JURORS + NOMINATORS
Jurors + Nominators
Established in 1999, The 30 is recognized throughout the professional photography industry as a “go-to outlet to discover up-and-coming photographers” (TIME, 2015), and as a platform that helps emerging photographers grow their careers. Each year, The 30 are selected through a nomination and jurying process that includes the input of established photographers, photography editors, art directors, curators and other photography industry leaders. The 30 was created by the editorial staff of Photo District News magazine.
The 30 is a production of Emerald, a leader in building dynamic platforms that integrate live events with a broad array of industry insights, digital tools, and data-focused solutions to create uniquely rich experiences. With over 140 events each year, our teams are creators and connectors who are thoroughly immersed in the industries we serve and committed to supporting the communities in which we operate.
ABOUT THE 30
Xavier Scott Marshall
Irene Antonia Diane Reece
Alex Christopher Williams
Eric Hart Jr.
Xavier Scott Marshall
ERIC HART JR.
XAVIER SCOTT MARSHALL
IRENE ANTONIA DIANE REECE
ALEX CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS
The California Sunday Magazine
The New York Times
The New York Times
Sim Chi Yin
M, Le Monde
Center for Documentary
Studies at Duke University
Luupe, Humble Arts Foundation
+Kris Graves Projects,
Artist + Publisher
Kris Graves (b. 1982 New York, NY) is an artist and publisher based in New York and California. He received his BFA in Visual Arts from S.U.N.Y. Purchase College and has been published and exhibited globally, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Getty Institute, Los Angeles; and National Portrait Gallery in London, England; among others. Permanent collections include the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, Getty Institute, Schomburg Center, Whitney Museum, Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Brooklyn Museum; and The Wedge Collection, Toronto; amongst others.
Director of Visuals,
San Francisco Chronicle
Nicole Frugé leads one of
the most diverse metro photo staffs in the nation. Frugé was named the Jim Gordon Photo Editor of the Year in 2019, Photo Editor of the Year in 2018 and the Chronicle's photo editors were twice named the Picture Editing Team of
the Year by the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism contest in 2014 and 2017. Before photo editing, she spent ten
years working as a staff photographer for newspapers in Texas and Florida. She covered the
war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, as well as long term documentary stories on social issues and the environment for the San Antonio Express-News.
Meta and Pur·suit
Before she moved west
for Meta, Toby Kaufmann, Award-Winning Creative Director, was the Executive Director of Photography for Refinery29 where she led the brand’s photographic vision and expanded video storytelling. She also served as Vice President of The Society of Publication Designers, and co-chaired SPD Gala 53. She consults for Parsons The New School for Design and her work has been recognized by The Webby Awards, American Photography, Photo District News, American Society of Magazine Editors, and SPD.
Sharon Ber was previously Art Director of Photo
District News (PDN). She has designed The 30 since 2016, and this is her third year as a juror. Previous to her time at PDN, she was an Art Director at WWD.
She also led the art direction for the Kenneth Cole, Betsey Johnson, and BCBG brand licenses for Geneva Watch Group.
Conor Risch was previously Senior Editor of Photo
District News (PDN). He has been a juror and editor of The 30 since 2009. Conor is also the President of the Board of Directors of Blue Earth Alliance, a non-profit organization that provides fiscal sponsorship and
other support to visual storytellers working on environmental and critical social issues. Based in Seattle, Conor grew up
in Redmond, Washington, and has a B.A. in English
from Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
Guardian Weekend Magazine
San Francisco Chronicle
Center for Photographic Art
Photographic Center Northwest
The New Yorker
Visual Thinking Collective
The New York Times
The New York Times
The New Yorker
New York Magazine
Katherine Harris Pomerantz
Humble Arts Foundation
Daniella Zalcman Photographer
Curator and writer
SEE THE 2O2O EDITION
Erik Carter embodies the struggle, reality, and reward of only being in competition with himself. Carter’s pictures are as intimate as they are thoughtful and sensual. For Carter, photography started in the theater when he began photographing his friends, fellow actors, and performances. Performance and peers would become a constant source of focus, affinity, affirmation, and affection for him. Feeling disassociated being a working professional in New York, in 2019 Carter sought a change, an opportunity to reorganize and prioritize his goals and focus. He moved to Los Angeles that year to figure out a new place, new people, new expressions and new ways of thinking about his career and himself.
“No one’s path is the same," Carter says. "If you consider yourself an artist, remind yourself that artists are constantly evolving and improving. Therefore, the work we make now, while it’s at a certain level and we have our own particular aesthetic, we also have the power to change and grow. We are malleable and should never force ourselves to stay rigid in our image-making.” Carter endows his imagery with touch, intimacy, thoughtfulness, and expressions of Black queer masculinity that are deeply necessary in our world that is dominated by the gaze of white hetero-normativity. He works across editorial, commercial and fine-art photography contexts to realize potential for voices that have been historically silenced.
Carter’s career is epitomized by openness to communication and sympathy towards the people he loves, works with, and photographs. “Do something that’s so important to you,” he says, “that even if no one saw it but you, you’d still have that feeling of joy and satisfaction. This industry will waste no time in reminding you that it’s a business, and it absolutely is, but make sure to remind yourself that it’s an art form you love.” Embodying that understanding projects Carter forward when standing behind the lens and in his everyday life.
BEST ADVICE: “Do something uncomfortable, whether that’s reaching out to someone you feel is intimidating, or even just giving yourself a personal project that’s really vulnerable. Growth comes from doing things that aren’t easy or expected.”
BORN: Rowlett, TX
RESIDES: Los Angeles
In 2016, an Italian newspaper sent Gabriele Cecconi to photograph the after-effects of an earthquake that killed 159 people in Perugia, the region where he was born. “It was my first time in this kind of situation,” he recalls. “I was shy to face people because I thought, ‘What are my photographs in comparison to their suffering?’”
Based in Rome, Cecconi had studied to become a lawyer before embarking on a road trip in California with a friend in 2012. On the trip, he discovered a love of photography, and decided to entirely switch careers. He took classes at his local university and enrolled in workshops, including a masterclass with Alex Webb in Piedmont in 2015. His first story was on the 2016 presidential elections in Ghana for la Repubblica. Soon after, he was shooting regularly for Italian publications including L’Espresso and Internazionale. “It took me five years from realizing I wanted to become a photographer to getting my first assignment,” he says. “I was nobody, nothing, until I found the right alchemy.”
Photographing the earthquake led Cecconi to a revelation that he wanted to explore the relationships between human beings and their environments in his work. “We thought we could use the environment in our own way without any consequences, and the consequences have come,” he said. In 2017, he traveled to Bangladesh to photograph the Balukhali-Kutupalong refugee camp, where Rohingya Muslims have settled after being driven out of Myanmar. There, he encountered environmental degradation wrought by wide deforestation to make room for the camps. In Kuwait, where he traveled next, he captured the empty psychological and physical landscape of a rich desert country that values materialism above nature.
Along the way, Cecconi supported himself not with assignments, but instead, with grants and awards, including the Fotografia Etica Award in 2018 and the Meitar Award for Excellence in Photography. “I’m not rich but I can’t complain because I have the chance to do the work I want,” he says. Looking back, he realizes he could have been a lawyer working in an office every day. As it is now, he has a chance to capture humanity in a pivotal moment of climate change through the lens of his camera. “I’m grateful every day of my life,” he says.
KEY LESSON: “There is no
It’s not like, OK, I assisted this person, and I have these clients, so now I get a Condé Nast contract. Nope. The only way to make it in this business is to create, and to put your work out there strategically.”
BORN: Perugia, Italy
BEST ADVICE: “My first workshop in my life was with a photographer, [who is] not very famous. I liked his approach: He didn’t look at photography from an aesthetic point of view. Instead, he said, ‘Feed your heart with music, approach life from 360-degree point of view.’ This is maybe the best advice I received—art is a part of life, what feeds our heart is our experience, our knowledge, our backgrounds.”
With a degree in industrial design and an interest in architecture, Tag Christof creates work that is connected by themes of American urbanism and its economic and technological systems. He approaches his topics through refined, atmospheric imagery that New York Times photo editor Amanda Boe calls “artful and cinematic in style,” adding that he has “a mastery of light and mood.”
“I was always interested in....why American urbanism looks different from European urbanism or Asian urbanism,” Christof says. He grew up in Española, which he calls “a very strange little chunk of northern New Mexico” for its insularity.
Last year, his assignments began to center on how COVID-19 impacted our lives through the lens of architectural spaces. “I got a bunch of commissions for stories on what changed in restaurants, what changed in malls,” he says. “What was it like for a mall Santa during Covid?”
