Looking back at my posts throughout the week, it is clear how much I learned. The importance of story, solid caption writing, being multi-format literate, passion, and work ethic, were all laced into the generous advice we received. I want to use this final entry to discuss the impact that these people had on me and my personal goals. Not just what they said, but who they are. While my visit to D.C. in the fall seemed to affirm what I wanted from my career, NYC shook my foundation a little.
Prior to this week, I had put little thought into the possibility of being a photojournalist based in New York City. We often hear that the city is over-saturated with photographers and it would be a wiser decision to relocated to a remote location, such as Dubuque, Iowa. I am open to living and working anywhere, but it was not until being present in NYC did I understand why so many photojournalists move there. The city is pulsating with photography and journalism. It is slightly overwhelming to think I had appointments in highly respected newspapers, magazines, wire services, and NGOs all in one week. The city is an environment ideal for those who have an insatiable appetite for photojournalism. As the editors at TIME mentioned, you can go to a gallery exhibition every night if you choose. Photojournalism for work, photojournalism for play, the opportunity to constantly be physically present in the photojournalism community. I found that concept incredibly appealing.
Continuing with the trend of revelation I had not previously considered photo editing as a profession that would be suitable for me. That is likely because I did not quite understand it before this trip. I saw editing as a path for those who did not quite have the extra drive to become a shooter. I see now how wrong that thought process is. The editors I met in NYC are just as passionate about what they do as the shooters. Some of them started as shooters, some started in completely different fields. They all love and live photojournalism. They put the endless hours, constantly problem solve, know what a story is, and know how to find the photographer to tell it. I was really fascinated by it.
Being able to go to NYC on the coattails of attending the NPPA Northern Short Course has caused me to be more exhilarated about photojournalism than ever. Photojournalism is alive. It exists, it is growing. The doors are not closing on me, they are opening wider than ever. I am only limited by my own ability to adapt to change.
Frank Fournier’s words are still ringing in my ears, “The only thing I can guarantee is you will have a wonderful life.” Yes, photojournalism is hard. Yes, photojournalists are often of humble means. But it is a career that opens the world, whether you are a shooter or an editor. I am often accused of not being agressive enough to be a photojournalist. I have learned that is not true, my quiet personality has other benefits in the field, but I can also see how I could use my skills as an editor. I still want to enter the business and give everything that I have to become a shooter, but I see now I would also like to apply for editing internships. There is a place for me in photojournalism and I am open to the possibilities. I’m ready.
Today marked the last day of our trip to New York City. That is not to say it was lightweight in terms of content. We set out early to visit Emma Daly, communications director at Human Rights Watch. The organization investigates and exposes abuse of human rights worldwide. They hire not only journalists, but lawyers and academics as well. Emma explained that Human Rights Watch uses not only still photography, but multimedia as well.
Working for Human Rights Watch might not necessarily mean being a shooter; they hire researchers in the various countries in which they are stationed. The researchers come from varied backgrounds, often involving journalism. They must be apt investigators, skilled interviewers, be able to communicate effectively with the media, and have the finesse to present findings to the chief of police without being a jerk or being intimidated. Not to mention being able to shoot stills and video.
Human Rights Watch is an organization I could see myself working for in the future. Though the progress towards their causes may not be immediate, they are dedicated to helping people and making a positive impact, internationally as well as domestically. The stories of abuses Emma shared with us today were painful to hear but in an infuriating way that made me want to take action.
Following our visit with Emma we went to The New Yorker magazine, a publication that I am very fond of from my days of short story writing. We met Whitney Johnson, director of photography, and editors Elissa Curtis and Jessie Wender. Even though The New Yorker does not use a lot of photographs in their print publication, they put a lot of thought and effort into hiring photographers who best fit the story. The print publication is not the only outlet for photography; they also use photographs for their online (website, Instagram, blog) and tablet presence.
One particular comment that Whitney made really struck me. She said in the print publication they are often only able to use one photograph for a story, so that one image needs to sum up the whole story by showing the main character, setting the scene and tone, and provide tension.
All three women work very closely with photographers and select them based on their ability to tell stories in a style that is both their own and appropriate for the publication. They, like many of the other editors we met this week expressed, are willing to completely get behind photographs they believe in and argue the worth of the work to non-visual people at the magazine. These editors are just as passionate about photographs as photographers themselves.
Our final appointment of the trip was at TIME magazine, which I believe unanimously readied all of us to go back to Rochester and make great work. At Time we were introduced to director of photography Kira Pollack, multimedia producer Vaughn Wallace, associate photo editor Myles Little, international photo editor Patrick Witty, and photo editor Jonathan Woods. All five were incredibly passionate about the magazine and the work they are producing.
