Photographer Interviews

Q&A: Danese Kenon on Educating and Nurturing New and Diverse Talents

September 25, 2017

By Danese Kenon

Photo by Will Vragovic/Tampa Bay Times.

Danese Kenon and members of the Tampa Bay Times photo team.

Danese Kenon.

Danese Kenon is Deputy Director of Photography for Video/Multimedia at Tampa Bay Times. She has taught multimedia through organizations such as The Diversity Institute Scholars at the Freedom Forum, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and Kalish Workshops. She received her master’s degree from Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and has previously been an editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Indianapolis Star.

PDN: You give a lot of your time to teaching. Why?
DK: I had a lot of people in my life who took time to give to me. I try to give that energy back to students, because I feel I owe my success to people who came before me and believed in me. It also re-energizes me to be with people new to the industry.

PDN: Why do you choose to teach through organizations like NABJ that are committed to fostering journalists of color?
DK: Because I think you have to seek out diversity. It’s not going to land on your doorstep. I went to a historically black university, Virginia State University. There was no NPPA chapter there, but I had a good teacher who said: This is what you need to be a part of. Newspapers, magazines, organizations that don’t have much diversity have to go into different avenues to get that diversity. At some workshops, I’ve noticed there’s not a whole lot of diversity. I’ll ask the organization: Did you try Howard University or Virginia State University or another organization? That goes for students as well. If you go to a historically black college, maybe you need to go to an NPPA workshop, or if you’re a professor at a college with little diversity, maybe reach out to NABJ and say, “Hey I have some scholarship opportunities.” This industry is all about connections and the photo world is extremely small. If somebody knows me, I’ll get a text saying, “I’ve got scholarships for this specific pool of applicants: Do you know anyone?” I have a list of three or four people. But we have to communicate better.

PDN: When we visit photo schools, we see student bodies that have not a great deal of diversity—but more diversity than conferences of professional photographers. Where are we failing aspiring photographers of color as they try to break into the business?
DK: I think that a lot of workshops and conferences are cost prohibitive. For students, they’re a fortune. They can’t afford the hotel and to eat. We as an industry need to be sensitive to that, so that they can get professional development and get into the circles of people who can hire them. Can we have diversity in internships? Sure, but we have to pay these kids. They have bills to pay, too. College tuition has become prohibitive.

PDN: When you teach, are there things you wish you’d been taught, or experiences of yours you share?
DK: I encourage all young journalists to develop a network. You need almost like a personal board of directors. I call my network The Great and Wise Photo Counsel. There are eight of them: Men, women, black, white, Latino. They’re the people I’ve clung to. I can say: “This is what I’m dealing with, what do you think?” or “This is what I’m thinking of: Can you check this?”

I tell people to take a business class and keep up on trends.

PDN: A photo editor we interviewed said that if you hire photographers outside your usual stable of talent, they might not be used to your way of working, but you should trust they offer other positives —such as a new perspective or different experience.
DK: I totally agree. I think you have to take a chance on people who are different from you, different from your staff, different from what you’re used to. It could backfire, but you could discover the next big name or a story you might never have had access to, and see a whole new side of your community.

As a photo manager, you also have to take a risk on your staff. The guy who traditionally shoots sports—why not send him to photograph fashion one day and see what happens?

When I was a photographer in Indianapolis, I did photograph a lot of black communities, and also a lot of sensitive topics. My boss would say: “You’re really good with sensitive issues.” I think it’s also good that my boss sent me to cover sports and other things. I think he was a great photo boss for that. He set me up for success. He sent me to do not just black stories but great stories.

PDN: As a manager yourself now, how do you try to nurture talent?
DK: When I took this job a year ago, I went out for coffee with everyone on the team. I said: Are you happy doing what you’re doing? Is there something you’re dying to do?

I feel I’m support staff most of the time, but I really want photographers to reach their personal goals because that’s going to make happy photographers and that’s going to help them give, give, give.