Philadelphia-based photographer Charles Mostoller was on assignment in the city one day when a group of African-American teenage boys rode by on horseback. It was an incongruous scene, which Mostoller turned into a personal project that was eventually published by The Wall Street Journal. The project is the subject of “Picture Story: Urban Cowboys,” which is now available on PDNOnline.
When we interviewed Mostoller, he made a persuasive case for shooting personal projects close to home. He picks it up from here:
“As a freelancer who is not making tons of money, doing personal projects that are in my backyard makes sense financially. But also, I truly believe in general [that] running to the exotic, or running away and looking to do a story somewhere else because you think that’s where people want to see you, or that’s where the story is, I think that’s a backwards way of going about it. I think the best way to make quality work is to do it in a place that you’re familiar with, where you can actually understand the situation and can really say something about what’s going on.
“Also, if you’re trying to show [potential clients] you can hack it, it’s much more difficult to make very good stories that are kind of pedestrian, or where nobody would expect them. Nobody would expect this story [about teenage urban cowboys] out of Philly, but everyone is expecting young photographers to want to go to Haiti. So I could show Haiti pictures, and no one’s going to care, but this one story has people everywhere coming up to me, saying, ‘Oh my god, I saw this!’ It made the rounds because it was so surprising. I’m not always looking for something exotic in Philadelphia. this one just happened to be that. but I think it’s important to focus on where you’re at as a young photographer doing personal work, rather than saying, OK, I need to go somewhere else to do my work.”