Christof, who has photographed for The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Intercept, among others, has also been working on a decade-long body of personal work, “America is Dead,” that reexamines the tropes of Americana photography, including motels, roadside diners and shopping malls.
“Christof's photographs embrace, often in equal measure, symmetry and chaos—both in composition and subject,” says curator Phillip March Jones. “He is, of course, drawn to the road, a desire that introduces him into strange situations, and the results are always composed, bright, and curious.”
Alongside “America’s Dead,” the photographer has begun a new project “about the new ways that we do self-improvement,” he explains—from at-home cosmetic procedures and psychedelic treatments, to the new wave of online self-help services.
“I'm definitely drawn to complex stories where the full picture isn't evident at first glance,” Christof says.
Next, he says, he’d love to take on in-depth documentary commissions, particularly on topics of conflict zones, borderlands, climate change, and “architecture in context.” He is also interested in brand storytelling for automotive, hospitality, architecture and design companies.
KEY LESSON: “There’s plenty [of assignments] to go around and it's never a zero-sum game: Be happy for your friends who get big jobs and root for them, even if it’s a job you were up for. You’d want them to do the same for you. It all evens out in the long run.”
BORN: Los Alamos,
RESIDES: Los Angeles
The backbone of commercial and editorial photographer Sage East’s practice is a sense of community. Her own close relationships with her family and friends are what keep her motivated—including her cousin and mentor, photographer Yasin Muhammad—and she treasures the connections she forges through her work. She focuses on both celebrating Black culture in front of her lens and uplifting it behind the scenes.
“Being a Black female photographer, I didn't really see many other people like me in this industry and I knew it was really difficult to make an impact in it,” East says. “So I'm really big on making opportunities for other models, or stylists, or [other members of my] team, and giving them a platform to shine as well.”
The Queens-based photographer has shot for brands including adidas, Dior, and Jordan, and her recent editorial commissions include portraits of “Gossip Girl” actress Whitney Peak. All of her images have an air of effortlessness and warmth, and evoke the atmosphere of New York.
“I am easily inspired,” she says. “I can just pull from everything around me.”
Her first major assignment was photographing the actor Michael Rainey Jr. for The Hollywood Reporter, and she recalls how easily he made her “feel like family.” She got the assignment via word-of-mouth, and showed the assigning editor her work over Zoom.
“I made sure I used that opportunity to really speak on what’s important to me and my career and my plan to impact the industry as a Black female photographer,” she explains.
Andrew Wirch, who leads social strategy for adidas Originals and adidas Brand channels, says that East is “absolutely a dream to work with” for “her creative vision, style and authentic voice.”
“I always love her passion for each project and her ability to bring her vision to life in her content,” he adds.
KEY LESSON: “The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is definitely the importance of networking. Your work can be very good, you can be talented, but the only way it’s seen is if you put it in front of the eyes of whoever it is that you want to work with. Keep making connections—you’ll begin to see the results. You just have to keep going.”
BORN: New York
RESIDES: New York
Mary Gelman’s interest in people and the communities they form is central to her work as a photographer, and to her focus on long-term documentary projects. Prior to devoting herself fulltime to photography, Gelman earned a degree in sociology. That background is evident in the topics to which she’s chosen to devote herself and in her mindset as a photographer. She strives to put herself on equal footing with the people she photographs. “You're always thinking about other people—what they feel, what they want, what's comfortable for them. And that's most important in my photography, communication.” Gelman’s visual language, she says, is a natural extension of that attention to the experiences and needs of others.
Her first project, “You Are Mine,” depicts young women who are victims of domestic violence. Gelman took a typological approach to the series, photographing each of the women sitting at a white table with their arms crossed, against a stark white wall. The repetitive scene stands as a metaphor for the cycle of violence, Gelman explains, which is amplified by the Russian government’s refusal to acknowledge the problem or its victims.
Another long-term project, “Svetlana,” which she has worked on for the past five years, is an intimate and moving portrait of a community of people with genetic disorders such as Down syndrome. Gelman says it took several months for the project to start to come together. At first, “I didn’t understand how I could visualize [the community],” she explains. The people who lived in Svetlana tended to act and pose for her camera as they did for other outsider journalists. As she spent more time there, the dynamic between she and the residents changed. “People just got to know me. We talked a lot. I was open, they started to be open to me,” she recalls. Importantly, her own mindset shifted, and her preconceived notions about people with genetic disorders faded. “That's when it started to be more interesting as a photographer.”
“Svetlana,” which Gelman has exhibited, licensed to media outlets and published as a book, is part of a growing body of personal and assignment work that has earned her several prestigious international awards, including a Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award, a POYi first place nod for portraiture, and an invite to the Joop Swart Masterclass. She also has a list of credits from major news outlets, which she grew by pitching stories to editors. Gelman is also a member of VII Photos, an invite she received after initially applying for the agency’s mentor program. Being a member of VII, Gelman says, has given her a feeling that she is “part of the community,” which is something she didn’t feel previously, particularly when she wasn’t on assignment or actively working on one of her projects. Now, she feels she is more connected to other photographers. “It's like it's a flow,” she says. “You're always inside this flow. And it's nice.”
BEST ADVICE: “Don't forget about you. Because when you create a long-term project, you think a lot about other people. And sometimes you forgot about your feelings.”
BORN: Penza, Russia
RESIDES: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Growing up as the child of two Portuguese immigrants in Toronto, Daniel Gonçalves was fascinated by American culture just across the border. Now based in Los Angeles, and a U.S. citizen for more than five years, Gonçalves has turned his questions around home, belonging, diasporic identity, and what it means to be American into the basis of his work as a photographer.
“My deepest influence comes from my parents and the struggle one has when leaving their home and family for a better life in an unfamiliar country,” he says. Now, he adds, “I’m interested in exploring the ways in which diasporic communities preserve their culture and identity by making connections to home in a strange new place.”
In his work, which often explores “the intersection of masculinity and vulnerability,” he notes, Gonçalves has examined how guns are woven into the cultural fabric of the U.S. and has explored the legacy of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee. He is currently seeking a publisher for “Saudade,” a series about a Portuguese community in California’s Central Valley who are part of a tradition of bloodless bullfighting.
Gonçalves got his editorial break in 2018 with a 10-page cover story featuring his gun series “2nd Amendment Cowboy,” but he has since forged a career that sees his work both in magazine and gallery settings, including exhibitions at Elizabeth Houston Gallery in New York and the Houston Center for Photography.
“I’m cognizant in making images that work in different contexts and for different audiences,” he says. “Having work presented editorially in a magazine is a different experience than viewing a series of prints on a wall…[but] each provides an opportunity to interact physically and emotionally with the work.” He’s found that attending photo festivals and portfolio reviews has been one of the most effective ways to make connections with photo editors and curators. He met Newsweek’s director of photography, Diane Rice, at a book signing at the Look3 festival and stayed in touch, opening the door to his big break. And he met Malcolm Daniel, the Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, at the CENTER portfolio reviews in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“He was already one of the stand-out artists present and I was impressed by how bizarre his series of portraits of Elvis ‘tribute artists’ was on one hand and how sensitive they were on the other,” Daniel says. “I’ve come to see that Daniel thinks of his various series...as long-term endeavors stretching over the course of years and involving a real immersion in the subculture he’s portraying. It’s hard not to be seduced by his compelling imagery.”
KEY LESSON: “This is not a 'photography' practice, it is a 'relationship' practice. Build genuine relationships that naturally grow into friendships with people you support and who support you. That for me has been most important and rewarding.“
BORN: Toronto, Canada
RESIDES: Los Angeles
With so much of his work driven by identity intersectionality, the more Eric Hart Jr. learns about himself—as a queer Black man from Macon, Georgia, who lives in New York City—the more material he has to work with as a photographer. “I’m looking at strength and weakness, and how those two coexist within a person,” he explains, particularly as those relate to masculinity.
“I'm very influenced by the men in my family,” says Hart Jr., noting he’d always felt different from them, and that his definition of masculinity differed from theirs. “I think masculinity, as far as photography goes, is a big concept,” he says. “So I think it's important to attack it in a new way. I'm thinking, ‘What haven't I seen?’ Or, ‘What is the feeling I'm trying to provoke when I'm not expressing myself to the world, when I'm just alone in my room struggling with certain things?’”
Hart Jr. started to work professionally in 2020, which was bittersweet. People were taking notice of his work, but “it was also heavy,” he explains, due to the pandemic and protests across the country against police killings and racial injustice. People who reached out would say things such as, “We can't get out to collaborate, and we're looking for Black photographers at this moment because of what's happening in the world.”
