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Family and Work

We asked a wide variety of former staff photographers the same question, and here’s what they told us. Please share your own stories — as you can see, you’re not alone. Follow the “more” link to see all photographers, and check out Monday’s “Group Therapy” for photographers’ back stories and websites. Click here for more “After Staff” posts.

  • What was the hardest or scariest thing for you when you left your staff position? How did you get past it?

Pouya Dianat
Free time is a terrifying thing to have, at first. When I was a staffer, I talked about everything I was going to do and kept a list. The first week I had off from work, though…I sat staring at my computer just crushed by the overwhelming weight of freedom. So I set up a comprehensive list of everything I wanted to do and organized my days to have a loose rotation. If I have a week off while the Braves are out of town I rotate my days between:

(1) PHOTO DAY – Spent working on personal projects, screwing around with studio ideas, editing photos, researching things I want to work on, planning future projects

(2) FILM DAY – Working on scripts with my roommate, who is a writer, watching shorts, reading FilmMaker, MovieMaker and Film Comment, watching movies, reading about other filmmakers, researching

(3) TRAINING DAY – Log on to and choose something from SEO, Flash, Final Cut, PhotoShop, or any other program and learn something new — it’s been phenomenal

And on the seventh day of the week? Errands and finances: getting bank accounts into order, budgeting for the rest of the month, paying bills, buying way too many Magic Arms at Showcase Inc., etc. The key to my new career is constant growth, continuous learning, and striking a balance between paying the bills and doing what I want to do.

Stuart Thurlkil
Not knowing very much about business and how to get the phone to ring. I was afraid that my photography wouldn’t match up with what people were expecting in the consumer and business markets. But I found that people responded to my storytelling style, and it just took some time to get the ball rolling.

Business took longer to learn, but I read a lot and talked with others who were in business and sales. I listened to other photographers at workshops and conferences and sought out people in industries outside photography. I was like a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could. I then tried to immediately implementing what I learned.

Nanine Hartzenbusch
Establishing my professional identity in a new community — we moved to a different city and I created a new business. I was known and well-connected in the Baltimore Washington community because I had worked as a staff photographer for the Baltimore Sun for 11 years. In Charlotte, where we’ve been for two years, people are still getting to know me and my work. My biggest challenge is to grow my client base, while getting to know Charlotte. A friend counseled me, “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” which has helped tremendously. Being patient has been key.

Annie Wells
Sometimes I’ll get to the end of a day and wonder, “What did I accomplish today?” Losing your profession is mind boggling, even though I knew I was going to be moving into something else. I’m also such a work-oriented person, not having a job is hard. I have covered events with friends, and it’s good to know you can be moral as well as physical support for other people. We’re all struggling. Just to know there’s someone out there who is willing to lend a hand is huge.

More »

Ed Kashi is on the road as much as any photojournalist I know. He leaves tomorrow for a seven-week trip to the Niger Delta, the location of his powerful book Curse of the Black Gold, and then Jordan for a National Geographic Photo Camp. During his decades shooting, Ed’s had time to ponder the impact his perpetual motion has had on his life, especially his family life. I’ve talked to a lot of photographers about the pull of the road and how hard it can be to reconnect with loved ones once you return, about the isolation as well as the exhilaration of photographing in foreign countries. I don’t know many photographers, though, who express that sensation and struggle — a feeling of suspended isolation — as honestly and eloquently as Ed does in these excerpts from his travel diaries.
© Ed Kashi

© Ed Kashi

I remember when my son was only two years old and I was leaving for a two-month trip to Pakistan. As I was saying goodbye, I started to cry. Eli looked at me in puzzlement, not understanding why his father was crying, not understanding anything about what was happening and that I was leaving. Twelve years later now, Eli is 14 and my daughter Isabel is 11, and I still find myself needing to connect, to explain, to seek compliance or understanding from them when I leave them for my latest assignment — and more often than not, it doesn’t register with them.

Before a recent trip, I made sure to walk Isabel to school. When we got to the steps of the school, I wanted so badly for us to have a heartfelt goodbye. Instead, she ran off when she saw her friends and barely said goodbye to me. Did this mean she didn’t care? Or was she avoiding “dad’s emotional trips”? Or was she totally unaware of the moment’s importance to me because, for her, our frequent separation is standard operating procedure?

From an early time in my life of constant comings and goings, I’ve realized so much of what I’m going through, I’m going through alone, in isolation. Home has become a base for me, so when I leave it takes time to separate from it. And I never entirely do. Then, upon reentry, I reconnect with my wife and kids, yet I’m often already thinking about my next trip. This constant state of flux creates a sense of being suspended between worlds and always feeling isolated on some level from both — a suspended isolation.

