Ruth Landy is a strategic communication consultant with worldwide experience advocating for UNICEF and other global development organizations. She was thrilled to upgrade her photography skills in a CCSF PHOT51 Beginning Photography Summer intensive course. Below, Ruth shares some of the work she examined at the “Visa Pour L’Image,” Southern France’s premiere annual photojournalism festival which takes place every September.
Walking in their shoes
Women photojournalists break new ground
by Ruth Landy
In the Intensive Care Unit of a California hospital, a distraught mother holds vigil for her young son after his surgery for a grave head injury. The woman, Malalai Rafi, is an Afghan refugee resettled to the Sacramento area with her family. The photographer, Renée Byer, spent two years chronicling the ordeals facing Malalai and other Afghans who risked their lives to support US and coalition forces in their native country. Granted special visas because of their service, these refugees arrived full of hope, only to find danger and heartbreak in the United States, their country of adoption.
Describing her long journey to record No Safe Place, Byer shared her many challenges, including barriers to photographing at the hospital. She was allowed two frames, then ushered out.
Compassion. Sorrow. Anger. Inspiration.
A deep dive into the world of photojournalism today is truly an emotional roller coaster. The venue – Visa pour L’Image – is France’s premier annual photojournalism festival. In the Mediterranean town of Perpignan news and documentary photographers and photo agencies gather to exhibit their stories — witnesses to our turbulent world. They also grapple with the dramatic changes upending their industry: so many opportunities to share images, such an uncertain future.
Photojournalism is still a man’s world. Between 80 to 100 percent of major publications’ significant images of 2016 carried male photographers’ credits.
But this is changing. In the US, the top photo editors of National Geographic, Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times and many other American publications are now female.
What does visual storytelling through a gender lens mean in 2017? At Visa pour l’Image, three award-winning American photojournalists shared what it takes to shoot their complex and compelling subjects in the U.S. and around the world:
- Based in Caracas, Meridith Kohut is a regular contributor to The New York Times covering the collapse of Venezuela and other hard-hitting stories in the region:
“ Because I’m blonde and female, the soldiers in Caracas don’t think I’m as tough as them. Venezuela is a very machista culture but they don’t see me as a threat whereas male photojournalists might get caught up. I try to really feel the story so it comes across in my work. This is a story that is so unseen. I draw a lot of strength knowing that what I’m doing is actually making a difference.”
- Photojournalist Amy Toensing is a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine. At Visa to present her reportage on Widowhood, Toensing shared her experience covering the intimate stories of women in India, Bosnia and Uganda:
“One cool thing about being female and traveling is a certain camaraderie that happens. You don’t have to speak the same language and you can make that connection with body language. It’s such a collaboration to tell their story. What I have experienced with these women is ‘we did it, we worked together and told my story.’ That in itself has been powerful.”
- Renée Byer, a Pulitzer prize winning photographer for the Sacramento Bee, came to Visa to present No Safe Place. It’s a searing witness to the struggles of Afghan refugees resettled to California under special visas granted because of their support for the U.S. war effort in their country, and the deadly risks they faced at home.
“ Photojournalism is about telling stories. As a photojournalist, I spend a lot of time with my subjects — sometimes a year, two years. We are all more the same than we are different. We all have the same emotions, want the best for our children. Many of the Afghan refugees just want an opportunity, they don’t want a handout. I just want their story to be told, in their own words. ”
Much of Byer, Kohut and Toensing’s photojournalism embodies best practices of the profession, which they share with their male colleagues:
- A fierce commitment to a code of journalistic ethics – accuracy, context, no manipulation of images.
- Deep engagement with those they are photographing — before, during and after they put down their cameras.
- Mentorship of young photographers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Yet their work also reveals the contours of a new visual landscape in the making: our world seen through women’s eyes, a gender lens keenly attuned to social exclusion, but also to signs of social transformation as women and girls come into their power in the 21st century.