For a photographer who is still currently pursuing his undergraduate degree—at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts—Hart Jr. has already had some significant opportunities. A professor recommended him to Spike Lee for assignments capturing behind-the-scenes photos of Lee’s various projects. Watching how hard Lee works, Hart Jr. says, encouraged him to solidify his work own ethic. Lee also ingrained in Hart Jr. the importance of knowing his references and history as a photographer.
“He gave me all of these photo books of classic Black photographers,” like James Van Der Zee and Gordon Parks, says Hart Jr. “Building up your references is a way to expand your capacity to create.”
KEY LESSON: “I was someone for the longest time who was looking at what's hot in the photography world right now, but I'm learning that is the quickest way to just get lost in the noise and the crowd. I think you have to shoot authentically. You have to shoot what really speaks to you, what you're curious about. If you care about it, it tends to look better. It’s a matter of knowing that individuality speaks to [the] masses. I didn't really think of photography in that sense: Telling my own story is something that other people can relate to.”
BORN: Macon, GA
RESIDES: New York City
The son of two photographers, Jon Henry’s interest in making images has always been with him. Photography took on a new life for him in high school, where he began seeing the importance of photographing his friends and community. From these beginnings, Henry saw the significance of frames that spoke about race, ideology and humanity, and that represent Blackness and amplify the voices of those who historically have been silenced and underrepresented.
In 2010, Henry began pursuing a career as a sports photographer. The interplay of action, motion and light drew him to photographing athletes. The attention to body language he developed doing that work has also carried through into his fine-art photographs, specifically his body of work "Stranger Fruit," which depicts mothers holding their sons in the familiar repose of the pieta. Photographing sports, and also at a local Church from 2012 to late 2013, instilled in Henry a visual language focused on the power of pose and iconography. Henry stresses, “The Black body in art is important.” Inspiration from renaissance painting and technical craft lead the artist, in 2014, to use a 4x5 camera and make the first image for "Stranger Fruit."
In making the move from commercial work to persuing his personal projects Henry says, one challenge has been “Understanding that it all takes time, building a career and letting a project develop. I get impatient like most,” he says, “but understanding that time is part of the process has really helped me maintain focus.” That focus has lead Henry to assignments for publications such as The New York Times Style Magazine and Cultured Mag, and to exhibitions all over the world.
During our conversation Henry and I agree that being an artist, and developing entrepreneurial skills, is daunting and difficult. To that end Henry says it’s critical to, “Stay the course. It can be isolating working on a long-term project, especially when you have to pay bills and be a functioning human. It is a tall task to work through all the obstacles, but following through will be rewarding.”
BEST ADVICE: “Your voice is important, make sure it is heard.”
BORN: Queens, NY
RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY
Sebastián Hidalgo’s work as a visual journalist is rooted in his upbringing in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, a historically Mexican-American enclave whose residents have been displaced by gentrification and development. Members of Hidalgo’s family, including his mother, aunts, and uncles were involved in the arts in Pilsen, where significant contributions to the Mexican-American mural and labor movements are part of the community history. But media attention focused primarily on gang activity without examining the root causes of that violence, and painted what Hidalgo felt was an incomplete picture of the community. Hidalgo says he understood “really early on” how people of color were portrayed in the media, “and what was neglected in journalism.” Negative stereotypes made him feel as if his life was predetermined. He uses journalism to create a counter-narrative. “As a photographer, can the work really change things? [It] is a question we can always ask ourselves and answer honestly and with humility” Hidalgo says. “We are not saviors, we are journalists committed to change work.”
Hidalgo started locally with Austin Weekly News, a publication of Chicago journalism nonprofit Growing Community Media. He built a community with a group of journalists he worked with at Austin Weekly News and later City Bureau, who “devoted themselves to changing how journalism engaged locally,” and understood that “journalism is an extremely extractive medium.” They “adopted this idea of putting community first,” speaking with people to learn which stories mattered most to them. Hidalgo has carried this philosophy of engagement and deep understanding into his subsequent work, which includes long-term projects about his community’s displacement from Pilsen; a project about farmworkers in Salinas, California; and an environmental justice story about Chicago’s Little Village, a Latino-Latina neighborhood near where he grew up. The latter is supported by a National Geographic Society Explorer Grant, and Hidalgo has also partnered with Chicago non-profit news organization City Bureau on the work.
During the pandemic, Hidalgo worked for media outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and ProPublica. He feels that national publications incresingly see Chicago and the Midwest as a bellwether for the country, and his deep knowledge of the city and its issues means “editors are more interested and open to collaborations and to hear pitches.” Hidalgo was himself displaced from Pilsen in 2019, which has fueled his intention to work internationally and to bring the “civic approach” to journalism that he learned in Chicago to stories further afield.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Just being part of a team [as a journalist of color] is extremely difficult. There are often a lot of microaggressions that we have to deal with…. And it does affect you…. It’s extremely challenging to be diplomatic about it, or to not have those safe spaces within the industry itself.”
Alexis Hunley has complicated feelings about the body of work she shot in the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. On one hand, the photographs, which capture Hunley’s friends, family and community in Los Angeles, where she is based, led to major assignments from publications ranging from The New York Times to NBC News. But they also came, Hunley notes, on the heels of the murder. “It felt like [the deaths of black men and women] facilitated a jump in my career, to a degree,” she says. “And that was really difficult to sit with.”
Even still, Hunley knew that she was telling a part of the story that was largely missing from mainstream media coverage. “I needed to see the care and the concern and the real sense of community,” Hunley says. “I wanted to capture the love and the intimacy that has always been there but is often not documented because it doesn't sell.”
Hunley, who taught herself photography by watching YouTube videos and online tutorials, learned how to be creative from her grandmother, who passed away in 2016. Hunley describes her grandmother as a sort of Renaissance woman who could lay tiles and take family portraits with equal mastery. In pursuing a creative career—Hunley received a degree in psychology from Loyola Marymount College in 2013 and worked in a variety of office jobs in the years after graduation—she felt as though she was honoring her grandmother’s life. “What originally started as a way to grieve her departure and stay connected to her memories has snowballed into the greatest decision of my life,” Hunley says.
Her first assignment came through a friend, who connected her to the founders of a dating app geared towards athletes. Hunley learned on jobs and by assisting other photographers who served as mentors. She nurtured client relationships via email, and kept in touch with editors and creative directors she met at portfolio reviews.
In the summer of 2020, her creative vision finally coalesced. “Hunley has an incredible feel for capturing the raw, unedited emotion of individuals as well as how these intense feelings exist in a larger community context,” says Allegra Wilde, a strategist whom Hunley met at the PHOTOPLUS portfolio reviews and has mentored the photographer. “This combination hits a particular sweet spot for potential clients.”
Assignments covering the Black Lives Matter protests and COVID-19 pandemic led to commercial work—recent clients include HBO Max, Madewell, Airbnb and Dockers. Recently, Hunley released “Flaws of Attraction,” an NFT produced in collaboration with her partner, Annabelle Freedman, that explores the spectrum of gender performances. She hopes, in the coming year, to create more motion projects. More than anything, she recommends that photographers looking to forge a similarly unconventional path in the photography industry stay true to themselves. “What makes you stand apart will often be what gets you hired,” she says.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Photography is an expensive undertaking! I had to work with what I had access to for quite some time, but it pushed me to be more creative. Some of my most popular pieces are from the earliest parts of my career when I had fewer resources.”
BORN: Declined to say
RESIDES: Los Angeles
Vikesh Kapoor was on the road touring to promote his 2013 album—along with being a photographer, Kapoor is a successful songwriter and folk singer—when his mother was hospitalized with complications from heart surgery. Kapoor went home every chance he had to visit her; while he was with her, he began taking photographs. “I started thinking about her and my father’s sacrifices, to allow me to be an artist and travel,” he says. “I began to wonder if I was making their sacrifice worth it.”
Born in India, Kapoor’s parents moved to the United States in 1973, eventually settling in rural Pennsylvania. There, they aged without the comfort of their families and friends. “I used photography as a salve, and also as a way to create memories with them,” Kapoor says. The photographs he took eventually became the series “See You at Home,” which combines contemporary photographs of Kapoor’s parents with archival images from their youth in India to create a bittersweet and aching portrait of the American Dream. “It is not easy to bring the everyday to life so poignantly, but Vikesh has made it look effortless,” says Alyssa Coppelman, a photo editor and consultant who has worked with Kapoor.
