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PDN's 30: Best Lessons Learned



© Pari Dukovic
From Pari Dukovic's series shot at the annual festival of Kirkpinar, traditional oil wrestling, in Edina, Turkey.

Photographers entering the work force are faced with many challenges, from how to get their work noticed while building their brand and how to establish their businesses. We asked some of our PDN's 30 New and Emerging Photographers To Watch: What lessons have you learned that have helped you advance your career since you began shooting? Is there something you’ve learned that you wish you knew when you started?

Many of their replies are inspiring, and offer advice we hope they continue to follow long after their careers are established.

Katrina d’Autremont
Don’t be afraid to just put your work out into the world. You never know what will come from showing someone your work. Very often results are not immediate but if you think about it, the best thing someone can say is that your work stuck with them, and that they still remember you months down the line. The best opportunities I have had have been through people discovering my work without me having shown it to them personally and very often I am not even sure how they saw the work in the first place.

Pari Dukovic
I can’t really say exactly what I wish I had known before I started this journey because to me it is all a process. Everyone has his or her own journey, like I did. I always loved black-and-white photography; it was something I always had a connection with.

One lesson or key factor in advancing your work is to always do what you believe in and what inspires you. Work that is done from within eventually gets noticed. One must be patient but also persistent.

Bartholomew Cooke
Even when a project doesn't lead in the direction you were hoping or isn’t a success in the way you'd imagined it, it can still be something to learn from. It's still worth doing.

One of the things I've done since graduating is to fervently pursue every opportunity given to me. Even if doing so has not always generated the results I hoped for, it almost always opens new doors and is one of the main reasons I have had some success to date.


Justine Reyes

The most important experiences I’ve had that have completely shaped my growth and development have been the residencies that I have done. My residency at the Center for Photography at Woodstock allowed me the time, facilities and resources to attain my vision for my Vanitas project. I got so much done in a short amount of time and was given not only financial but also technical and emotional support.

Another residency that had a major impact on my career and development was the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace residency program, a 
nine-month studio program alongside 19 other artists and writers. This program builds an artistic community right around you. I was surrounded by fiercely talented artists, had one-on-one studio visits with acclaimed curators and arts professionals, and participated in open studio events which drew in large crowds of artists, curators and collectors.

Will Steacy

It all changed for me in 2003 when I was almost murdered in a robbery. At the time I was working in a sneaker store and one night two guys came in right before we closed and put a gun to my head, tied me up, dragged me down to the basement and robbed the place. As I lay on the floor with a gun to my head I felt this sudden, indescribable wave take hold of my body.  This thing inside me proclaimed: “It is not your time to die. You have not yet done what you were put on Earth to do, you have not even begun it.” This wave left as quickly as it came and when I opened my eyes the guys were gone and I was still alive. That cold night in December changed my life forever. 

Since then, I have followed this spirit inside me that fought so hard to live that night, doing what I now know I was put on Earth to do, this thing called my art. I was supposed to die that night. Coming that close to death will change a man and that single experience has had the most profound impact on my life and my work. I wake up everyday and chase this dream, risking and sacrificing everything and anything in order to make my work. 

All of my work explores life in one form or another and the moments and situations when life is threatened by death. As human beings we are inherently resilient. It is the human condition to fight through difficult times.

Susan Worsham

I think the most important lesson would be staying true to yourself and your vision, and having patience. In some ways I think that I am lucky to be making pictures for love and not money.


Liz Hingley
I feel it is a process of learning and each stage produces a different kind of work. I don’t feel that experience always produces better work.


Justin Fantl
Stay true to your own vision and shoot relentlessly. 


Rachel Barrett
Diligence and organization are both crucial. It takes constant effort, on a daily basis: updating, filing, retouching, fine-tuning. Photographers have a reputation for being perfectionists and obsessive compulsive. I have those qualities in me as well and the trick is to harness them and make them work for you, not against you.

It is also about how you present yourself. This is a creative field but it’s a profession, and people want to work with you if you’re talented, certainly, but also if you are consistently reliable.

Perhaps most importantly is you need to be sure of yourself and your vision, and stand behind your work with conviction. If you can’t no one else will believe in it, and it probably also means that you don’t fully believe in it yourself. But it’s also necessary to be open to others, to their ideas and potential criticism, and use that to your benefit to find a positive way to incorporate it into your work.

Giulio Di Sturco
Getting accepted into the Joop Swart Masterclass felt like a real turning point  to me, emotionally and photographically, so I guess [it] was one of the most important things that has happened to me so far. It happened at a really important moment in my life, when I needed to make some important decisions about my work and getting exposure for it.


Philip Cheung

It’s important to follow your instinct, to create your own path and don’t compare yourself to others.

Go to http://www.pdngallery.com/gallery/pdns30/2011/flash_module.shtml to view images from all of the PDN 30 winners.

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PDN September 2014

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