Again, it was really insightful to talk with editors who are so excited about their work. Patrick Witty was describing why he stopped shooting to become an editor; “I’m working with James Nachtwey, that beats hunting for features at some shitty paper.” I admit I certainly would not mind getting to work with James Nachtwey. Being a part of the team at TIMEmakes working with photographers as high profile as Nachtwey a possibility. As Jonathan said, it is the power that the red border possesses.
There were certainly consistencies in what we heard again today. Photojournalism is a business of relationships; do not be afraid to reach out to professionals that you admire and seek their advice. There is not one way to start your career, we heard a variety of beginnings from the people we met this week. Above all else, no matter whether you are photographer, writer, editor, producer…the story is key. What is the story? Know it, be able to succinctly articulate it, make sure it can speak to a wider audience/issue, and be an expert on the topic.
This morning I was awake with the sun to visit the NYC office of the Associated Press. It was a pleasant surprise when director of photography and vice president of the AP, Santiago Lyon, invited us all to witness a conference call (their global news meeting) with the other national desks of the AP. This was a live demonstration of the importance of communication within the business. Each desk shared what they were working on, new story developments, and as Santiago put it, “set the standard for the day.”
Santiago informed us that the AP is concerned with being represented by all formats. By producing quality photography, video, and writing, they are providing clients with the whole package. Thus, if a photographer is hoping to work for the AP, they must be multi-format literate and know which format best tells the story. The AP photographer must also be talented in all genres of photography, from sports to features, but should have a specialty as well.
Going beyond general photographic ability, we learned that the AP photographer must shoot more than the ‘tight and brights.’ This means we need to implement what we have been learning at RIT; find a different angle and shoot the photograph in a unique way that still tells the story. Santiago told us “the meat and potatoes must be in the can” but after that, be creative. Santiago also offered suggestions on how to prepare our portfolio for the AP. He wants to see how we react in a breaking news situation, that we can shoot strong sports, and that we can execute both stand alone and longterm features. Essentially, the AP photographer must be able to get the picture in any situation.
Our second appointment of the day was with Contact Press photographer Frank Fourier. Frank is one of those photographers who has a contagious energy and obvious passion. He acknowledged that photographers today must be “not just be average and gutzy, but excellent and gutzy.” That being said, he also encouraged us that there is no reason for us not to succeed in the business if we also have energy and passion, persistence, and the “discipline of a monk.”
Frank was adamant that to be the strongest photographer possible, we must know and trust ourselves. Trusting ourselves is the solution to all problems. He used the analogy that photojournalists are the bridge between the story and the public and to never forget that the story is everything. He also made clear that stories cannot be found via the internet, only by hitting the streets and interacting with people. You need to employ all of your senses when you approach a story. Also, the power is not only in the story, but the way we tell it; “if you do work nobody else does, people will notice.” The story must have your own bend.
Frank ended our visit with the most beautiful quote I have heard from another photojournalist; “the only thing I can guarantee is you will have a wonderful life.” That is really the core of why we do what we do.
The day wrapped up with a visit to the Leica gallery and our alumni gathering. At the gathering I was able to reconnect with friends who had graduated and several photographers and editors. Some of our recent alumni are doing great things; my former TA Alexis Lambrou is working at Magnum and my friend Prisca Edwards is video editing for Teach for America. It was also exciting to see photographers Aristide Economopoulos and Alan Chin again and meet new people like Patrick Witty, international editor at TIME Magazine. Tomorrow marks the end of our trip with three more appointments. I am certainly looking forward to it. It has been quite a week.
It is always a scramble at school to make it to the paper box before the last New York Times is snatched up. Today, I was physically at the New York Times offices with staff photographer and pioneer of Lens Blog, James Estrin. Needless to say, it was a rewarding experience. James shared with us that his career has been varied; he moved around to different small papers, freelancing, and even almost giving up photography to go to law school. He said his edge was that he worked harder than anyone else and took every job seriously, which led to his current position at the Times.
In regards to Lens Blog, James said it took some convincing but eventually he was allowed to test the idea. The industry was in flux at the time and he noted, “photographs don’t happen by themselves, they happen because of photographers.” He wanted Lens Blog to emphasize that.
James also gave us extensive advice on how to research a story. I furiously took notes as he detailed his process: start by contacting groups/organizations working on the topic you are interested in, conversations are key, be able to tell people what you’re looking for but don’t be too specific in case better ideas crop up, sell yourself so that subjects understand you are decent/well-intentioned, be clear what you’re looking for, and really be able to explain why the they should allow you into to their life. To sum it all up, James recalled a quote from one of his colleagues; “If you’re going to ask someone to play strip poker with you, you must be willing to take off your clothes.”