The word photography comes from the Greek, meaning “writing with light”. As Byer, Kohut, Toensing and other women blaze new trails in their profession, their fearlessness, determination and empathy illuminates the path ahead:
Meridith Kohut, on managing feelings while photographing tough stories:
“A lot of photojournalists will block out trauma when shooting difficult subjects. When I was at the funeral of the four kids with the moms crying, I was bawling right along with them. Whenever I have strong emotions, I feel them in the moment. Maybe that’s easier for me because I’m a woman, but I try to use whatever I’m feeling not only for my mental health, but also for my work.”
Renée Byer, on what it takes to make it in photojournalism:
“There aren’t as many women in the profession, but their involvement is growing in leaps and bounds. If I were to give advice to young women aspiring to be photojournalists, it would be about the determination you need — about shooting every single day. It’s not something where you just pick up a camera and become a great photographer. You have to go the extra mile.”
Amy Toensing, on the value of educating girls in low-income countries:
“It’s important to look to the future, and that’s the essence of this. It’s about girls’ education. And these places really need to start prioritizing that.
“You give these girls something to work with, empower them and this (the social exclusion experienced by widows) won’t happen.
When you educate girls, look out – because they’re going to kick ass!”
In addition to being a photographer specializing in portraiture and food photography, Jung also works as an assistant to San Francisco based, Professional food and still-life photographer, Sue Tallon. Read the interview with Jung below:
Why did you choose to take classes in the Photography Department at CCSF?
What is your role at Sue Tallon Photography?
I have worked with Sue Tallon since March 2016. My responsibilities with Sue are twofold: provide support to her photography work and help manage her studio rentals.
For Sue Tallon Photography (SueTallon.com), I help prep and break down client shoots as well as provide client and crew care during the shoot while Sue is busy photographing. Client and crew care means ensuring that the folks on set have what they need – coffee, food, wifi, gear, etc. I also assist other crew members on-set, especially during load-in and load-out, and will run errands for Sue if needed during a shoot. Additionally, I do some administrative tasks for Sue such as resizing images for her online portfolios, gathering client contact information for marketing, and following up with web account issues.
For SF Photo Space (SFPhotoSpace.com), I respond to and book rental inquiries, manage the studio rental calendar, and make sure that the studios are clean, serviced, and fully stocked, and am on-site to open, supervise, and close the studio for renters. I also help troubleshoot issues that may come up during rentals and assist Sue with marketing, organizing, and other admin tasks related to the studios. Basically, other duties as assigned!
What is a typical day like working for Sue Tallon?
There is no “typical” day with Sue since my schedule is flexible, part-time, and mostly on-call. Some days or weeks are very busy with rental inquiries or shoots or both, and others are quiet. Usually I work during Mon-Fri but occasionally, we have inquiries or renters over the weekend. Responding to rental inquiries and renters is probably the most frequent task I have, and helping to maintain the studios.
How do you feel CCSF PHOTO prepared you for this position?
I learned of Sue Tallon during my first semester at CCSF when I took the lecture series Photo 52: Photographers and Their Images. At that point I had never thought about commercial photography but fell in love with Sue, her story, approach to photography, and work (commercial food/product and conceptual photography). I asked her a ton of questions and although I did not formally introduce myself to her at the lecture, I told myself that I would reach out to her when I felt I could be of more value to her, potentially as a photo/studio assistant. One year later, I e-mailed her, referencing the lecture I had attended, and introduced myself. I related my experience and knowledge in the field up to that point, and asked if she needed an assistant by chance? At the time, she did not but one month later, she had an opening and she followed up with me.
The classes, resources, and opportunities at CCSF Photography helped prepare me to work with Sue. I’ve taken all the lighting classes in addition to other fundamental courses and worked in the CCSF Photo Issue Lab as an assistant. The foundation of technical knowledge and familiarity with photography language and equipment gave me more credibility as a candidate to assist professional photographers and work with a local event photography company before I reached out to Sue. These initial photography work experiences gave me the confidence to contact Sue last year. I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned at CCSF, the access to resources as a student and “young” professional starting out in a costly industry, the supportive folks in the photography department, and the opportunities that have led me to where I am today.
What advice would you give CCSF Photo Students to prepare them for a similar position?
