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September 15th, 2015

How Maggie Steber Turned a Brutal Portfolio Review into Career Success

Maggie Steber ©TK

Maggie Steber ©Jim Virga

During our interview with photojournalist Maggie Steber, she observed that the photography business is now so challenging that you have to be a “never-say-die person” to succeed. But it was no easier for Steber when she was starting out than it is for any fledgling photographer. She explains in this excerpt from the interview how she learned to persevere through failure, and prepare for her big break.

PDN: You mentioned you had to come up with ways to think about the business so it doesn’t crush you. What were your strategies for that?
Maggie Steber: If I had a bad interview, or somebody didn’t like my work, I would go home, and I would cry, then I would look at my work and realize that I had to be better. I had to be really honest with myself. In some roundabout way, those people were trying to help me. I turned whatever negative thing I could around. You have to do whatever it takes to stay positive in this business, because it can be discouraging–and more so now because it’s so much harder.

PDN: Was there a particular incident where you got kicked in the teeth, that taught you how to handle setbacks?
MS: I was very young, I just graduated. I had saved money, and went to Paris for three months, and I was street shooting, thinking I would be the next Cartier-Bresson, which everybody thinks! Somebody decided to [revive] Look magazine [in 1979]. Eliane Laffont, who used to be in charge of Sygma, had been hired to be director of photography. They were having a portfolio review day. I was there with my silly little portfolio. I waited and waited and waited, and finally got to go in and see her, and she went through it very quickly and said, “I don’t know why you are wasting my time with this. You’re just a dilettante. What is this? There’s no story. Who do you think you are? Cartier-Bresson?” And every time I tried to say something, she wouldn’t let me finish. She just said, “You’re wasting my time, you’re wasting your own time. This is silly, thank you, goodbye.” I went home, and I cried, then I looked at my work and I thought, “This woman is exactly right. She’s absolutely right. I have these pictures, and what do they say? They didn’t really say anything about France. They don’t even say anything about me.”

PDN: And so what did you do?
MS: I thought: Why do I want to take pictures? Why am I in photography? I decided what I really wanted to do was to tell stories, so that’s what I started to do. I started really small. I found a magic shop that had a cat that did card tricks. I found a doll hospital, [owned] by this eccentric man who repaired dolls, and he had this whole relationship with these dolls. Little bitty stories. Then I started  going to Cuba on my own time and my own dime, and I did a lot of work and I was terrible. I was learning how to tell stories, how to do a long-term project.

Now, Eliane and I are dear, dear friends, and she did me one of the biggest favors anybody ever did for me.

PDN: How long did it take you to get your chops?
MS: I had a real ally in [veteran photo editor] Jimmy Colton, who gave me enormous opportunities throughout my career. He had my back. Every time I would come back [from Cuba], I would make a tray of slides, and I would go show Jimmy at Newsweek. He would give me ideas and feedback. I couldn’t get my foot in the door at TIME, at all, or if I did, I had a very bad experience. Which told me right away: Don’t go there, that’s not the place for you. That was a good lesson to know: Where do you fit in? Who’s welcoming you with open arms? It wasn’t like Newsweek was publishing my work at the time, but they were open to looking.

And then [in 1984] for the 25th anniversary of the Cuban revolution [Newsweek] sent me to Cuba with a writer—their UN bureau chief, a woman—to get an interview with Castro at the 25th anniversary [of the Cuban Revolution].  I had about 20 minutes to photograph Castro. [Newsweek] ran [the interview and pictures], and every Miami Cuban cancelled their subscription after it came out. [Castro loved it.] The next morning, a convoy of Jeeps came down the road, and who’s driving the first jeep, but Castro.

All these big journalists had ignored us, these two little girls. We got into [Castro’s] Jeep, to the great surprise of all the famous journalists. We went to a little private farm, and we walked in, there was a barbecue. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was there. Castro held court. We ate, and drank. I was taking pictures like a nut. It was remarkable. I really wish I had been a better photographer. At one point, Castro laid down in a hammock, and pretended to be asleep, even though he was smoking a cigar. He was playing with us, because he loved, loved the interview.

So I got lucky. It had nothing to do with me, it was that Jimmy Colton sent me, and we had this great opportunity presented to us. So developing relationships matter. Find at least one person who says, “I can’t use this but I see something in you.” [And then] you have to prove yourself on your own time, and your own dime.

