow from the experience by following my gut.”

Photographer and director An Rong Xu says emotion is essential to a good photo, but 90 percent of the process is gaining access: “Access to subjects, access to resources.” The intimacy and emotion in his portraits and fly-on-the-wall documentary images come from his ability to build rapport with his subjects. That trust shines through in “My Americans,” his ongoing series that documents the lives of Chinese Americans.

After graduating from School of Visual Arts, Xu assisted photographer/director Bon Duke. They met at SVA when Xu was a freshman and Duke was a senior. “Bon is like a big brother who has really elevated my understanding of photography, [of] making work, and [of] work ethic,” he says. “I saw how tirelessly he worked and how much thought and effort goes into what he does.”

Through Duke, Xu met Eve Lyons, who was then at Real Simple. After she moved to The New York Times, she gave him his first assignment in 2014. He’s continued shooting a range of stories for the Times, and pitched them a series on street style in Hong Kong and Taipei that was published in the paper’s Style section. In-person meetings and Instagram have helped get his work in front of magazine editors and, recently, land some ad assignments.

Xu also directs short films and music videos, which in turn have helped his often-cinematic photography, he says. “While making films, you learn to build a character for the person you’re working with, you learn to build narratives, and you learn that to create powerful images, you need to have a culmination of visuals and narrative built into it.” —Mindy Charski