What PDN’s 30 Has Taught Us About Photo Education, and Lifelong Learning

Posted by on Tuesday February 23, 2016 | Business

PDN April 2016. © PDN/Photo by Ina Jang
PDN April 2016. © PDN/Photo by Ina Jang

© PDN/Photo by Ina Jang

This morning we launched our April issue and our online gallery of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch. In the new issue, you can read part of an interview with a photojournalist who decided to get a master’s degree because there was “something I didn’t know.” She explains, “I had to continue to grow to be capable of telling other people’s stories. And stories I was telling were more and more complex.” That’s not a quote from one of the PDN’s 30 emerging photographers. That’s a quote from veteran photographer Lynn Johnson, who had been shooting photo essays for LIFE and National Geographic for years when she returned to school.

Johnson’s quote is among the excerpts we’ve reprised in the issue and on PDNOnline from our favorite interviews and artists’ talks by some renowned master photographers. (See “Great Photographers on How They Make Work That Matters.”) They are photographers who continue to experiment and to reexamine what they want their photos to achieve. The stories of their artistic journeys, and those of the PDN’s 30 emerging photographers we profile, got me thinking about the need for constant education and lifelong learning in a changing marketplace.

As we gathered portfolios from photographers nominated for the 2016 PDN’s 30, we heard from some of last year’s PDN’s 30 who participated in the seminars we hold at photo schools and festivals. In prepping the PDN’s 30 photographers for those panels, I ask them to remember that the photo students in the audience want to hear how the panelists got from where the students are now—unsure how to run a business, uncertain how to approach clients—to being working professionals. The photo schools we visit typically have teachers who can explain how they launched their own careers decades ago. But in the 16 years I’ve been arranging PDN’s 30 seminars, the media and the photo industry have changed so much, the career paths that past PDN’s 30 photographers described just seven or eight years ago now sound quaint. What I’ve appreciated about PDN’s 30 photographers is that they know the old industry models are gone, but they’ve figured out their own ingenious, enterprising ways to fund and share their work.

Students in the audience for our PDN’s 30 panels demand candid answers. The best PDN’s 30 panelists are honest about the lessons they learned from their mistakes. As senior editor Conor Risch says in his introduction to the 2016 PDN’s 30 gallery, nearly all of them learned from experienced photographers or photo industry professionals willing to teach, advise, encourage and make connections for others. This year’s PDN’s 30 photographers work very hard, and in spite of setbacks, they persevere with passion. That’s a trait they share with many of the master photographers we’ve profiled.

Photographers my age sometimes grouse about why PDN devotes an issue to emerging photographers. I’ve always responded by talking about the responsibility we in the photo community have to introduce the next generation of photographers to professional business practices. I’ve also realized that in this rapidly changing market, all photographers, no matter how experienced they are, have to keep experimenting and learning. It’s equally important to be open to advice and new ideas, no matter where they come from.

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