Related articles:
PDN’s 30 Photographers on Building Support for Their Work (For subscribers; log in required.)
How to Make the Most of a Portfolio Review (For subscribers; log in required.)
Advice on Funding Your Photo Project

September 9th, 2015

Newsha Tavakolian Wins €100K Cultural Prize; Pledges to €45K to Help Refugees, Charities in Iran

Photographer Newsha Tavakolian. ©Frank van Beek

Photographer Newsha Tavakolian. ©Frank van Beek

Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian has been named winner of the 2015 Principal Prince Claus Award, the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development announced last week in Amsterdam. She will receive a 100,000 Euro prize, and she has already pledged to donate nearly half of her prize money to charity, including an aid organization for Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

In announcing the award, Prince Claus Fund organizers described Tavakolian as “a trailblazing artist and photojournalist whose work offers a compelling insider’s perspective on contemporary life in Iran and the Middle East…she fuses artistic work and documentary reportage to create intimate portraits and unexpected human stories that enable us to look deeply inside societies. ” Tavakolian will receive the prize December 2 at a ceremony at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

Ten other individuals and organizations will also receive awards. But Tavakolian was named the winner of the Prince Claus Fund’s top award “for her beautiful and moving testimony of the complexities and ambiguities of contemporary Iran” as well as for her courage, critical insight, support for young photographers, and her commitment to women’s voices, organizers said.

In addition to the prize money, Tavakolian’s award includes an exhibition of her work at The Prince Claus Fund Gallery in Amsterdam from November 27 to March 4, 2016.

“Unfortunately it is hard for me to enjoy this prize as much as I would like to, seeing the region where I work and live in flames and tens of thousands seeking refuge in faraway lands,” the photographer said on her Facebook page, after the award was announced.

She went on to say she would donate 15,000 Euros to an organization that supports Syrian and Iraqi refugees. “[I] want to give back [for] all the kindness Iraqi’s and Syrians always welcomed me with, despite the dire circumstances they live in,” she wrote on Facebook.

Tavakolian pledged another 13,000 Euros to an independent photography prize in Iran that supports young photographers; 10,000 Euros to an Iranian charity that helps children with cancer; and 7,000 Euros to several organizations in Iran that protect animals.

The Prince Claus Awards  were established 19 years ago to honor outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development. They are awarded annually to individuals and groups who have had a positive impact on the development of their societies, according to the Prince Claus Fund web site.

Among other winners of 2015 Prince Claus Awards was photographer Latif Al-Ani, who documented life in Iraq from the 1950s to the 1970s. The other winners included artists, journalists, and arts collectives.

This year, the fund invited 250 people to submit nominations for the awards. Winners were selected from 103 nominations. Jurors included filmmaker and journalist Bregtje van der Haak (Netherlands); architect and writer Suad Amiry (Palestine); art historian Salah Hassan (Sudan); writer Kettly Mars (Haiti); theater producer and director Ong Keng Sen (Singapore); and independent curator Gabriela Salgado (Argentina).

September 4th, 2015

Getty Awards $10,000 Grants to 5 Photographers

From "Zanan," by Mojgan Ghanbari. ©Mojgan Ghnabari

From “Zanan,” by Mojgan Ghanbari, winner of a 2015 Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography. ©Mojgan Ghanbari

The winners of the 2015 Getty Grants for Editorial Photography are Souvid Datta, Salvatore Esposito, Javier Arcenillas, Mojgan Ghanbari and Matt Eich, according to an announcement yesterday from Getty Images. Each of the five photojournalists will receive a grant of $10,000, as well as editorial support from Getty, to pursue “projects of personal and journalistic significance,” the agency says.

Those projects include “Sonagachi: Vanishing Girls,” by Souvid Datta, about the red light district of Songachi, Kolkata; “What Is Missing,” Salvatore Esposito’s examination of the social and political dynamics underlying street crime in Naples; “Latidoamerica,” a project about atrocious gang violence in Central America by Javier Arcenillas; “Zanan,” Mojgan Ghanbari’s project about the lives of Iranian women; and “Carry Me Ohio,” Matt Eich’s look at everyday life in the economically distressed regions of southeast Ohio.

Getty says it received nearly 400 applications from 78 countries for this year’s grant competition. Jurors for the competition were photo editor Cheryl Newman, Sunday Times Magazine director of photography Jon Jones, Der Spiegel international director of photography Matthias Krug, Paris Match director of photography Romain Lacroix, and Visa pour l’Image director Jean-Francois Leroy.