On another trip, I’m flying above Pakistan, en route to Mumbai to teach another workshop, this one for Carlo Roberti who runs the Tuscany Photographic Workshops in Italy. I’m thinking about traces of the familiar. The many good luck charms that Isabel has given me over the years remain in my travel bag, a constant reminder of her warmth, love, good nature, delicious spirit.

My wife Julie rarely gives me mementos, just the constancy of her being, the comfort of knowing she is there and committed. While there is nothing tangible from her in my bag, knowing she is there keeps me going in my darkest hours. From Eli it’s a similar yet more confusing and troubled trace. His love and attention come only with cajoling. He is not forthcoming nor in need of showing me his love or affection. Without these physical and emotional gifts from my family, I’d truly be lost. I can’t imagine a wandering for love and comfort that could possibly replace the firmness of my family.

Without these physical and emotional gifts from my family, I’d be lost.

Part of my sensation of suspended isolation stems from my own personal neediness. I am way too dependent on being connected, and our current climate of digital connectivity only indulges me further. This really started with the cellphone but has accelerated with texting and the ability to have instantaneous communication from almost anywhere in the world. I am addicted. On a good day it’s a wonderful combination, where I feel productive, engaged in the world, and simultaneously connected to my family and studio. On a brooding day, I see it as a character weaknesses that keeps me from engaging deeply with my subjects.

My sense of this suspended isolation started before I even left for my recent trip to Holland and Syria. The morning of my departure it became clear I was already out of my kids’ minds. While saying goodbye, I was reminded that they are living lives entirely outside this internal drama of mine, which only reinforces my feelings of being alone, suspended between my here and there, my aloneness and our togetherness.

This feeling is a semi-permanent condition at this point. This trip has been easy in some ways and quite taxing in others. Syria makes me feel diminished and weak. I know when I get home and review the work, the story will be a success, and I will feel strong and secure. But for now, I am tired and searching for solid ground. That is home, I know. But home is fleeting for me right now. I love you, Isabel and Eli. Our lives are crazy and moving too fast. I hope you and I find a sweet eddy to chill in sometime soon.

The best antidote to all my inner bullshit is to just do great work.

Interestingly, the best antidote to all my inner bullshit (as my wife would not put it but clearly views it) is to just do great work. It’s amazing how much better I feel and how my feelings of isolation suddenly vanish after a great day of shooting, reporting…being engaged. When I’m in the field, my ability to find stories and my desire to report and record are what keep me going and allow me to “forget” about myself. When I already feel isolated, and I’m not finding ideas and stories — that’s when the mental games kick in and life starts to feel desperate.

I’ve observed this cycle over the years, and it’s interesting how I frequently come out of it. Just when I am so goddamn lonely, desperate, burned out and tired, hopeless and depressed — in a state where a normal person would take a mental health day or a vacation or check into the local rehab clinic — I’ll go out that day and have an amazing experience, a great shoot, a wonderful human encounter, or witness something that takes me out of myself. Suddenly I’m healed, re-energized and ready for more. It’s bizarre and runs counter to logic. But I’ve had it happen dozens of times in my career.

For now, my only way to deal with my suspended isolation is to just bull through the emotions. After an exhausting inner dialogue with myself, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and get on with things. Is there any choice? Over the years, the only thing I’ve learned to help me cope with this is that, experience shows, it’s always ok in the end. I will get through these periods of isolation, suspended between worlds. My work always turns out great, my moments of despair invariably pass, and I get home. The key is not to let the conflict in my heart and mind poison my relationships with unnecessary outbursts of anger and pain — so when I am home there is at least the opportunity for us to connect, to find the love and calmness that fills our lives with beauty and health.

After receiving his film degree, Luke Edmonson moved home to Dallas and started a photography business with his father, David, a professional photographer. As always, it took a little time to figure out how they worked together best. What they learned, and share here, is that playing to each person’s strengths and allowing room to keep growing together are the keys to any relationship — familial, business, or both.
©Edmonson Photographers

©Edmonson Photographers

The reason I started in photography is that my father is a photographer and my grandfather, who did sales for photographic equipment, also did photography as a hobby. By 1983 my dad opened his own business, and at that point his father and him started these stock photography trips. My dad submitted my grandfather’s photos for a book that ended up becoming the number one best-selling book in the 1980’s. That got my grandfather pretty excited. So they spent the rest of the time until his death running the photography company together. And that’s kind of what I grew up with, with both of them shooting together.

Originally I had no desire to grow up and be a photographer. But when I got to college, I suddenly realized that this is the lifestyle I’m used to. Being a photographer is unique because you have permission to go places you’ve never been. Every day is different and you work with all these different creative people. So one night, I said to my father, I’ve never expressed an interest in this, and I’m still not sure, but would you support me while I explore photography? And he said, absolutely. It’s a great gift he gave me.