Kapoor first started taking photographs on a trip to India with his father in 2006. When he developed the film from that trip, he was blown away by what he had captured. “It was such a dream when I was there,” he said. “I was stunned that the photographs captured what I had experienced.” Photography was something he dabbled in for a long time. In 2012, he began a photography internship at Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, which led to freelance work for publications including The Boston Globe. In 2018, he enrolled in a master’s program in photojournalism at Boston University, where he also received his undergraduate degree.
“See You at Home” marked a turning point in Kapoor’s photographic career. Submitting the series led to a Project Development Grant from CENTER in Santa Fe in 2018, which snowballed into myriad awards and opportunities, including residencies at the Center of Photography at Woodstock in New York and Latitude in Chicago; The Joan Hohlt and Roger Wich Emerging Photographer Scholarship at the Houston Center for Photography in 2021; and a solo exhibition at the PhotoNOLA Festival in New Orleans in December 2021. The project is fulfilling in way that editorial photography and photojournalism was not. “I have just always been an artist,” Kapoor says. “I wanted to take liberties, I wanted to be creative, and I wanted to tell a story.”
In his work, which is shot on a variety of medium-format analog and digital cameras, Kapoor aims to depict not truth, but the gray areas where nuance lies. Kapoor has also begun shooting video projects, including a recent music video for “Glory Strums,” a song by Hiss Golden Messenger. He strongly supports artists, and especially artists of color, to not be afraid to tell their own stories. “If it’s coming from a place of truth, it will resonate,” he says.
KEY LESSON: “If [your photography] is coming from a place of truth, it will resonate."
BORN: Sunset Pines, PA
RESIDES: Los Angeles
Kovi Konowiecki’s work blurs borders and renders physical boundaries malleable or undefined. In his debut monograph, And In Its Place, Another, published this past May by Deadbeat Club Press, photographs from his home state of California meld with those from Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East in a mix of black and white, color, film and digital. A sense of transience emanates from his portraits as well as the meandering body of work, which he exhibited at the Los Angeles gallery These Days this past summer.
“All of my subjects exist in this liminal space that I would [say are] on the outskirts or fringes of society,” Konowiecki says. His images range from inward, dignified portraits of nomadic people in the California Desert to solitary homes in disquieting landscapes.
Clint Woodside, founder of Deadbeat Club Press, says Konowiecki has the ability to “conjure beauty out of thin air,” adding that he uses “photography as poetry.”
And like the photographers whose work Konowiecki often returns to, including Mark Steinmetz and Alec Soth, Konowiecki prefers to find that poetry in in-between moments, where there is a sense of uncertainty about whether an image is staged or candid, but each frame uses intimacy to reveal a sense of truth.
“There is a sensitivity, grace, and honesty in the way Kovi approaches his subjects,” says Rose Shoshana, founder of ROSEGALLERY, which has exhibited Konowiecki’s work. “[His focus] on the forgotten pieces we often take for granted, showcase his ability to capture the viewer, invite them in, and reconsider what they thought they recognized.”
Konowiecki was selected for the Red Hook Labs juried show “Labs New Artists II” in 2018, as well as British Journal of Photography’s “Portrait of Britain” that same year. He has been recognized by the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize three times, and was a recent finalist for the 2021 Aperture Portfolio Prize.
Though Konowiecki credits such awards and honors with shaping his career—particularly the Taylor Wessing prize, which he says opened many doors for him—he firmly believes that developing his vision has been the most important catalyst for his career.
“It's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of promoting [yourself] in this digital media world that we live in, but I think just focusing on the work itself, and really kind of devoting yourself to the work is really the most important thing,” he says.
KEY LESSON: “It's a difficult thing to accomplish to be true to yourself as an artist. And I think that manifests itself not just in the work that you make, but also how you promote yourself and who you approach…. I think it’s really important to consider who you are as a photographer, and [which museums, galleries, curators and editors] you might fit with.””
BORN: Long Beach, CA
RESIDES: Los Angeles
University of the
When Ksenia Kuleshova first set her sights on a career in documentary photography, the Russian-born former publicist decided to move to Germany to attend the prestigious Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts. But according to Kuleshova, she was told her portfolio was weak and her lack of German would be a hindrance to her acceptance there.
“I was thankful for this honest critique and at the same time it made me a bit angry and motivated me,” she recalls.
Never one to give up, Kuleshova began taking an intensive German course and cold-contacted graduates of the photography program, asking for someone to look at her portfolio. When photographer and art director Mitya Kushelevich replied, they began an informal mentorship that would be the catalyst for her career.
Now, she’s a Hanover graduate and a Canon Ambassador, and her work has been published by The New York Times, National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, Die Zeit and GEO France. She participated in the Joop Swart Masterclass in 2018, and received the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Student Photographers in 2020.
Her long-term projects have included a curious exploration of the former Soviet republic; a look at the now-disputed territory of Abkhazia, as well as a heartfelt series on LGBTQ+ people in Russia. Over the past year, like many other photographers, she has turned her camera on herself.
“Ksenia's work is impressive in that it offers insight into regions, issues and people which are overlooked and ignored,” says Bertan Selim, founder of VID Foundation for Photography. “The strength in her work lies in her ability to transform a seeming foreign reality and context into images which speak to a broader public, which are humane, honest and direct.”
Kuleshova says that finding her voice within photography has been a long road—something that many photographers contend with at various points in their careers. During her first years, she says, “something in my pictures didn’t inspire me.”
But, when she began working on “Abkhazia,” she sensed a deep shift. “I felt really moved by my own pictures,” she says. “And I felt this energy and desire to continue the project. And in that moment, it was just emotional.”
BEST ADVICE: “I’m a PR specialist; it was my first education. There are no secret tools [to promote your work]. If you don’t show and speak about your work, nobody will know it.”
BORN: Kaluga, Russia
Germany and Antwerp, Belgium
of Applied Sciences
and Arts, Dortmund
When Gabrielle Lurie was trying to build her career as a freelance photojournalist in San Francisco, she showed up at a gallery opening to hand deliver a postcard and personal note to Judy Walgren, who was then the Director of Photography at the San Francisco Chronicle. “She wasn’t answering my emails,” Lurie explains. To her dismay, Walgren opened the note on the spot and read it out loud to the group of people around her. “I was mortified,” Lurie recalls. “But she said, ‘Okay, your perseverance has me making time for you. Let's put it on the schedule.’”
Up to that point, Lurie had done some work for the San Francisco Examiner, and had also given herself assignments to help her build a portfolio. She had emailed “every editor possible,” and had dealt with rejection and a lot of people telling her not to pursue a career in photojournalism because it was such a difficult field. After her meeting with Walgren, it took about six months for her to get an assignment. But once she did, she recalls, “it was like a storm. I was just flooded.” She took assignments from The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and The Atlantic, among many others. She also worked frequently enough for the Chronicle that when a staff position opened in 2016, Visuals Director Nicole Frugé gave her the position and has mentored Lurie as she’s grown as a photographer.
Newspaper work had not even been on her radar early in her life as a photographer. She graduated with a fine-art photography and art history degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts into a brutal job market in 2009, but eventually found her way to a photo lab, where she worked for five years as a master retoucher. She saw all different types of work, including newspaper and magazine work that was artistic rather than strictly informational. She realized she could merge the creative vision of art photography with the practical needs of photojournalism. She also felt she could build a career. “I'm seeing the contact sheets, and I was like, ‘I can do this.’” Her photo lab colleagues, many of them talented photographers, pushed her too.
At the Chronicle, Lurie photographs a mix of daily assignments and long-form stories. She tries to pitch stories as much as possible, she says. Frugé and the staff of Chronicle editors are “really open” to giving her opportunities to pursue stories and different visual approaches. “I just feel the sky’s the limit,” she says. During the early days of the pandemic, she pitched a series of 4x5, black-and-white portraits of essential workers, which generated “one of the biggest reader responses I’ve gotten.” Lurie says her work continues to evolve as she looks to mix information, emotion and different visual approaches. “Unfortunately, as a society, I think we've become numb to a lot of imagery,” Lurie explains. “And so I think we have to show these stories in a new way that people can connect to and, you know, be drawn in.”
KEY LESSON: “Not to take this industry personally. People are really busy, they're overworked. If they don't answer you, email them again.”
BORN: Detroit, MI
RESIDES: San Francisco, CA
Spandita Malik was in graduate school at Parsons School of Design when she learned something that changed her work. She was “really angry” about the topics she was engaging with in her photography—women’s rights and gendered violence, particularly in India, where she was born and raised. But she “realized that the more anger there was in my work, the less people would listen or understand,” she says. In response, she created “Last Portraits of Her,” works which were beautiful to look at but whose subject, the gang rape and murder of two women in India, was maddening and tragic. “That completely changed the way I thought I could talk about violence,” Malik says. “I thought it was interesting to engage the audience first, with aesthetic, and then talk about the real problems.”
