During this week’s PDN’s 30 panel discussion at the School of Visual Arts Theatre, perseverance, personality and community emerged as common themes in the early careers of 2013 PDN’s 30 photographers Geordie Wood, Lisa Elmaleh and Bon Duke.

PDN editor Holly Stuart Hughes moderated the panel, which also included Readers Digest photo director Rebecca Simpson Steele and Sony Artisan of Imagery Brian Smith.

Wood, an editorial photographer who is also the photo editor at the Fader, said that he chose to assist rather than working an unrelated day job while he was starting out as a way to stay in the photo community. He also emphasized the importance to his career of a group of fellow photographers who share information, introduce one another to clients and exchange ideas in person and online. “Photography,” he said, “is much more fun as a team sport.”

When the bottom dropped out of the economy right after she graduated from SVA and she found herself out of work, Elmaleh, a fine-art photographer and teacher who works with alternative processes, asked friends in the photo community for leads and found work teaching carbon printing at the Center for Alternative Photography. She also assisted photographers Joni Sternbach and Mitch Epstein, before beginning to teach classes at SVA. “We really have to cobble it together,” Elmaleh said of making a living as a fine-art photographer.

Internships with magazines and production companies, and connections to fellow SVA student working in design or cinematography helped Duke, who does editorial and commercial fashion work and films, learn about different aspects of the creative business and make connections. Talking with design students, for instance, helped him understand how his images would work with text in layouts for ads or editorial pages. He also pointed out that students studying other creative disciplines go on to become art directors.

Duke also emphasized that learning how to communicate with creatives in a collaborative way so he could stick up for what he wanted creatively was an important step. Duke says that, on set, he is nice to everyone and “treats everyone as equals.”

Elmaleh’s work has been supported by several grants, and she underlined the importance of perseverance in applying for funding. She said she’s never gotten a grant the first time she applied for it, and suggested several resources for grant-seekers (see the list at the bottom of this post).

On the subject of perseverance, Smith, a veteran celebrity portraitist who began his career shooting news and sports, argued that careers are built not through one big break, but a series of smaller breaks.

And Wood pointed out that working hard to shoot new images, and to promote that work to editors and online audiences, have been important elements of his early career.

Offering a client perspective, Rebecca Simpson Steele spoke about sometimes following the work of photographers for long periods of time before finding a job for which they are a good match. “I pay attention to photographers when they don’t know I’m watching,” Simpson Steele said.

Grant resources: Creative Capital, Foundation Center, Brooklyn Arts Council, New York Foundation For the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

Note: The next PDN’s 30 panel takes place the evening of April 25 at Santa Monica College, Humanities & Social Sciences Building, 1900 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA. The panel will include Brian Smith, Jessica Sample, Michael Friberg and Ian Allen.


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