Posts by: Alison Zavos

South Africa-Based Photojournalist Corinna Kern on Her Most Important Photo Project


© Corinna Kern

Corinna Kern: At this point in time, I would not be able to class one particular photograph as a most important one. Nevertheless, the most important body of work I produced is probably my project Mama Africa, documenting the life of transgender women in South Africa’s townships and rural areas. Due to the strong social stigma that is attached to transgender people in African culture, it is a topic that is highly relevant and in need of awareness in order to provoke social change. Despite the harsh realities that transgender women in South Africa face, my project Mama Africa resulted in a colourful and celebratory series. It documents four African transgender women in their confident endeavors to integrate themselves into a hetero-patriarchal society, while experiencing a surprisingly high level of acceptance. By conveying the ambiguity and fluidity of gender, my project challenges the stereotypical notions on African gender identity. Mama Africa was selected as one of the five finalists for the Alexia Foundation Professional Grant. Even though it did not win, it is a strong affirmation for me that this story is of high interest and needs to be told. I am still planning to continue my project with a stronger focus on the issues surrounding individuals’ lives. So I think my most important photo is still to come.

Baltimore Photojournalist J.M. Giordano on the Most Important Photo He’s Ever Taken


© J.M. Giordano

J.M. Giordano: The summer of 2013, I gave up fashion and advertising to commit fully to Photojournalism. I started a series about the homicide rate in B’more called Summer of The Gun. During the course of the three month project on Baltimore streets, I met a woman whose nephew, Davon “Lil’ Daddy” Ockimey, was gunned down near his home in the Park Heights neighborhood on the city’s Westside. As she was talking to me, she burst out in tears but didn’t stop me from taking photos. At one point she sobbed, “When will it end” and I snapped the photo. I’ve hundreds of photos since then, but the shot of her expression of sheer exhaustion at the death of her nephew and the shootings throughout the city as a whole summed up the whole project. It’s very difficult to sum up a series with one photo. It made the cover of the City Paper that year and was nominated for several awards, was featured on Al-Jazeera America, and landed me a staff position with the paper where the series ran. I keep a copy of the cover pinned to my wall at my desk to remind me the importance of photojournalism.

VII Co-Founder and Photographer Ron Haviv on the Most Important Photo He’s Ever Taken


© Ron Haviv / VII

Ron Haviv: My most important photograph is probably from my first foreign trip, to the country of Panama. I photographed a just elected Vice-President Guillermo Ford, covered in blood, being beaten by a member of a paramilitary group. The photograph wound up on the cover of three US news magazines in the same week: Time, US News and Newsweek. Six months later, in 1989, when the United States invaded Panama, President Bush spoke about the photographs as one of the reasons for the military action. It was then that I realized that photojournalism could play a role in the world.

We Asked 19 Photographers: ‘Would You Ever Work For Free?’


Nancy Borowick for The Touch A Life Foundation

Nancy Borowick: I’ve certainly snapped a few friends’ head shots for a bottle of wine here and there, but generally, no, I would not work for free. Starting out, I took a few small jobs for pretty much pennies, but I also had no work to show in my portfolio, so who was going to hire me with no experience? I was in Ghana years ago, when I was still very much an amateur photographer and had been working on my own project when I came across an organization that worked with trafficked children. I fell in love with the children immediately and wanted to help raise awareness for this program. I asked if I could photograph the children and get to know them, and I ultimately shared those images with the org free of charge. They didn’t pay for the images, but I not only took advantage of the opportunity to shoot and connect with a this cause now dear to my heart; I was able to build up my body of work and prove to the org that I could be an asset. Since then, they have hired me and flown me back to Ghana numerous times. I think you have to make smart decisions about how you charge and your relationship development with clients.

Seth Casteel: My entire career is based on working for free. I started out as a volunteer photographer at animal shelters which led to a part-time gig as a lifestyle pet photographer. My general advice on working for free is that there are situations where it absolutely makes sense, but as a full-time photographer, you have to be careful to find a balance between paid gigs and non-paid since you have bills to pay. But there is no question that working for free has unexpectedly opened many doors for me.

Peter Dench: I’m answering these questions for free, which is beginning to feel like work in contrast to the sound of tinkling of wine glasses from the bar opposite.

In terms of providing a service as a photographer, I would never work for free. Personally, I think it’s an insult to my profession, colleagues and family. I understand the argument and that the decision, particularly for those starting out in the profession, can be a tricky one, but it must be up to the photographer to say “NO! I have a skill and that skill has a value.” The photographic industry must unite to end unpaid work and send a message to those who are culpable that there must be change; as long as photographers keep saying yes to unpaid work, the question will continue to be asked for them to do so.

Photographer Renée C. Byer On the Most Defining Work of Her Career


Cyndie French holds her son Derek Madsen, 11, on May 8, 2006. He is on medication that hinders his speech and keeps him awake all night. Cyndie spends nearly 24 hours a day at his side, except for a few minutes while hospice nurses are with him. “I was exhausted beyond belief but I had to do this. He would call my name and always expected me to be there,” Cyndie said. One of the twenty images from “A Mother’s Journey,” that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography 2007. The series profiled the heartbreaking love of a mother and her son as they struggled emotionally and financially with childhood cancer. © Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee

Renée C. Byer: I think my collection of images that earned the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography A Mother’s Journey are the most defining work of my career. They are important because the images go beyond illness to the struggle that families share balancing the emotional and financial toll of catastrophic illness. I’m also very proud of my most recent book project Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives And Faces Of The World’s Poor, and hope those images will be a catalyst to improve the face of extreme poverty. The book was published in advance of the United Nation’s Millennium development goals that are up for review this year. It’s hard to judge the most important image because the issues I photograph shine a light on a broad spectrum of world concern including our environment, economy, healthcare, domestic violence, poverty, prostitution, as it relates to women and children’s rights. I like to think the most important photo I have yet to make.