The approach is part of what Malik calls an “expanded documentary” practice, which addresses social issues via photography and the use of textiles, embroidery and mixed media, which grew out of her undergraduate studies in fashion design. “I am trying to figure out ways to create documentary images, but it's not in the realm of documentary that exists currently,” Malik explains. Her series “Being a Woman,” for instance combines newspaper clippings, embroidery, photographs, drawings and textiles to address violence against women in India. And her project “nārī” is comprised of portraits of Indian women from small villages who use embroidery to earn money and work towards financial freedom. The women in the photographs embroider and embellish the images, resulting in beautiful, colorful works of art that address women’s rights, and also the power dynamics inherent in photographic portraiture. When Malik publishes or exhibits the work, she identifies the women as equal collaborators, and she plans to use the project to generate income for the women.
Malik has earned an impressive series of residencies, fellowships, exhibitions and other opportunities since she graduated from Parsons in 2019. “I apply for a lot,” she says. As she tried “to understand how to live as an artist,” she found it useful to identify her needs and look for opportunities that meet them: space and materials to create, and financial support to pay the rent. The Firecracker Photographic Grant, which included critiques and promotional support; residencies at Project for Empty Spaces and Baxter Street Camera Club of New York; and participation in The New York Times Portfolio Review are a few of the opportunities Malik identifies as particularly meaningful. Malik says she hadn’t planned to stay in the United States, but the pandemic has changed her plans and her mentality. She has “tried to relinquish a little bit of control” in both her life and work, she says, and let the opportunities that are presented to her influence her trajectory.
BEST ADVICE: “When Amy Kellner at The New York Times Magazine told me to get out
BORN: Chandigarth, India
RESIDES: Brooklyn, NY
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “One thing I'm understanding more and more is that if I want to continue being a creative and do what I want to do, I need to figure out a way to support myself. And I think that has been one of the challenging parts of being an artist is that while I like to live in the clouds and think that everything is going to turn out the way that I want it, there's ground realities of financing myself that I try to keep finding a balance between.”
The son of Trinidadian immigrants, 25-year-old photographer Xavier Scott Marshall entered the photo industry as a teenager by assisting others—including, eventually, Steven Klein. He immersed himself in fashion photography before deciding he’d rather focus his lens on “people who don't always see themselves as being worthy of being photographed,” Marshall explains. “I try and pull out the divinity in everyday people.” Much of his personal work seeks to decolonize and reframe biblical vignettes and religious iconography with people of color, while also tackling current societal issues like gun violence and body inclusivity. “I’m trying to take on essentially more than I can chew,” he says.
He counts opening his own studio as a major milestone in his career so far, as was being named one of the “9 Young Photographers You Should Be Following in 2019” by W Magazine. The recognition led to several larger commissions, including for Adidas. Another big moment was deciding to move to London, where he signed with the photo agency Lalaland Artists.
Not a fan of social media, Marshall prefers to network with people in person. An encounter with fashion photographer Paolo Roversi during his retrospective exhibition “Doubts,” influenced Marshall’s mindset as a photographer. Roversi told him the exhibition title referenced his drive to constantly improve and to never settle in his career. “I find that to be beautiful,” Marshall says. “Even yesterday, someone asked me, ‘When do you want to retire?’ And I just looked at them, and I was like, ‘Retire? I want to take pictures until I'm dead.’”
BEST ADVICE: “You should have doubts and you should never just be content with where you are. You should never just accept, ‘Okay, this is me, this is my work, this is what it's going to be, I've reached the end.’ When you achieve any level of success, you should never stay stuck with that success.”
BORN: New York
New York and London
Ivan McClellan has documented Black cowboy culture for the last six years, creating a body of work that combines depictions of cultural tradition, sport and athleticism, and the relationships between people and their animals. “A friend of mine invited me to a Black rodeo in Oklahoma and I was blown away by the vibrance, fashion and athleticism on display,” the Kansas-born photojournalist states. “This [project] has transformed my work by allowing me to dive deep into this subject and establish strong relationships with the people I encounter.”
McClellan explains that when he first started photography, he was very technical. “I used a tripod and took tack-sharp, ‘perfect’ photos of natural and urban landscapes.” However, he credits a Bill Cunningham documentary for piquing his interest in street photography, which improved his speed and connection to the subject in front of the camera. “I started not being so precious about technically perfect photos and concentrated more on the emotions they evoked,” he explains.
McClellan says that learning how to interact with people has also helped him grow as a photographer. “I was very uncomfortable approaching strangers and getting rapport, but I kept at it and each interaction got easier,” he states.
Building industry relationships has also been important, and he has used Instagram as his primary tool for promoting his work and making connections, he says. “I have a strong community of creatives around me. I’ve met super-talented artists on Instagram, and we follow up and support each other.” That support has helped him with the biggest challenges of being a photographer. “Taking care of my mental health and maintaining confidence through rejection have been critical to sustaining a career over a long period of time,” he says. It has also been important to actively pitch the stories he wants to tell to editors. “Be persistent and creative in your pitching,” he advises. “Keep at it if you believe in the work you can do.”
McClellan’s conviction is evident in his plans to pursue his rodeo work long-term. “I hope to be shooting rodeos in my 70s. I love it and plan to have this work in my life forever.”
BORN: Kansas City
RESIDES: Portland, OR
BEST ADVICE: “Dawoud Bey said to ‘press as many buttons as possible’. Get your work in front of editors and curators. Keep them updated on what you have going on. If the work is good, career opportunities will happen.”
Clara Mokri hopes she hasn’t had her big break yet. But if she had to choose her proudest career moment thus far, it would probably be photographing the Westminster Dog Show in 2019. At the time, she was working as an intern in the photo department at TIME magazine. She was tasked with creating an online image gallery of the dog show, but she didn’t like any of the stock images, so she asked her editor if she could photograph the dogs herself. One of her images, which depicts three dogs and their handlers from the waist down, was chosen by the magazine as one of the best photos of 2019.
Mokri, who graduated with a BA from Yale University in 2018, and an MJ in documentary film from the University of California at Berkeley in 2021, wants to photograph familiar subjects in a completely new way—including surfers, her Indonesian grandparents and her Iranian relatives, some of whom recently immigrated to the United States. A photography enthusiast for much of her life, Mokri first got serious about her craft during her junior year of college when she stopped playing on Yale’s basketball team to focus on photography. The extra time allowed her to take an advanced photo class, which led, through a portfolio review, to an internship at VICE.
After interning for VICE and TIME, Mokri realized she wanted to make imagery rather than merely produce it. Graduate school taught her how to craft a story, as well as how to create videos. But she already had the innate skills necessary to make unforgettable imagery, notes Ken Light, one of Mokri’s professors at Berkeley. “She has a marvelous and fluid way of entering private spaces and the world she is picturing and making photographs that are so public, revealing, poignant and touching,” Light says. “They are bathed in great color and light and capture visual gems of reality that many photographers miss and don’t think about.”
Mokri, who has worked steadily since graduation for publications including The New York Times, The California Sunday Magazine and The Pulitzer Center, as well as for brands including RCA Records and TuMe Water, credits her success to “focus,” a word her father, an Iranian immigrant, frequently chanted to her when she was in high school—she acknowledges that it has an especially salient meaning in the context of photography. “The word focus got me through every big moment in my life, whether it was studying for a test or playing basketball,” she says. “That word is always in the back of my mind.”
KEY LESSON: “Don’t take no for an answer; you don’t have to give up when someone says no—be persistent, be willing to take jobs that come your way in the beginning. Any work in the beginning is good work, you never know where the person who has hired you will end up next. If you want to be a storyteller, there is no story that doesn’t deserve to be told.”
BORN: Los Angeles
RESIDES: Santa Cruz, CA
Bethany Mollenkof almost quit photography a few years ago. “But then I attended a Women Photograph workshop and, in a portfolio review, showed photographs that I loved and had created for myself. It was empowering to get feedback and advice to keep making work. After that weekend, I decided I wanted to start creating portraits for publications and this new path started to unfold for me. For me, knowing what I want and being able to say that without fear is very important to booking the work.”
Born in the South, Mollenkof grew up in Kenya and South Africa, and graduated with a B.A. in photojournalism from Western Kentucky University. “I come a from big family that always told stories at the dinner table and that in turn drew me to documentary photography because it combines the things I love most—making something beautiful but also dealing with reality, talking to people and learning their stories.”