1. Take as many photography classes as you can – both technical and non. Exposure to different photographers and their work, and types of photography will inform or open up possibilities that you may not have considered for yourself. Who knows if I would have otherwise reached out to Sue?
Also, to be taken seriously in the field you must have technical knowledge. I recommend taking all the lighting classes, whether you see yourself ultimately shooting studio or ambient lighting. Light is light and photography is about making images with light so you need to understand how to work with it. Starting out, I was interested in photojournalism, which is more reliant on ambient light, but after attending Sue’s lecture and at the recommendation of a photojournalist, I took the studio lighting classes and fell in love with being able to manipulate light in a more controlled way.
2. Work at the CCSF Photo Issue lab! It’s a great way to gain more familiarity with different types of photographic equipment, and, if needed, build your customer service, organizational, and administrative skills. A lot of my work with Sue is administrative and customer-service related. Having a combination of business, people, and photography skills has made me a more effective assistant to her. And having that combination of skills will make me a more successful professional photographer.
Photography is a second career for me, so I already had a lot of organizational and administrative experience but understanding key terminology and having basic competency in photography and handling studio equipment has been essential. And working as a lab attendant was a fun way to get to know photography students, staff (the lab supervisors are awesome!), and faculty and appreciate the work on both sides of the lab window.
3. Be open to different types of photography work and pay attention to what you enjoy (or don’t) and can do well or not so well. When I worked at the event photography company I quickly realized I didn’t want to continue on that trajectory but I made some great friends and contacts there, and the experience looks good on my resume.
For assisting a photographer on and off set: being observant and anticipating the needs of the people you’re working with, and knowing when and how to communicate with others – often you will be on the sidelines and silent but that doesn’t mean people won’t notice you.
- Exposure to the day-to-day business of photography and/or running a studio
- Networking with other professionals in the field such as other assistants, retouchers, digital techs, producers, stylists, models, etc.
- Potential for mentorship from the photographer(s)
4. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you admire or with whom you want to have a conversation. If you never ask, the answer will always be “No.”
Jason Andrescavage is an alumni of the Photography Department at City College of San Francisco and earned a Masters Degree in Photography from Kingston University in London in 2014. He has been creating photographs for 10 years concentrating on traditional film and analog wet darkroom techniques. Jason also shares his knowledge at Harvey Milk Photo Center in San Francisco, CA where he teaches photography and darkroom techniques. See our interview with him below:
Jason – how do you think the Photography Program at CCSF help prepare you for a masters program in photography?
I think the CCSF Program is a great first step on the road to a graduate degree because of the intensive technical courses on offer throughout the curriculum. If you are willing to put in the time as a student, there is absolutely no limit to what you can accomplish there. Between the facility and the amazing faculty I was always able to grow as an artist and a practitioner during my time there. In addition to the technical courses, the artistic development classes, business courses, and comprehensive history curriculum I always felt like I was well prepared for a graduate-level education.
Was graduate school always your goal?
No! I started at CCSF as a pure hobbyist looking to get some instruction and improve my photography. It’s hard to understate how important my time at CCSF was in changing my mind in regards to photography as a profession and academic pursuit versus a pleasant pastime. The steady pace of advancing skills and knowledge through the curriculum was addicting and led me to want to continue on to the next level.
PUT IN THE WORK! The CCSF Photo Department as a resource is second to none, and someone who is truly serious about growing as a photographer would have no excuse not to exploit it to the fullest. When I was a student at CCSF, I would frequently be at class or in the darkroom 4 nights a week, and Saturdays. If I wasn’t at work or on location shooting photos, there was a good chance I was on campus. And I was a part time student! When I got to my Masters Program, I was already used to the serious work commitment required and I was able to enjoy the experience all the more thanks to the reduction in stress that meant for me.
What made you focus on traditional film and darkroom techniques?