We Asked 17 Photographers About the Biggest Mistakes They’ve Made in Their Careers


Lupo © Seth Casteel

Seth Casteel: I always struggle with a life-work balance. Even though my work is my passion, I don’t want to have a camera in my hand 24 hours a day. Sometimes I just want to take a time out and experience things with my eyes and not through the lens. But then I feel guilty sometimes because I’ve been given such an incredible opportunity – I want to make the most of it! I’m extremely proud of what I have accomplished thus far, but always wonder, could I have accomplished even more?

Benjamin Lowy: Not being a hedge fund manager? I think not running an effective business straight from the get-go was mistake. But not the biggest. Probably thinking that I just had to be one kind of photographer, that I had to specialize.

Ron Haviv: One of my great faults is thinking too much about whether I should go photograph a story or not. The best options are always to go with your gut feeling and start shooting.

Photographer Maggie Steber on the Most Important Photo She’s Ever Taken


Madje Steber © Maggie Steber

Maggie Steber: I could be clever and say it’s the next one I’m going to take. It’s true some photos mean so much to us and we have affection or regard for them because of the experiences behind them. This can lead to trouble when it comes to selection, because it can be difficult to separate the emotional experience from the photo….while the experience might have been special, the photo might not reflect that to anyone but the photographer. But I digress. One photo taken in Haiti that won a lot of awards changed the course of my career and at the time, was the most important photo I ever shot. But now I would say it would be a photo I took of my mother who suffered from memory loss. In truth, I think this idea of the most important photo changes with time. We can hang the prizewinners on our walls but what we keep inside the chambers of our hearts and intellects is probably something different and in many ways more valuable.

Photographer Diana Markosian on the Most Important Photo She’s Ever Taken


Roza Yevloyeva, mother of 20-year-old suicide bomber Magomed Yevloyev, sits on her son’s bed during an interview at her house in the town of Ali-Yurt, southeast of Ingushetia’s biggest city Nazran, February 16, 2011. Speaking softly through tears in her family’s tiny home in the North Caucasus, Yevloyeva apologized for her son’s suicide bomb attack on Russia’s busiest airport. Yevloyev detonated explosives strapped to his body at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on Jan. 24, killing 36 people. © Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian: I was introduced to photography through photojournalism — so the first phase of my work was spent shooting news events. In January 2011, a terrorist bomber detonated himself at the busiest airport, killing 36 people. I was there along with a dozen or so photographers, a handful of them working for the same agency as me. We circled each other, and by the end of the night, I had sold one image and made none I was proud of. I was disappointed in myself, but still wanted to cover this story. I decided I would meet the family of the terrorist bomber. I traveled to Chechnya, a two hour flight from Moscow, and drove to their home, which was blocked off given the situation. When I arrived in their village in the North Caucasus, I found myself alone. I met the terrorist’s mother, and interviewed her on her dead son’s bed, speaking softly through tears. The image I made, and the experience behind making it, changed the course of my photography. It helped me realize that I can’t be where everyone else is.

We Asked 18 Photographers: Do You Always Get Permission From People That You Photograph?


© Ayesha Malik

Ayesha Malik: It depends on the situation. If I am walking around with a small camera or my iPhone, I do not necessarily ask. I value the lightness of that process. Sometimes I will exchange a glance of acknowledgement if I sense a person would prefer that. In my more recent work exploring/documenting Saudi Arabia, I have chosen to actively ask my subjects to be photographed. I do not want them to be stolen moments. I want them to be given, to be honest, for a person to be seen as they wish to be seen. I started carrying around a laminated note in Arabic stating what my project was about and if I could take a photograph. I have no interest in telling people how to see Saudi Arabia. I believe Saudi Arabia has to be seen on its own terms. I hope that through this process, it will speak for itself, in all its variations. I find it is a country of private people, and I will always choose to respect that over anything else.

Ron Haviv: It is a situation by situation decision regarding permission. In the United States, if you and your subject are in public, there is no legal requirement for permission. If you are on or in someone’s personal property, permission is needed. In many cases, if I point a camera towards someone, and there is no negative reaction, I feel fine in taking the image. If they say no, verbally or otherwise, I respect their choice. If, however, there is a crime, violent act, or people are there for the purpose of being photographed, I will take the image.

Bieke Depoorter: Normally yes. I often feel uncomfortable with taking pictures in the streets, because it somehow feels like stealing… I feel better if I first ask for permission. When I enter in peoples home, it’s more easy, as I explain to them my ideas before they invite me into their home. I understand, though, if street photographers do not ask for permission first… the moment can be easily gone if you asked. It’s all about having respect for your subject. If you have that, not a lot of things can go wrong.

We Asked 19 Photographers: Would You Ever Pay Someone In Order to Take Their Portrait?


© David Pace

David Pace: I would not pay anyone to take their portrait. That would make it an impersonal business transaction. I believe in establishing a relationship with the people I photograph, and I feel strongly that it should be reciprocal. I give a print to every person who enters into that photographic relationship with me. Since I photograph in West Africa, that usually means locating my subjects as much as year later on my next trip. I always find them. This has the added benefit of strengthening our relationship. On my last trip, in January 2015, I distributed more than 900 prints.

Ian Willms: In my heart, paying someone in order to photograph them feels like paying someone for sex. I can’t say I’d never do it, but I haven’t yet.

Cristina de Middel: Yes, I normally pay people to take their portrait since most of my work is sold in galleries now. I believe sharing a part of the potential profit is the right thing to do. I even have projects where paying my models is an important part of the whole idea, like when I pay prostitutes’ clients to take their picture. I become their client just like when they go with prostitutes, and it would not work if they were doing it for free.