I ended up getting a degree in film, so I could still be different from my father. My pictures can move, while his are still. But that was just out of my youthful need to be different. By the time I was 28, I had gotten to the point where I could work with my father, rather than for my father. Plus, I’ve always been a little envious that my grandfather and him worked together. So when I moved back to Dallas from San Francisco, I ended up saying to my father, let’s do photography together.

What we found works best for us is to divide up our roles and responsibilities. My father, for instance, handles all of our Photoshop retouching and all of our printing. That’s one of his talents. I try to handle our new business relationships, our marketing, our websites, our blog, and those kinds of things. That helps us keep enough energy in our own personal batteries to do a good job for our clients.

©Edmonson Photographers

©Edmonson Photographers

As far as family-run photography businesses go, working with my father is different from a husband and wife working together, simply because we’re not the same age. Here I have my father, who’s been in business for 30-plus years; he has wisdom from longevity. He’s seen a lot of different things. At the same time, I have a youthfulness and the ability to relate to clients on a different level. For example, when my dad flirts with the bridesmaids, it’s more of a fatherly kind of thing than if I do.

One of the things that I appreciate about my dad is the fact that some people kind of get stuck in doing the same thing. Once they figure out that something that works, that’s becomes their signature and they don’t do anything else. My dad has been really good at reinventing himself, almost like Madonna, throughout the years. Sometimes we play a games with the bride and say, “Guess who took what photos.” Sometimes the wildest ones, the most energetic ones, are ones that my dad took, but the brides would have guessed it’s me. It’s fun because he still has that youthful spirit.

I think in any relationship, the biggest question is, are you still growing as a person? Whether you’re husband and wife, whether you’re brother and sister, whether you’re father and son. We can all learn from each other. You just have to have that open heart and open spirit. Not only do my dad and I work together, we live together, too. It’s just him and me. We are literally around each other 24/7. We’re very blessed by our photography business; it gives us a lot of opportunities to do things together.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do you work with a husband, wife, parent, or child? What have you learned about working with family? Would you recommend it?

March 24th, 2009

Ed Kashi: Travels in India 6

Posted by Ed Kashi

During his trip to India in January, Ed pondered a few pressing questions he faces as a photojournalist: how to balance work and family, the danger of exploiting your subjects, and how to connect across cultural divides. In this final post from that trip, he asks hard questions about who will support documentary photography in the future. Don’t miss his upcoming posts about teaching workshops and the pitfalls of perpetual motion.
©Ed Kashi

An image from Ed's "Curse of the Black Gold" project, which leverages years worth of multimedia content to raise awareness about the tragic effects of the oil companies in the area. ©Ed Kashi


Photojournalism and the documentary tradition is alive and well, but like Frank Zappa once said about jazz, “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.” The question I constantly confront is, how do we move this medium forward into the new millennium, keeping it fresh, alive, relevant and growing? We cannot let the digital revolution destroy the magical powers of still photography. I firmly believe we are in a period of transcendent growth and opportunity. How do we reinvent still photography in the digital age and prove the naysayers wrong?

Having the patience and time to produce in-depth, meaningful work is of utmost importance — but now without the support of magazines, how do we continue? We cannot allow the economic and political shifts in media to destroy our ability to get out into the world to tell stories people want to hear and see. We’ve never been at a more challenging crossroads for photojournalism, and finding alternative sources of funding and dissemination are essential. What will those look like and who will they come from? My guess is from a variety of places: NGOs and other foundations with specific interest in the issues our work deals with, the editorial world both in print and online (with online providing the bulk of new opportunities over time), grants from both the arts and photography, but also direct partnerships with non-media sources such as universities.

In the face of all this uncertainty, it’s especially important to keep it real for yourself and true to your passions, causes, joys, and inquisitions. What drives me is the compulsion to seek a kind of truth, to find out what certain realities feel and look like as they relate to issues and themes that matter to me personally. Now when I translate those situations into stories, they are no longer only visual — instead they include all the elements of storytelling. Still images are the basis for these stories and the structure for my explorations. But utilizing more of the senses, with sound that incorporates the voices of my subjects, the ambient sounds of the situations my images are made in, moving imagery to give more visual dimension to the subjects and place, and finally music…that most universal of languages. Today we inhabit a playland of creative opportunities unrivaled from the past. Yet for me still photographs form the emotional core, visual feel, and personal approach to my work as firmly as ever.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What do you think? Where is support for long-term, in-depth documentary work going to come from? Is it sustainable for photographers to have to come up with their own funding for that work?


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