In announcing the winners, Getty also announced that one of the Getty Images Editorial Grants will be renamed The David Laidler Memorial Award, in honor of the former Getty employee and veteran photo editor who founded the grants. Laidler died of cancer on August 11 at the age of 48.

Advice on Funding Your Photo Project

September 1st, 2015

How Paul Colangelo Keeps Bears at Bay When Shooting in Wilderness

Photographer Paul Colangelo's camp, with an electric fence protecting his kitchen and supply tents. Todagin Mountain, norther British Columbia. ©Paul Colangelo

Photographer Paul Colangelo’s camp, with a solar-powered electric fence protecting his kitchen and gear tents. Todagin Mountain, northern British Columbia. ©Paul Colangelo

Working on long-term projects in remote locations can pose logistical challenges for photographers, including lack of phone and internet service, and power for recharging batteries for cameras, laptops, and other gear. Vancouver-based wildlife photographer (and PDN’s 30) Paul Colangelo explains how he copes with those issues in our story, “Managing Photo Tech on Location, Off the Grid.”

But he faces another kind of challenge altogether during his long trips into remote, open country of northern British Columbia: hungry grizzly bears. Colangelo isn’t too worried the bears will attack him. But he does worry about bears raiding his three-month supply of food while he’s out of camp, especially during the day “when I’m not there to scare them away.” (more…)

August 26th, 2015

Zun Lee’s Polaroid Archive Preserves African-American Self-Representation

© Zun Lee

The @faderesistance Instagram feed.

Photographer Zun Lee is dedicated to countering stereotypical, often negative views of the African-American family. While he was working on Father Figure, his book about African-American fathers, he stumbled on some old Polaroids that appeared to have fallen from a family photo album. He was intrigued to see how the Polaroids —”the Instagrams of their day,” he calls them — reflected “the way black people saw themselves in private spaces and in ways not intended to be seen, or judged, by others.” By searching yard sales and e-Bay, Lee has amassed 3,000 of these now “orphaned” mementoes and recently began posting them on a Tumbler and an Instagram feed named “Fade Resistance.”  After winning a Magnum Foundation Fellowship last week, Lee now plans to develop his Fade Resistance collection into an interactive digital archive that will allow the public and collaborators from other disciplines to add their own stories, videos and images. His long-term goal, he says, is “to encourage new ways of understanding black identity and representation in today’s world.”

courtesy of @faderesistance/Zun Lee Photo

A Polaroid as it appears on the @faderesistance feed.

The title of the project, Fade Resistance, echoes a phrase critic bell hooks used in an essay about vernacular African-American photography, in which she wrote that these snapshots are “sites of resistance” against pervasive stereotypical and racist depictions of African Americans. That the images were shot on Polaroid film appeals to Lee for a few reasons. First, he says, the instant cameras gave image makers the power to make their own narratives, without relying on a photographer or a lab. Also, the objects are one-of-a-kind, therefore more precious and fleeting, making preservation more urgent. In his proposal for the Magnum Foundation Fellowship, Lee wrote, “What had to happen to these families that they were no longer able to hold on to these valuable documents?” Lee scans the images as well as the notes written on the bottom or back of some images, which provide some clues to the subjects, and invite speculation: We can only wonder what happened to the man who wrote, “To Evelyn with love, hope and respect. Norris Turner. Good things come to those who wait. I’ve been waiting long enough (smile).”

On the @faderesistance Instagram feed, people frequently comment on the locations visible in the background of the images, as well as the hairstyles and clothing seen in the photos, which date from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Expanding the archive and its reach can help widen the search for more information about the stories behind each photo.

The Fellowship will allow Lee to work with the Brown Institute at Columbia University and collaborate with programmers on the development of the archive. In the future, he says, “multi-disciplinary collaboration would not only happen in the digital realm. I’m envisioning not just traditional print shows, but multimedia installations of this work in the future.”

The project may take years. Lee tells PDN, “I have a feeling this archive will be the gift that keeps on giving.” Until the interactive archive is complete, we can view —and enjoy—the photos of graduations, parties, beach outings and proud parents on Lee’s Tumblr and Instagram feed, and perhaps be reminded of our own special moments circa 1989.