As Mollenkof pursued her interest in documentary photography, she realized there weren’t a lot of people who looked like her, and she has made it a goal to create stories that redress that imbalance.
Those stories include documenting reproductive rights, childbirth and motherhood, and what it’s like to be pregnant as a Black woman in the South. In her ongoing project “Birthing in Alabama,” for example, she is pursuing “an intimate portrait and counternarrative of a long-ignored, erased, and censored community in a state where many boast about a commitment to protect every life,” she explains. “Black women are about five times more likely to die during childbirth than white women.” Mollenkof’s project documents healthcare professionals and others who are working to help save lives and fix a broken system.
Mollenkof is also known to turn the camera on herself at times, as she did with her project titled “A Love Letter to My Daughter.” As she describes it, “Three months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the U.S., forcing me to shelter-in-place, I found out I was pregnant, for the first time, with a girl. As I couldn’t document other people's stories due to COVID-19, I was pushed to turn the camera on myself and document my own experience as a Black pregnant woman living through extraordinary circumstances.”
No matter what she photographs, she says her approach has always been the same—she commits herself to showing up and being present. “I consider it a sacred process to create images that tell others’ stories and that doesn’t change if the work is for a client or for myself.
BORN: Chattanooga, TN
RESIDES: Los Angeles
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Figuring out what to outsource and how to work smarter. You can’t do everything by yourself: Ask for help, have other people look at your work, create a system of support.”
JUDGES + NOMINATORS
What does the American family look like today? That question has underpinned much of the work of New York City-based photojournalist Jackie Molloy. It guided her searingly personal story on home birth during the pandemic, published by National Geographic; her at-home portrait of a family with quadruplets born via intrauterine insemination, published by the New York Times Lens Blog, Washington Post, and CNN; and her documentation of the lives of four mothers who chose to have children on their own, published by The New York Times.
“A lot of the work that I do is very sensitive,” Molloy says. “And so I think I go into it from a very basic human level, where I'm a person before I'm a journalist before I'm a photographer.
“I'm a big advocate for like, ‘You're telling me your story. So you have every right to know mine and ask as many questions as you'd like to,’’ she adds. “And I think bonding on that personal level is really important.”
Molloy was a Women Photograph mentee in 2018 and recently completed a three-year mentorship with James Estrin of The New York Times and photographer Ed Kashi.
Estrin commended her talent for forming close relationships with the people she photographs. “There is an immediacy to her work that is rare among photographers of any age,” he says, adding “her storytelling is always nuanced and deeply soulful.”
Molloy believes that photographing different types of projects, from daily assignments to long-form stories, is important to her career because photojournalists need to have that range of abilities. But she says that despite freelancing’s uncertainty, she considers deeply which projects she takes on.
“A question I’ve asked myself a lot is…’Why are you the right person to be telling this story?’” she offers, explaining that some stories would be better told by someone who is a part of a given community being depicted, or who has more relevant lived experiences. “I think that that's a really great question that everyone should be asking themselves.”
KEY LESSON: “It's really great to build relationships with your editors beyond just trying to get work from them...I really like working with editors who know me, know what I want to work on, and know about my life. And I like to think that I know something about theirs as well.”
BORN: Commack, NY
Queens, New York
When Rosem Morton spoke at the National Geographic Storytellers Summit in 2020 about her project “Wildflower,” it was, she says, “A really meaningful experience.” It was the first time she had received feedback from a live audience, and “the first time I understood the gravity of that project and what that project could do.” Created in the aftermath of her own rape, Morton began “Wildflower” as “a purely expressive exercise of what I was feeling” without any notion she might share it publicly. “I was surprised that I was able to build a story from it,” she says. Feedback from portfolio reviews helped her edit the work into a series of black-and-white photographs and accompanying captions which, among other recognitions, won the 2020 Visa d’or Award at Visa pour l’image. The project also fed Morton’s advocacy for sexual violence survivors, and her creation of DearSurvivor.org, a visual archive that gives survivors a platform to share their stories, the creation of which was supported by a We, Women grant.
Morton also photographed herself and her husband for her National Geographic-supported project “Donning and Doffing,” about their experiences as nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. But when she began pursing photography, it was never her intention to photograph herself, and subsequent projects depict others’ stories, including a project on Filipino nurses.
Morton had a long-held interest in pursuing photography, but bought her first camera while in nursing school. Influenced in part by observing the career of her friend and high school classmate Hannah Reyes Morales, Morton began to consider photography more seriously midway through her nursing studies. She was feeling a bit burned out and “wanted to explore if there is something in photography that I could do.” She gravitated towards photojournalism because “I really liked the impact photography can make through storytelling,” she says. After attending a workshop, she emailed the photojournalists she met afterward and asked how they built their careers. “That was probably one of the best things I did,” she says, “because it gave me hope that everybody's journey was different.” Her nursing career has enabled her to pursue photography without the financial stress of freelancing. “Not having that pressure helped me really focus on the kind of work that I wanted to do,” she explains. The flipside, however, is that “There’s no work-life balance, there’s just work.”
While she does some assignment work, Morton primarily pursues grants that enable her to pursue personal projects. Last year she became a Next Gen Fellow of the International Women’s Media Foundation, and she is currently a National Geographic Explorer working on a project in her native Philippines.
KEY LESSON: “People's journeys are all different. And they all are at different paces. And it takes the time that it needs to take. It's really grounding to know that that a lot of [photographers] came from different backgrounds. And that there is space for you, even if you are part of a minority in this in this field.”
BORN: Manila, Philippines
RESIDES: Baltimore, MD
When Callaghan O’Hare left her hometown of San Antonio to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with a BA in photojournalism in 2015, she thought she’d never return to Texas. “I was like, ‘sayonara,’” she laughs. After stints living around the country interning at various publications, including TIME, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, The Denver Post, The Flint Journal and The Los Angeles Times, she returned to the state where she was born, eventually settling in Houston in the winter of 2020. “I knew there were some media holes in the Texas market,” O’Hare says. “It’s a state with a lot of contradictions that’s a little misunderstood, but I know how to navigate it.”
She’s been working steadily ever since, for clients including Reuters, Getty Images, The Washington Post and The New York Times. In Houston, she feels like she’s at the center of many national news stories. Before the pandemic started, she took a lot of assignments photographing migrants at the border between the United States and Texas. Since the pandemic began, she’s made moving imagery of patients suffering from COVID-19, including a series about Adrian James, a 2-year-old who was intubated at a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, after contracting the virus (he has since recovered). “I was able to be a witness,” O’Hare says. She hopes that her images have helped people take the step towards getting vaccinated.
O’Hare, who has been a full-time freelance photojournalist since 2018, has built her career through perseverance. After establishing relationships with editors during her internships and at portfolio reviews and workshops such as Eddie Adams, she has continued to find steady work by relentlessly seeking out stories that illustrate national trends. “She does extensive research to find people and stories that the wider world needs to know and then presents their stories with empathy and compassion,” says Corinne Perkins, the North America Editor for Reuters Pictures. Sometimes, O’Hare notes, she will call a hundred places to find a single subject for an assignment. “Honestly, my secret is a sheer amount of volume,” she says.
Ideally, O’Hare hopes to work on more long-term stories that allow her to spend extended periods of time with the people she’s photographing. “I am happy to sit for six hours in a room with somebody,” she says. “I thrive in those quiet, behind-the-scenes moments.” In the past, O’Hare’s longform projects have included “Black Girl Magic,” a visual essay about girls in Flint, Michigan, that captured the essence of a grassroots movement that aims to elevate and celebrate Black women. As she’s found her footing, she has learned that it’s important to tap into her interests and vision rather than looking outward. “Find something you care about. And see the way you see rather than copying someone else’s style,” she advises. If O’Hare can continue to photograph subjects that she feels a personal connection to, she’ll be satisfied. “I haven’t had my big break yet,” she says. “The goal post is still moving.”
KEY LESSON: “Don’t be afraid to involve your subjects in your work. Tell them what you’re trying to do and ask them if they have any ideas. It will build trust and will lead you to areas you could never have imagined.”
Bettina Pittaluga started taking photographs at the age of 14 when her uncle taught her how to use his analogue camera. In her spare time, she developed and printed her images of friends and family in a black-and-white lab at the local community center in the south of France, where she lived at the time. “I can stay drowned into something I find beautiful for a long time,” she says. “I think photography is what allows me to preserve that emotion.”
