2018 PDN’s 30: More Advice and Lessons Learned from Emerging Photographers

April 13, 2018

During our interviews with the photographers selected for the 2018 PDN’s 30, we asked them to share the best advice they’ve received; the key lessons they’ve learned; and the biggest challenges they’ve faced in their early careers. We included many of their answers in the PDN’s 30 print issue and on the website,, but we also came away from our interviews with additional insights from the photographers about the importance of self-belief and persistence, the value of a strong network, how to interact with clients and subjects, and more. Here’s what they told PDN:

Best Advice:

“Come to terms with the fact that taking a creative path in life is very difficult. It will take a lot out of you, and you should be willing to learn from your shortcomings and failures. Use them as stepping stones towards your future. Know that not all opportunities are good opportunities. Learning how and when to say ‘no’ can be a very important part of growth, both as an artist and in the business world. Most importantly, have a strong and honest support network. For me, that’s always been my family, my fiancée, and my close friends. Build a network that can support you through your hard times, and celebrate with you for the good times.” Matthew Cicanese

“[From New York Times staff photographer Stephen Crowley]: Always be working on two projects—an editorial project, to inform society, and an art project, to feed your soul.” Gabriella Demczuk

“You have to stay true to yourself. All of my friends have been recognized for their personal work first. We’ve all had moments where we have been doing work that we think will appeal to people who will hire us. But the most important thing is being true to your own style, and the thing you enjoy doing the most, because that’s what people will see.” Joyce Kim

“My mom told me to stay angry. It goes with the belief that your work has agency and value. She told me to stay angry, and not be dulled by American normalcy, or ideas of what’s normal.” Eva O’Leary

Key Lesson:

“When you’re shooting celebrities, treat them like they’re a friend, or just a normal person. I’ve found connecting with them on a more human level has made a more genuine photo shoot than being like, ‘OMG, I love you.’ I do a lot of research before I shoot. So I know hey, this person is from Canada or if they’ve worked with a certain director. I’m not a fan boy, but I can start a conversation.” —Kyle Dorosz

“Find a niche that sparks a fire in your soul. Look for something that you ache for and yearn to explore that gives you a creative itch you never can quite scratch. If that subject is something that you’re willing to share through the work you produce (and work you truly believe in) then pursue it with every ounce of effort you have. For me, Earth’s outliers and underdogs in nature have always fascinated me—and been subjects that need stronger voices in the world. If you can be a voice for your subjects in this way, then your work can speak to their inherent value and existence.” —Matthew Cicanese

“Striking a good balance between perseverance and patience is important. And not comparing yourself to your peers—everyone’s paths are different. Things began to click for me more when I ducked my head down and made the images that I wanted to make for myself, even if it was on my phone while walking my dog. Congratulate your colleagues and celebrate their accomplishments. But maintain that faith in yourself independent of the outside noise and distractions.” —Kholood Eid

“Being able to talk to other people, [asking questions of] people you’re working for, working near, asking your friends [for advice]. You can get so much information and so many resources from people in your industry if you ask. A lot of it was seeing how other people did it, learning from others, figuring it out as you go along.” —Julia Gartland

Biggest Challenge:

“Supporting myself, and figuring out how to self-fund my work. I recently received a grant from the Swiss foundation Vontobel, which was really helpful when I was making a lot of 8×10 pictures. Since then it’s all been self-funded. The editorial work has funded all of my other work.” —Eva O’Leary

“To stay focused on creating personal work. At times I can get caught up doing work for clients or seeking new work, and I will forget to keep shooting for myself. That’s usually the recipe for feeling burnt out.” —Brad Ogbonna

“I get attached to places and people, and there are always more stories to tell, and a way to dig deeper into a place. But my time on this planet is limited and I have a lot of curiosity about other places as well. I also think it’s important to keep challenging myself, and it’s certainly a big challenge to delve into a new region, and begin to try to understand a new culture, history and landscape.” —Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi

“I’m trying to slow down, understand my place and create something that is of my own. I feel that I am constantly pulled in different directions by the industry’s expectations of what I should be doing that I forget that I, too, have a voice. And only by finding that voice can you make work that will resonate with others.” —Gabriella Demczuk

“It was a huge challenge for me to believe that this was a possible career for me. I could barely afford a camera, and I had to resell clothes from the ukay-ukay (little shops selling second hand clothes) to make ends meet and to fund my photography; I briefly lived in an aunt’s dental clinic when I couldn’t afford rent.” —Hannah Reyes Morales

“I’m very driven and declarative about my career and it’s been hard for me to allow my career to unfold at the pace that it needed to. I’m seeing now that opportunities will come to you when you’re ready for them. If you’re putting your head down and you’re doing your work and you’re doing everything you can, things will happen, you just have to be a little patient. Things take time and when you’re 20 you don’t understand time. ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint,’ is something I tell myself a lot. And then on a literal note, managing your own business and career is challenging. There is almost never any downtime. When you’re on a shoot you’re often emailing or working on something else for another shoot. And you have to be very efficient and able to multitask. That being said, it’s very important to take vacations and take breaks and [to do] whatever you need to do to avoid burnout. Especially if you’re freelance, you’re all in all the time, so that’s hard to manage.” —Julia Gartland

“It’s a really big challenge to find balance in my life. Not work/life balance, but working commercially versus working on projects for myself, which feels new to me. I’m in a place where I want all of the experience I can get, but making personal work suffers. I can be really hyper focused on one thing, and sort of neglect the others. Also, I used to get really down on myself for not being very project-based. I’ve never been the photographer who is like, ‘That’s a story I want to explore.’ I need to give myself time and space to explore and find the thing [that interests me]. It’s not necessarily the most convenient way of shooting. I’ve never been very prolific because of it. I guess I have to accept that that’s my style.” —Joyce Kim


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