Related articles

Magnum Foundation Grants 2 Fellowships to Support Collaborative Documentary Projects

The Father Figure

PDN’s 30 2014: Zun Lee

August 12th, 2015

Suspect Arrested in Murder of Photojournalist Ruben Espinosa

Ruben Espinosa says he was barred from official events in Veracruz and harassed after this photo he took of Veracruz governor Javier Duarte was published on the cover of Proceso in April, 2014. Duarte reportedly sent staff out to buy every available copy of the magazine.

Ruben Espinosa said he was barred from official events in Veracruz and harassed after this photo he took of Veracruz governor Javier Duarte was published on the cover of Proceso in April, 2014. Duarte reportedly sent staff out to newsstands to buy up every available copy of the magazine.

Mexican authorities recently announced the arrest of a known criminal for the execution-style murder of photojournalist Ruben Espinosa and four others, according to reports by The Guardian and Al Jazeera. The killings occurred July 31 in a Mexico City apartment.

Mexican prosecutor Rodolfo Rios Garza told reporters that the suspect, who reportedly has a criminal record for rape and assault, was tied to the murders by crime scene fingerprints that matched fingerprints in a criminal database. The suspect has not been named by prosecutors.

Meanwhile, authorities are still searching for two other suspects seen on a surveillance video, leaving the apartment building around the time of the murders. Prosecutors say the three men shown in the video left the scene in a car that belonged to one of the female victims, according to the press reports.

Espinosa had covered social protests in the Mexican province of Veracruz for the newspaper Proceso, Agencia Cuartoscuro and other news outlets. He had also covered the murders of journalists in Veracruz, and advocated for the administration of Governor Javier Duarte to investigate those killings. He told other journalists he felt threatened by by the Veracruz government, and he relocated to Mexico City in June after he noticed his house was being watched and he had been followed.

Murdered along with Espinosa were his friend Nadia Vera, a social activist; Yesenia Quiróz and Mile Virginia Martín, both roommates of Vera’s; and a housekeeper, Alejandra Negrete.

On August 2, journalists held a demonstration in Mexico City demanding that the government clarify that Espinosa was targeted for his journalism, and not killed in the course of a robbery, as police investigators had first suggested. Journalists told the Mexican publication SinEmbargo that Espinosa had felt threatened by the Veracruz government, which has been suspected to have played a role in the deaths of at least 12 journalists and the disappearance of others.

Mexican Photojournalist Murdered in Mexico City, after Fleeing Threats in Veracruz
Fleeing Violence against Journalists, Veracruz Photographers Seeks Asylum in US

August 3rd, 2015

Mexican Photojournalist Murdered in Mexico City, after Fleeing Threats in Veracruz

photo courtesy SinEmbargo

photo courtesy SinEmbargo

Ruben Espinosa, a photographer who had covered social protests in the Mexican province of Veracruz for the newspaper Proceso, Agencia Cuartoscuro and other news outlets, was found shot dead in Mexico City on July 31, according to CNN, AP, The Guardian and other news outlets. His body was found in an apartment along with the bodies of four other individuals, all shot to death, according to the local prosecutor.

Espinosa had decided to leave Veracruz in early June when he noticed his house was being watched and he had been followed, he told the website SinEmbargo, which is devoted to freedom of the press.  Espinosa had covered the murders of journalists in Veracruz in recent years, and advocated for the administration of Governor Javier Duarte to investigate the killings. He also complained that members of the local media were taking bribes.

“We are talking about a place where there have been 12 colleagues killed, four disappeared, and from 2000 until today, 17 forced into exile,” he told SinEmbargo in an article published July 1. “And every time a congressman or the governor organizes one of their ‘Freedom of Expression Breakfasts,’ it fills up, because disgracefully, the press of Veracruz is at the service of those who feed it.”

On August 2, journalists held a demonstration in Mexico City demanding that the government clarify that Espinosa was targeted for his journalism, and not killed in the course of a robbery, as police investigators had first suggested. Journalists told SinEmbargo that Espinosa had felt threatened by the Veracruz government, which has been suspected to have played a role in the deaths of at least 12 journalists and the disappearance of others. Many of the protestors carried photos of Espinosa.

Related articles
Body of Newspaper Photographer Found in Saltillo, Mexico

Fleeing Violence Against Journalists, Veracruz Photographer Seeks Asylum in US

July 13th, 2015

Pulitzer Center Announces $1 Million Fund for Multimedia Journalism Projects

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has announced the Catalyst Fund, a new initiative that will support “as many as 40” multimedia journalism projects in the next two years with $1 million in grants made to journalists working with major news outlets.