It wasn’t specifically a “film-vs-digital” choice to continue on with traditional film. I started photography with an inexpensive 35mm SLR I bought on Ebay. At the time, the first class in the CCSF Program was Photo51, and it was still a film-only course. As I worked up through all the classes in the Program and became more competent behind the lens and in the darkroom, my style and choices evolved around the medium. At some point, the look I got was so tied up in traditional wet photography that a digital practice just wasn’t an option for my personal work. Since then I’ve gone even farther down that rabbit hole, shooting my most recent project with an 8×10 camera and paper negatives.
Do you have a go-to camera and lens?
I shot with a 35mm Leica R4 SLR for many years with the occasional medium format roll here and there. Right before I went to grad school I bought a medium format camera for the work I would be doing there and have since then not shot any 35mm besides for backup purposes. During my grad program in in the years since I have moved up to large format 8×10 for specific projects while doing my typical work in medium format.
The two cameras in my bag are:
-Hasselblad 500C with 80mm and 150mm lenses.
-AGFA Ansco 8×10 from old timey times with a newer Schneider 300mm lens.
What is your main source of ideas or inspiration for your work?
It really depends on the project, but for the last few years inspiration for my large format project has come from early artist photographers such as Henry Peach Robinson and Julia Margaret Cameron, up through the Pictorialists- and especially California Pictorialist Anne Brigman. My inspirations for my typical work include the works of Lillian Bassman, Dan Winters, Richard Avedon, and Tim Walker.
I don’t shoot socially-themed works, mostly concentrating on portraiture and themes that excite me within the world of photography, such as the interaction of photographer and subject.
Finally – Do you have any advice for our film & darkroom students wanting to pursue fine art traditional photography?
Have a reason to use traditional wet photography and make it your own as a reflection of your artistic concepts. Have the traditional process be as much of the “why” as the subject matter itself. The fact is, the medium is a choice- make it an interesting one.
Working at a fine art practice is a difficult and your work may go unnoticed for a long time. I’ve had many works dear to my heart get no attention at all when others are unexpectedly selected for exhibitions all over the place. Work with a style and subject matter that excites you, and you will have the enthusiasm to constantly improve and evolve your work.
For more Jason Andrescavage: www.andrescavage.com
Jason’s workshops and class offerings at Harvey Milk Photo Center
A fashion shoot collaboration with Photographer Justin Schlesinger and Prof. Nathalie Smith’s class “FASH 54A” inspired by the book “Natural Fashion Tribal Decoration from Africa”.
Photography Exhibition by Professor Andrea Schwartz Massalski
Please join Andrea Schwartz Massalski for a solo exhibition of her photographic series titled LOCAL TREES. This series was done over a few years living between Capitola, CA and Berlin, Germany. The work represents a conceptual idea of place and beauty. Blaise Rosenthal wrote about these photographs, “Massalski’s impulse to isolate begets a process of composition based on editing, involving removal and emphasis, that demands that formal considerations are taken into account. But what allows these images to succeed beyond simple pleasantly or formal exercise is the unique combinations of contrasting aspects that coexist within them. The photographs express both an innocent earnestness as well as a wry and deadpan sense of humor. They seem to be the product of an intense curiosity restrained by the resolve to neglect and resist interruption into their space.”
Andrea would be happy to greet you at the show. Please contact her if you would like to join her at the gallery to view and discuss the work in person. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Closing Reception | October 29, 2016 | 1:00-3:00
2125 Delaware Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
It’s time to register for Fall! Save your seat now – classes start in Friday August 12, 2016.
Everyone who registers by August 9th will be entered into a raffle to win $50 in print credit at the CCSF Photography Issue Room.
CCSF is open and accredited! Your units are good for life and will always transfer. Have you registered yet for a photography class? Registration is open! . Low enrolled classes may be
cancelled as early as August 3rd – so register now.
ENROLLMENT IS AS EASY AS 1-2-3
1. Visit the the Fall 2016 schedule to choose your classes
3. Register for the class (registration is required to attend). Only $46 per unit for CA residents!
4. Don’t have the pre-requisite but feel you have adequate experience? You may challenge into any class.
Contact Erika Gentry, Department Chair to schedule a challenge test. Note that if you challenge any class – you waive your right to take it in the future. email@example.com