Photo District News recently announced our 2013 PDN’s 30 new and emerging photographers to watch. Now in its 14th year, this special issue and online gallery, http://pdn30.pdnevents.com/gallery/2013/ celebrates 30 photographers who have worked as professionals for five years or less, selected by PDN’s editors from more than 300 portfolios submitted from around the world. The announcement of our selection elicited the reaction we’ve come to expect: excitement, curiosity, warm congratulations for the selected photographers and some grumblings, mostly from veteran photographers, about all the attention lavished on upstarts. But PDN’s 30 is more than a showcase for new talent. It also has an educational mission.
Our profiles of the PDN’s 30 include details about how they honed their photographic vision, the challenges they’ve faced in launching their photographic careers and the most valuable lessons they’ve learned so far. With the support of sponsors like Kodak and other companies committed to helping professional photographers succeed, PDN holds panels at photo schools and workshops around the country. During these panels, some of the PDN’s 30 photographers share with students and aspiring professionals their real-world experience of getting started in today’s competitive and rapidly evolving business. Not so long ago, the PDN’s 30 photographers sat where these students are now: Uncertain how to approach clients or galleries, unaware how much to charge for their work or where to turn for advice. It’s encouraging for students to hear how these emerging photographers learned the ropes, what they use, how they found their own voice and style, how they shoot. The majority of this year’s PDN’s 30 say they shoot film, in fact. But what I think what makes their stories interesting is not only the technical information they share, but the inspiration they offer to photographers at every stage of their careers.
How are the PDN’s 30 chosen? Based on the recommendations of photo editors, gallery directors, curators, art directors, photographers and educators, as well as suggestions made by PDN’s editors based on work we’ve seen throughout the year, we invite photographers to submit work that we review (and re-review) and debate. We look for the qualities that are essential for a long and creative career—a distinctive vision, versatility, and a proven ability to experiment and to complete interesting, enterprising projects. We strive to represent a mix of subjects and genres, including portraiture, fashion, photojournalism, fine art, editorial and commercial work. Once we’ve made our selections, the fun begins. As PDN’s senior editor Conor Risch writes in his letter introducing the 2013 PDN’s 30, “One of the satisfying aspects of working on the PDN’s 30 feature each year is the opportunity we have to get to know the people behind the portfolios of images that stood out to us.” No two photographers have shared the same path to success, but they are all share a passion for photography that is infectious.
When I prep photographers to speak on PDN’s 30 panels, I always tell them that the students appreciate candid talk about setbacks and mistakes. What’s impressed me most, however, about the enterprising PDN’s 30 photographers of the last two to three years, is their ingenuity. In covering the professional photography market today for PDN, we hear a lot about how the traditional business models are changing. Fewer clients underwrite assignments; the gallery world has contracted; advertisers are cautious about taking risks on new talent or new ideas. In a rapidly changing marketplace, many established photographers are scrambling to adapt. But photographers who got their start within the last five years have no preconceived notions about how the business is “supposed to work.” They’re coming up with new ways to fund their projects and get their work seen. They’re open-minded about the media, platforms and techniques they use to tell their stories. They don’t let categories like fine art or commercial photography define who they are.
PDN’s 30 photographers may be newcomers, but they’ve put a lot of work into finding something interesting to say and crafting an original way to say it. They’re deeply committed to sharing the stories they want to tell and they’re confident that if they stay true to themselves, someone will pay attention. If you want an idea of where the photo industry is headed, you could do worse than to look to these future stars who are reinventing the business as they go.