In addition to supporting the production of multimedia reportage, the Fund will also support journalists in their efforts to disseminate projects to students through presentations at schools and via the Pulitzer Center website.

The Fund is supported by donations from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, and from individual donors.

“The Pulitzer Center is a leader among a growing field of nonprofit news organizations bringing creative models of production and dissemination to a disrupted news industry,” said Kathy Im, Director of MacArthur Foundation’s Journalism and Media program, in a statement.

The Pulitzer Center says it has already committed Catalyst Fund support to projects that will be published by The New York Times, National Geographic, MSNBC and other outlets.

Journalists interested in applying for Catalyst Fund grants are encouraged to apply through the Pulitzer Center’s grants portal, here:

Related: Q&A: How to Get Funding From The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

June 29th, 2015

Magnum Photos Names 6 New Nominees

Fallowed tomato fields near the town of Corcoran in California's Central Valley, photographed for The New Yorker. © Matt Black

Fallowed tomato fields near the town of Corcoran in California’s Central Valley, photographed for The New Yorker. © Matt Black


Matt Black, Carolyn Drake, Richard Mosse, Newsha Tavakolian, Lorenzo Meloni and Max Pinckers have been named nominees of Magnum Photos. The cooperative agency also voted to make Michael Christopher Brown, who was named a Magnum nominee  in 2013, an associate of the agency. Magnum Photos announced the news yesterday at the conclusion of its annual general meeting in Paris.

Matt Black, who is based in California, has covered the state’s Central Valley for more than 15 years. He is currently working on a project, “The Geography of Poverty,” for MSNBC.

Carolyn Drake, an American, has covered Central Asia extensively. She has published two books, Two Rivers and Wild Pigeon; the latter was made in collaboration with a community of Uyghurs in western China. A winner of a Fulbright fellowship and awards from World Press and POYi, she was chosen for PDN‘s 30 in 2006.

Richard Mosse, who was born in Ireland and is based in New York City, was the winner of the 2014 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2014 for “The Enclave,” a multi-screen installation of his work from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Newsha Tavakolian, who is based in Tehran, won the 2014 Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award.

Lorenzo Meloni, who is Italian, has covered Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Libya for The Telegraph, Figaro, and other publications.

Max Pinckers is based in Brussels. His books include Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty and The Fourth Wall, about moviemaking and movie fans in Mumbai.

Related Articles
Richard Mosse Wins $50K Deutsche Borse Prize

PDN Video Pick: Ed Kashi and Matt Black for The New Yorker

Matt Black and Ed Kashi Bring California’s Dried Out Central Valley to The New Yorker

The 50,000 Euro Controversy over Artistic Freedom and the Carmignac Gestion Prize

June 15th, 2015

LOOK3 2015: Walter Iooss Jr. Shares Advice and Lessons from His Encounters with Great Athletes

Walter Iooss Jr, a sports photography superstar for more than 50 years, regaled a 2015 LOOK3 audience on Friday with some of the best tales from his storied career. Steve Fine, former director of photography at Sport Illustrated, joined Iooss on stage at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville to prompt Iooss about his encounters with many great athletes: Roger Maris, Dave Parker, Joe Namath, Muhammed Ali, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan, to name only a few.

Iooss was a teenager without a driver’s license when he got his first assignment from Sports Illustrated around 1961. His father had to drive him to the job. The subject, an 83-year-old man who had built a sailboat and sailed it to Florida and back, looked at the 17-year-old photographer and said incredulously, “This is my moment?”

Iooss was, by his own account, born with a passion and a talent for photography. “Photography’s not that hard. It really isn’t,” he said during his talk. “It’s just instinctual. I’ve never had another job. I don’t know anything else. [I’m an] idiot savant.”

Equal to his passion for photography is his love of and fascination with sports. “When you play, the moment a pitch is thrown, or you shoot, or hit a golf ball, the whole world stops. There’s nothing that’s really happening except that moment with you, and that’s the escape of sport,” he said. “Sport is a real fantasy world, and in some ways, I try to project my childhood fantasies continually in pictures because you need a child’s heart to get the energy of these guys.”

Asked by Fine to talk about the defining characteristics of his work, Iooss offered what amounted to advice for aspiring sports photographers. (more…)