Born and raised in France to Uruguayan parents, Pittaluga never considered a career in photography. “I didn't think that one day it would be possible that [photography] would be my job,” she says. Instead, she earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from the Sorbonne, and then a master’s degree in media and communication at Centre d'études littéraires et scientifiques appliquées (CELSA). Always, she worked on her photography and printing, frequently posting her personal images, including those taken of her family in Uruguay, on her Instagram page. Alessia Glaviano, the brand visual director at Vogue Italia, came across her account, and began re-posting Pittaluga’s imagery. The attention from Glaviano led to features of Pittaluga’s personal work in publications including Pressure, Paulette and Gaze. Her fidelity to her own vision has led to breakout success. Pittaluga is represented by the agency Rocket Science, as well as Galerie No 8, and has been shortlisted for the Palm* Photo Prize twice in the past two years.
Pittaluga has always valued authenticity in her work, which is lush and full of chiaroscuro, almost like a painting by a Renaissance master. “It's really second nature for me to compose with what is already present and existent,” she says. “It's in reality that I find inspiration.” The photographer Vincent Desailly, who serves as Pittaluga’s mentor, notes that her approach is the same whether she’s photographing her family, or a model for a brand—her recent clients include Talm, a skincare brand for mothers, and Sézane, a French clothing brand. “She wants to be able to capture what she sees, that’s all,” Desailly says. “And if anything comes between her and her vision, she’ll avoid it faster than anyone.”
In her work, Pittaluga aims to “create a space of consideration” for traditionally underrepresented people. Her gallerist, Marie Gomis-Trezise, notes: “Her soulful photography emphasizes the true multicultural faces of France in the most authentic way."
“I never thought about how big my work would get, I just want to share my vision,” Pittaluga says. “So I'm always incredibly surprised that my work touches [others], and takes on a dimension that I may never have allowed myself to imagine.”
BEST ADVICE: “The best advice I got was when I was choosing between leaving school and taking a job. The advice was: ‘You don't have to subtract things, you can also decide to add them up.’ In short, things are not just black and white, there are so many shades of grey. Instead of seeing a wall in front of you, you just have to take side steps.”
Irene Antonia Diane Reece is more than a photographer—she is a multi-faceted creator and a force to be reckoned with. In recent years Reece’s work has focused on community, mental health and depicting the fluidity of Black identity.
When she endured brain hemorrhaging at age 20 due to a misdiagnosed prolactinoma pituitary brain tumor, Reece pointed the camera at herself to talk about how her doctors’ lack of attention had caused her needless suffering since she was young. “I photographed myself when I found out I had it, once it was taken out, and then went through my archives [as a way to discuss] that I had been struggling with pain and hormonal things since I was a kid, and no one believed me. Doctors didn’t believe me.”
Her work is constantly evolving as she grows, she says. “I started off wanting to do photojournalism. I wanted to be a Sebastião Salgado-type.” As she gained more experience, however, she ultimately decided to pursue art and visual activism. Her shift away from photojournalism grew in part from her thinking about the power dynamics between photographers and those they photograph. Research has also had a significant impact on her work, she adds, noting that books on Black feminism and decolonizing photography, and work by writers such as Tina M. Campt and bell hooks, have inspired her greatly.
While earning her MFA in France at Paris College of Art, Reece says her work completely changed in reaction to the discrimination she faced inside and outside the institution on a regular basis. She believes her inclination to confront her instructors and question their opinions resulted in academic repercussions and discrimination, yet she persisted and finished her MFA. Reflecting on that time, Reece says she learned “that the instructor’s opinions are just one of many.” While she was negatively affected by the vitriol from others, it also motivated her to continue exploring her Black and Latinx identity, and to be an advocate for creating safe, inclusive places for people of color in the currently White-washed art industry.
Reece, who will soon be attending a residency with renowned artist Kehinde Wiley at Black Rock Senegal, looks towards the future with pragmatic optimism. “I want to show more. I want to make more. I want to do more community-based work, which is in the works. I want to do more activist work." Reece reveals her biggest takeaway saying, “You should believe in your work and you should be proud of your work.”
Irene Antonia Diane Reece
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “In the art industry, because it is White males that run that industry, it’s hard for women to be in higher positions in art spaces, art institutions and art education, so that’s always difficult trying to navigate those spaces. Me being a Black woman, it’s even more difficult navigating through those spaces.”
There have been two formative moments in Josué Rivas’s career. The first was when the Indigenous (Mexica/Otomi) visual storyteller and co-founder of database Indigenous Photograph lived at the Standing Rock Reservation for seven months in 2016 to prevent the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. There, he witnessed tribes that had been enemies “for many generations” come together, he recalls.
“It was a moment that I don't think we'll ever be able to experience again, where thousands of people from around the globe gathered in unison, for something much bigger than themselves,” Rivas says. “Creatively, that was definitely a turning point and a place of huge reflection for me.”
The second took place the following year, when Rivas was accepted into Magnum Foundation's Photography and Social Justice fellowship. There, Rivas’s mentor Fred Ritchin challenged him to reframe his ways of seeing and modes of working.
Now, Rivas’s focus is clear: a regenerative, collaborative practice instilled with Indigenous values. In his photojournalism, commercial work, and motion projects, with clients ranging from Apple and Nike to National Geographic and The New York Times, Rivas “co-creates” with the people he photographs, rejecting the hierarchical traditions of the medium that place photographer over “subject.”
“The intention of healing through visual storytelling has been a big focus,” Rivas says. He adds: “I don’t have to ‘shoot’ anybody; I don’t have to ‘take’ from anybody...we can make things together, and we can envision together.”
In one recent project, Rivas guided his Indigenous co-creators to make black-and-white portraits of themselves—they fired the remote shutter and selected and edited their photo with his help. In giving autonomy to his co-creators, Rivas aimed to “reclaim the aesthetic and the process” of harmful ethnographic imagery of Indigenous peoples made in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Rivas believes his values can be applied across different fields of photography, and says lately his practice has been shifting toward “commercial campaigns with a purpose” that truly value the power of community.
“Josué is that special person who is not only an empathetic, thoughtful and intelligent photographer, he is an extraordinary creative who is constantly evolving and experimenting with new technologies and techniques, which makes him an exciting collaborator to work with,” says Laura Roumanos, the executive director of Photoville.
Elodie Mailliet, CEO of CatchLight, where Rivas has been a fellow since 2020, agrees. She comments: “Josué is so unique both as a storyteller and as an entrepreneur in his generosity of spirit and strong ambition to redefine the field of visual journalism as both inclusive and deeply collaborative.”
BORN: Mexico City
RESIDES: Portland, OR
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “I'm taking care of myself if I don’t say ‘yes’ to some [assignments].... I'm not just taking $200 for a huge assignment because it’s their budget and that's all they want to pay. So definitely the biggest challenge has been to get to that point where not everything is a ‘yes.’”
Amir Saadiq’s project “It Takes a Nation” depicts members of The Nation of Islam in cities and communities across the country. The series of black-and-white photographs is a mixture of portraits and unposed documentary images that “focus on the individuals and what they’re giving to the Black community,” Saadiq explains, creating “a counter narrative” that is more nuanced that typical representations of the Nation of Islam, an organization that polarizes public opinion and is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“My work is about challenging systemic issues that impact my community,” Saadiq explains. “It Takes a Nation” is one example of how Saadiq is “thinking about how I can use the lens to create an intervention” by confronting stereotypes and questioning existing narratives—visual and otherwise, particularly those about the Black community in the United States. “As a visual artist, I was struck by how many images depicted of my community were taken by interlopers,” Saadiq has written. “This led me to create images countering mainstream tropes dictated by Western Epistemology.”
Saadiq began in photography by creating photojournalistic images—his first project, “The Beacon of Light,” is about the work of an Oakland nonprofit that provides housing and job training to single mothers. Currently an MFA candidate at UC San Diego, Saadiq, who studied African American history as an undergraduate, is exploring other modes of creating visual narratives. With traditional documentary photography, “you're kind of boxed in, waiting for things to happen,” he explains. His current work is “much more research driven” and concerned with historical events and how they manifest in the present, which necessitates a conceptual approach to storytelling. “I want the literary freedom to tell these stories,” he says.
Prior to his pursuit of photography, Saadiq worked in tech, and his business development background has helped him build his career. It is important to understand the market for your work, he explains, and to develop “an active strategy” for connecting with the people you want to work with—be they curators, editors, peers or others. “It’s a numbers game,” he adds: For every connection or opportunity, an artist must reach out to a lot of people. “A closed mouth doesn't get fed.”
BEST ADVICE: [From a painter Saadiq met at his first exhibition]: “You're not gonna know if [an art career] is sustainable for five years. It's like planting crops—you don't eat your first year.’ That always stuck with me.”
