Tsingy de Bemeraha 2009, Madagascar ©Stephen Alvarez/National Geographic Magazine
The Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar is coming up December 3-5 and I have to get my presentation ready. I think I am going to talk about one of the real arts of a long professional career: Balance
Balance, it is what I struggle with every day. How to balance who I am as a photographer today with who I want to be in the future.Let's face it, we get hired for what we have done not what we want to do. Early in my career I mostly shot portraits for New York Financial Magazines. I liked doing it but wanted to cover Natural History and Exploration. The solution then, as now, is personal work. I got out of portraits by producing a body of very personal photos about underground exploration. The personal photos led to assignments and eventually my personal work became my profession.
That is the ideal situation, getting hired to shoot what you really want to anyway. But once you get hired you are not exactly free. When I go out the door on a story for NG they want me to explore and come back with the unexpected, but I sure as hell better have the expected in the tray as well.
So how do you keep that from being a trap? Personal work. I'm always working on something personal that challenges me as a storyteller. It is a way of staying fresh and growing while still being employable.
My personal work these days is about the Uganda-Sudan border. Now I don't think it will ever become my full bore job, but the skills I learn there make me a better photographer.
Kampala, Uganda October 2009 © Stephen Alvarez