We were also introduced to photo editor Sandra Stevenson and multimedia producer Leslye Davis. Sandra emphasized similar points to the other editors who spoke with us this week; be able to communicate with subjects and your editor, be on time, and take extensive notes to write the best captions possible. Leslye is only a year out of Western Kentucky University and really is an example of where a positive attitude, hard work, and an extra skill set can lead you. She pushed herself in school to learn audio and video, which made her very valuable to the Times. “If you think you’re working too hard, you’re not,” she warned. Just keep pushing, keep making work, editing the work, and never lose your hunger.
The last appointment of the day was at Getty Images, where we met with Pancho Bernasconi, senior director of photography news and sports, and editors Pierce Wright and Sandy Ciric. All three acknowledged the value of a photographer who also has video experience, insatiable curiosity, communication skills, and perseverance. Pancho particularly cited the need to seek out professional relationships; “don’t stalk, share,” he said. Share your work, get feedback, use that feedback to grow, but do not be a pest in the process. The feedback might not always be pretty, but as long as it is constructive you can use all of the “no” to find the “yes.”
Pancho was adamant that we must “be who you are in your portfolio.” He lamented over photographers who have disappointed him in the past by failing to meet the expectations created for them based on their portfolios. “It’s a what have you done for me lately business,” he said. You can hit one assignment out of the park, but if the last assignment he remembers from you was a dud, do not expect to be at the top of the call list. Simple actions can make you stand out on assignment; know the story of the assignment and be aware of the surrounding factors that could cause the story to change.
My day ended with a little adventure out to Brooklyn to visit family. Tomorrow will be a full day and I hope to see some familiar faces at our alumni gathering in the evening.
Classmate Matt Burkhartt admiring an installation piece in the lobby of The New York Times
Today I was up at dawn to get to our morning appointment at The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Our host was director of photography, and RIT alumnus, Jack Van Antwerp, as well as members of his editing/shooting team. Jack has explored several avenues of the photography business, including shooting, photo researching, and editing. That being said, he was not afraid to wait tables when necessary to make ends meet. He encouraged us to be open minded and remain positive even if our career should take a similar circuitous route.
The WSJ, described by Jack as “editor centric,” gave me a lot of insight into the position of photo editor. Not only was I informed what it is like to be an editor and what type of person you need to be, but also how to interact with editors from the shooting side. The WSJ employs 26 editors and the editors must be storytellers as well. They have to sift through thousands of images and know how to choose the right photograph for the situation. As far as the photographer/editor relationship, Jack stressed that communication skills are key. As a photographer, if something is going awry on assignment it is important to communicate with your editor. Communication is a huge portion of what editors themselves do; they translate complex concepts into simple, concisely written assignments for photographers.
Furthermore, it is essential to get the photographs your editor needs but also to be creative and demonstrate you can do something unique even with a mundane assignment. Jack gave the example of an assignment about kitchen islands. He said the photographer went beyond a simple photo of the island and turned a seemingly boring assignment into a high traffic hit for WSJ. In addition, Jack urged us to, “use the Googles people…please,” meaning do your research. Do not not pitch a story to WSJ that ran in last week’s paper. If you plan on pitching a story that has been covered recently, have something new and interesting to say that moves the story forward.
In the afternoon we visited the Bloomberg NYC office. We met with Graham Morrison, Americas photo assignment editor, and Natasha Cholerton-Brown, global director of news photography and video. Graham explained to us that at Bloomberg, they are looking for broad-stroke images that have wide application and a long shelf life. Natasha stressed the importance of metadata; it is allows images to be found and related to content. They also agreed with WSJ; communicate with your editor and do not make them fix your mistakes. It is about customer service and not just being a talented photographer but also a pleasant person.
It was unanimous advice that we need to know our potential bosses. If we want to pitch a story to Bloomberg, it needs to be something they could use. It is important to have personal projects that displays your unique eye, but having a lightbox of client specific work really gives you an edge.
Reflecting on both visits the day seemed to have a clear theme; as a shooter, you must be able to work well with your editor. No one wants to deal with unruly photographers that do not communicate, no matter how talented they are. Both photographers and editors need to have a decent bedside manner.
We ended the day at the ICP where we saw exhibits that showcased the work of David Seymour (Chim) and Roman Vishniac. It was quite an experience to see two exhibits so close to my heritage, especially during Passover. The storytelling present in both bodies of work was remarkable and demonstrated the power of what we do as photojournalists. Decades of history were present in these photographs and they give people today an understanding that would be lost in words alone.
Emily Pellund, my classmate and third year photojournalism student at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Today was our first day in NYC and even though it was a light day it was a great experience. We visited Reuters photo agency in Times Square. We met with Adrees Latif, editor in charge, and Lucas Jackson and Mike Segar, staff photographers. They all had very useful advice. Lucas told us he got where he is today by “never saying no.” Every assignment is a learning experience. Lucas also urged us to apply for the Eddie Adams workshop and noted that many people meet potential employers there.