AGE: Declined to say
BORN: Nashville, TN
RESIDES: La Jolla, CA
When Malike Sidibe moved to New York with his family in 2010 as a refugee from the Ivorian Civil War, he knew that he wanted to make a name for himself. At first, he wanted to become a men’s fashion designer or a stylist. He began taking photographs as a way of building a portfolio of his designs. He quickly realized that photography, as opposed to fashion design, served as a sort of translator for the ideas percolating in his head, many of which he did not have the words to express. “I speak five languages, and one of my biggest challenges is communicating with people,” Sidibe says. “With photography, I can bring out this world in my head to show people exactly what I’m thinking.”
Through a substitute teacher at Manhattan’s Liberty High School for Newcomers, Sidibe heard about NYC Salt, a nonprofit that offers professional photography instruction and career exposure to underserved youth. “In typical Malike fashion, he just showed up at our doorstep,” recalls Alicia Hansen, the founder of NYC Salt. “One of his superpowers is that he’s always done a good job of advocating for himself.”
Through the program, Sidibe took classes and found jobs assisting established photographers. He also met working professionals in the industry, one of whom gave him his first editorial assignment at Bloomberg Bussinessweek in 2016.
Sidibe attended Parsons School of Design for a year but found it difficult to support himself while also paying for classes. He decided to pursue a career in photography fulltime. He shot everything from birthday parties to headshots to make a living and continued picking up major clients, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who hired Sidibe to photograph more than 600 portraits at AFROPUNK in 2018. “That was my big break,” he says. “I have been going to the Met since middle school.” He is proud to say he has worked for the museum.
Hansen notes that she was not surprised at Sidibe’s quick ascension in the photography world. “His work is topnotch,” she says. “He has a very unique, colorful palate of imagery that expresses his interest in fashion and also youth culture.”
Sidibe had just signed with an agency—The Good Brigade—when the pandemic began. In the summer, he attended Black Lives Matter protests, first as a participant, and then as a documentary photographer. “I left a country of war for what I thought was peace,” he said. “It was a weird eye-opener to realize that nowhere is a safe haven.” His images of the protests in Brooklyn and Harlem, which are raw, and unsparing in their depiction of the violent police response to protestors, led to a cover story for the The New York Times in June of 2020, and then three months on the road documenting protests around the country. One of his photographs of a Black man being subdued by police in Brooklyn was chosen as one of the top 10 images of 2020 by TIME magazine.
Sidibe, who counts Nikon, Instagram and Club Monaco, among other brands, as clients, would like to continue creating beautiful, impactful imagery—especially for companies and publications that use their power to promote good in the world. “If you find what you love to photograph, and focus on that, there is a market for you in the photography industry,” he says.
BORN: Ivory Coast
RESIDES: New York City
KEY LESSON: “I’m actually still learning to say no sometimes. There are a lot of stories out there and there are a lot of things that people would get you to photograph. You have to find what speaks to you and say no to what doesn’t represent you as a person.”
Jay Simple’s career path has not been straight or narrow. His creative endeavors include photography, curation, writing, and more, and his interests span medical anthropology, Blackness, fine art, and a deep commitment to caring for, and providing a platform for others. When asked what motivates him to make work, he asks back, “Why do we make all this stuff? So we can understand the world.” Simple’s influences come from working with many different people in fields such as documentary film, commercial photography, fashion, and music, and from the faces of individuals who have shared their lives with him along his path.
Early in his career, Simple recognized the necessity of making personal work and emphasizing his own vision. “Making work about you through photography leaves room for ambiguity. Just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t make it right, conceptually sound, or theoretically valid,” he says. “In the current world of mainstream cultural production and ingestion, race, class, gender, physicality, rationality, religion, mantra, social status, and all things between are used to divide us instead of celebrating our multiplicity and intersectionality.” Asking questions is important to him, because it enables others to engage with the work he makes and the communities he’s growing.
Simple is grateful to educators from whom he has learned, such as Dawoud Bey and John White. They encouraged him to listen to the voices of others, but to not shy away from his own power as an artist and advocate. In addition to teaching photography, Simple is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Photographer’s Green Book, a resource for inclusion, diversity, equity and advocacy in photography. A piece of advice that White gave him continues to resonate. “Good, Better, Best. Never rest till your good’s better and your better is your best.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “The way bigotry and racism function in our society and through the medium of photography, those who speak out against it or make work outside of its boxes are constantly pushed to feel that they are somehow radical. When really they are just rational. To radicalize rational thinking is to really dislodge someone from their sanity. Me and many folx I know dwell in this space. It’s a daily challenge until we fundamentally (not radically) change the way we view and treat each other.”
French photographer Nico Therin is fascinated by people. “I love listening and watching them do what they love, and having my camera is a way for me to share my curiosity and admiration with my subjects,” he says. “Taking a picture of someone is a responsibility, and I choose to celebrate and elevate my subjects in a genuine and vibrant way.”
Whether he’s capturing the strong community spirit of a dance troupe in Compton; wrestlers in Dakar, Senegal; or the female firefighters of Mumbai’s Wadala Fire Station, Therin’s photographic intention is always the same—“I’m captivated by things that bring people together, and the customs and traditions that come with it. I often gravitate towards subjects and communities that I’m not familiar with, and photography is a way for me to learn about the way people live and move through life.”
“What I love about Nico’s work is how relentless he is in his pursuit of a subject and how completely he immerses himself in a project,” says Kaia Hemming, Young & Rubican Director of Art Production. “When he shares new work with me, I’m always captivated by the backstory of how he got the images and found his subjects.”
In the case of the female firefighters of Mumbai’s Wadala Fire Station, Therin was in India, photographing a fair, when he saw one of the firefighters pass by. Through research he learned that Wadala was one of the few gender-integrated fire brigades in India and made arrangements to spend a day with them. It was the in-between moments, he says, that stood out most as he documented a day in the life of this disciplined group. One of his favorite images from the series shows the women running during a drill. Therin says the women “cracked a discreet smile in response to me running alongside them with my camera, which ended up giving the image a certain sense of comfort.”
This past summer in France, Therin photographed a circus that traveled along the Atlantic coast and stopped almost every day at a different beach town to do a show for the tourists on vacation. “My intention is to capture a sense of genuine happiness and togetherness in my photographs,” he sums up. “The more I collect and experience these types of moments, the more I feel attached to [and impacted by] the world around me.”
Cap Ferret, France
BEST ADVICE: “Timing is everything,” says Therin. “So much of this business is being in the right place at the right time. There are so many talented photographers out there, and sometimes it just comes down to luck. I think this motto helps keep me going when things seem slow, and also helps keep me grounded when things go right. It’s also important to be persistent!”
In order to find his way as a photographer, Atlanta-based Alex Christopher Williams had to unravel many of his beliefs about the industry. He spent three years working in New York City before realizing the New York editorial circuit was not the right fit for him. And when he embraced the idea that “everybody is a photographer,” he explains, he was able to discard the “archaic and unnecessary” hierarchies of the medium and found a sense of freedom in his own practice.
Returning to the American South, where he is originally from, slowed down his pace, but in the most beneficial way.
“Once I was able to get rid of this vision of what kind of photographer I thought I had to be, I could go make more slower-paced work that was more interesting to me,” he explains. “Then I didn't feel like I was succeeding or failing, but I was making my own way.”
That has resulted in his first monograph, Black, Like Paul, published by Monolith Editions earlier this year, a project several years in the making. The meditative photo book was influenced by Williams’ own experiences as a mixed-race person who passes, as well as his relationship with his father. Weaving in his own personal history, Williams’ body of work ruminates on issues of race and masculinity in America.
“I was trying to deal with the complex notion of race and how I fit into it,” he says. The body of work has now catalyzed the making of other projects, or “novellas,” as he calls them.
Williams has exhibited at Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; and Wish Gallery in Atlanta, among others. Greg Harris, curator of photography at High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which has collected Williams’ works, says that the photographer “offers a nuanced perspective on masculinity and race” through “deeply personal images and widely circulated depictions of Black men.”
Kris Graves, founder of Monolith Editions, offers that Williams’ importance as an emerging photographer “derives from his mix of skill and subject matter. The combination allows for a sense of familiarity while also breaking free from the multitude of stories we see from contemporary photographers.”
KEY LESSON: “Museums and galleries aren’t generally very receptive to artists who panhandle their work around to whichever ear is willing to listen to them. I have found that growing relationships and community, in addition to sustaining dialogues with folks, has proven to be the right path for attaining any success that I have achieved as an artist.”
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