The Travel Photographer blog occasionally posts interviews with both travel and editorial photographers. This interview is with Kirsten Luce, a freelance photojournalist working in New York City. Her work was published in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald (International Edition), AP, Bloomberg News and CARE International. She recently attended the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Mexico City, and her photo project featuring Clowns in Xochimilco received wide acclaim.
An enormously talented photographer and photojournalist, Kirsten recently took the time to respond to TTP's questions.
1) TTP: When did you decide to become a photographer? Who or what influenced your decision?
While enrolled in art school at the University of Georgia, I took a photojournalism class and promptly switched majors. my professor, Jim Virga, was a newspaper photojournalist turned educator. He took a practical approach to photojournalism that spoke to me. He taught us the basics: how to put together a portfolio to apply for jobs. I got my first newspaper internship with a portfolio compiled from these class assignments. If it weren't for the perspective that I gained from him and my classmates, I would not be a working photojournalist.
2) TTP: Do you have any formal training regarding photography?
I took 3 or 4 photo classes in high school/college and I interned at The Birmingham News in Alabama for six months.
3) TTP : If you had the choice, where is your favorite place to live and work as a photographer in the world and why?
I absolutely fell in love with Mexico. I won a grant to study journalism and lived in Colima, a small university city in western Mexico, and I have been consumed by the country ever since. I went there for a semester and ended up staying for several months longer, freelancing for the AP, and eventually taking a newspaper staff job in McAllen, Texas on the Mexican border. I very well may end up back in Mexico some day.
4) TTP: Describe your own favorite image, and describe how you went about creating it.
One of my personal favorites is from my first few weeks in Mexico in 2004. I was at a carnival with my Swedish roommate and snapped some photos of a street performer. It doesn't have much news value but it makes me smile. It ran in a little Mexican newspaper that I would contribute to. They paid me $3 to use it.
5) TTP: Describe a day in your professional life.
My professional life was recently turned upside down. I chose to leave my staff job at a newspaper on the border to move to New York city and freelance. It's my self-designed grad school. I wake up, contact editors, brainstorm, edit recent projects and plan for future projects. If I have an assignment, I photograph, edit and FTP the images.
6) TTP: Tell your funniest, scariest, most bizarre, most touching story from a photoshoot!
Earlier this year, I accompanied a Mexican reporter to cover the aftermath of a shootout between suspected drug cartel members and Mexican soldiers in a small border town in Mexico. When we arrived, the situation was still very tense and at least three people had died. There were hundreds of people gathered in the streets to watch the story unfold. The chilling part was that no one would talk to us. No one wanted to be photographed, in fear that they would be identified as a witness. No one even wanted to be seen with us. It was my first glimpse of just how powerful the cartels are in Mexico and how intimidated the local population remains.
7) TTP: What types of assignments are you most attracted to?
I love photographing assignments that give me time and access to whatever it is I am covering. I prefer to work alone, as I don't like photographing things with other photographers or videographers present. At the newspaper, I would really enjoy photographing a 'day in the life' of a person or place. When you have the time and access, you can wait for the right light and moments.
8) TTP: How would you describe your photographic style?
Subtle, textured and quiet...but I am evolving.
9) TTP: Who or what would you love to photograph that you haven't already?
There are too many things. At the moment I am drawn to Arctic cultures. I have spent a lot of time working in the heat, and look forward to documenting people that live under vastly different environmental conditions.
10) TTP: Describe the photo gear, as well as (if digital) your computer hardware and software you use.
I photograph with Canon gear. I own a 5d, 17-35, 24 1.4, 70-200 and a 550ex strobe. I prefer to travel light. I miss my Mark II from the paper but adjusting to the 5d. It's a fine camera. I still use Photo Mechanic and Photoshop, but transitioning into Lightroom. I have a wireless internet card that makes my life a lot easier...so I can transmit images from virtually anywhere I am.