Andrees Latif was quite inspirational. Not only did he show us his very well know images, he showed us the whole take from the shoot. This allowed us to see the rythmn of his shooting and how he moves around to make the best image in a situation. And the situations Adrees has shot are very high pressure, from the floods in Pakistan to protests in Burma. His dedication and passion was clear; “I was up until 2am and I thought, hey why not go out and photograph?” That is how all photojournalists should think. If I am up that late, why not wait for the golden light of sunrise?
Adrees also showed us Reuter’s work from Hurricane Sandy and the Sandyhook Newtown massacre. Mike noted how during Sandy he made a portrait series with accompanying text to tell the stories of survivors, while Lucas and Adrees looked for cohesive visual stories. All three were looking for compelling images. Mike noted that when shooting, “when you think you should leave, wait.” Patience is a useful tool for photojournalists; you could be waiting all day for the moment and just when you get ready to pack up, it happens. Lucas added that you can’t kick yourself all of the time for images that are not perfect. I found that really helpful to hear; just because the frame isn’t visually perfect doesn’t mean the image is invalid journalistically. Our professor tells us that as well, but it is a hard habit to break. Look for the story and make the frame as best as you can. The technical skills of photography should simply be second nature. Andrees also told us what he looks for in his photographers. He wants a personal, creative eye, and images that tell the truth, even if they aren’t the images he is hoping to get as an editor.
After Reuters we went to the MoMa to see the Bill Brandt exhibit, which was an exciting way to introduce myself to the museum. Not only was it amazing to see a wide variety of Brandt’s work, but also the work of many other photographers who graced the pages of my history of photography book. I was particularly enthraled to see the work of Man Ray, Garry Winogrand, and Diane Arbus. It took me back to my original romance with photography.
Tomorrow is a busier day; off to the Wall Street Journal in the morning and Bloomberg in the afternoon. Did I mention it is my first visit to New York City outside of the airport? It is shame I went so long without seeing it, so far it is very enjoyable.
Reminiscing about the trip, it is almost unfathomable that I visited such a range of photojournalism outlets. In one short week, I stepped through the doors of so many prestigious businesses that place great value in photography. They value photography. It is an essential aspect of their business.
That is an epiphany that is effervescing post-D.C. If you are a top-tier photographer, who executes your craft with intense technical skill and unique vision, people will hire you. Michael Witchita’s (AARP) enthusiasm really made that point stick. Publications will support your passion if you can prove you’re worth supporting. With the foundation I am building in college, I can transform from the eager student who earns money for the job here, an internship there, to a true professional. The photographers I met have well-earned confidence. They have all been in my shoes in one form or another, scrapping to get by, to find a way to keep making pictures; eating their 5 years worth of tomato soup.
Another point that was very pertinent was I need a way to pay the bills with my work, but I also need the work that gets me out of bed in the morning. Many of the photographers we met have their bread and butter work. They are superb at portraiture, sports, and editorial work, all of which help to keep them working and fund their “babies.” I know my passion is with animals. To get to the point in my life where I can primarily shoot in that niche, I need find a way to balance paying the bills but still make work that fuels my passion.
It was clearly presented that photojournalism is in a state of transition. No one in D.C. was in denial of that. My generation is expected to attain many more skills than those previous. In addition to still photographs, multimedia audio/video, editing, and web knowledge, should all be present in my proverbial bag of tricks. If I want to strike out on my own, I will need intense business savvy in addition to those other skills. Louie Palu and Amanda Lucidon illustrated where business skills can take you; one project can be re-packaged to fit many different media outlets.
Reflecting on all that I learned last week, I still know I want to be a shooter. I am going to be a shooter. I know it when I hear these talented photographers speak of their experiences and I shift in my seat, get excited, and want nothing more than to apply my new knowledge to my own photographs. It’s going to be hard, it was hard for every great professional that I met, but that does not mean it’s not also going to be rewarding. I did not meet one photographer, or former photographer turned editor, that appeared to have any ounce of regret. Life chewed them up for a while, pushed them to physical and emotional breaking points, and they fought through it. It was encouraging to hear that even the best in the field faced plateaus where they felt they were not producing good work; they all overcame such periods. Those are not the times to give up.
Growing up with my parents, it was a foreign idea to me to think my passion would not become my profession. My father, a glassblower, and my mother, a 2-dimensional artist, raised four children doing nothing other than their craft. Their passion. I have come to periods in my college career when I have wondered how they got to that point and stressed over whether or not I would be able to do it. It took being away from photography for me to realize I do not want to do anything else. The people I met in D.C. further re-energized me. It is possible. Just like it was for my parents in their fields, it is possible for me in mine. Anybody who tries to fill my ears with otherwise is not worth my time.