talking with an influential photojournalist

Today I called documentary photographer Alex Welsh for a job call assignment for J2100. You know when you see great work and you want to know what the photographer put into shooting it? Well, that’s what I asked and I feel truly humbled and inspired after talking with Alex. He is a genuine person who truly cares about the work he does. Here is the paper I will be turning in tomorrow:

When it comes to talking with people in the field that you want to pursue, to me, it is more about the content behind the work than the work itself. That’s why I called photographer Alex Welsh. I first saw his work when it won the 2009 College Photographer of the Year in the documentary category. Having never felt so emotionally attached to the way a community is covered, I had to know more about how Welsh did it, as well as his philosophy towards journalism and his current job status.

A 2009 graduate of San Francisco State University, Welsh graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and minors in History and Middle Eastern Studies. Welsh said it was the close-nit relationships he found with other photographers that was the most important aspect he got from college experience.  This in large part is due to the way journalism attracts passionate people, he said.

During his studies Welsh said his program delegated students to job opportunities in the Bay area, such as with the local paper. As well as doing work for the Oakland Tribune, Welsh said it was attending the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Mexico City in 2008 that landed him a gig with The Wall Street Journal.

While I wanted to know what work he was currently doing after graduation, I mainly wanted to know about his photo story that won COPY. The photo story focused on the problems plaguing Hunters Point, the last predominately African-American area of San Francisco. Knowing the information he put into his story I felt was crucial to be able to apply the same philosophy and work methods in work I want to do.

Welsh first heard about the issues in Hunters Point from previous stories as well as from a friend who was a Sociology major. When finding subjects Welsh said there was a sense of fear and distrust in him from some members of the community he was trying to cover. While frustrating at first, he said it was his passion and commitment to be involved with the community that lead to gaining access. Nearly three times a week for six months said he would go to immerse himself in the region. “You have to be let a community know that you’re not there to tell a story and cut out,” he said. These passionate involvements lead him to being asked by a family to photograph the funeral of victim who killed in an ambush.

Overall, it was easy to get lost in the story as long as he was. “You get extremely invested and you can’t change people,” Welsh said. To elaborate Welsh emphasized that a photographer needs to understand that the issues he covered are long standing and that ultimately it is up to the public to decide how to react. “If war photographers were into war thinking they could change the war they’d go crazy,” he said.

As of right now, Welsh is a freelance photographer based in New York City. His clients include The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The FADER and FLYP Media. He also assists a fashion photographer. Shortly after graduating last June Welsh moved to New York City. There he has gotten some work with the New York Times, but like with any recent graduate work consistent work is hard to get. While some photographers believe taking low-paying jobs is undercutting the industry, it’s hard not to accept $200 for a day. Due to work being sparse, Welsh is considering taking up a bike messenger in Brooklyn. While it’s not a photo job, Welsh says that a part time job is a good way to get away from just being down on yourself about work.  Reciting the words of award-winning photojournalist Chris Anderson, Welsh said “don’t be in a rush to make money through photography.” He then went on to say some of the best assignments you do are for yourself.

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