Jamie Rose didn't have to go far to be influenced by photography: her parents were professionals with a wedding and portrait studio. Her initial passion, however, was photojournalism, as a student of great instructors during college and covering the Washington political scene for The New York Times during her early career. Eventually, however, her enduring passion became humanitarian photography, or documenting the work of nonprofit organizations. This has had a profound effect on Rose, as a professional and human being. It’s this combination of a professional’s eye and a humanitarian’s compassion that has resulted in a still young, but brilliant career, filled with many meaningful and memorable assignments and images.
Rose is published in many major newspapers and magazines, was the recipient of an United Nations award and hosts an annual schedule of workshops throughout the world for Momenta Creative.
What event or experience first attracted you to photography?
My very first foray into photography came from my parents who were professional photographers. They owned a portrait and wedding studio, so negatives, cameras and photo albums constantly surrounded me. As a child, the darkroom in the basement and the chemical process from negative to print was fascinating and mysterious to me. I guess the smell of fixer just entered my blood at a young age and never left.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue a photography career?
From my first experience on the newspaper staff in high school, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I loved the deadlines and finding the heart of the story. I pursued a bachelor's degree at American University thinking I would be a reporter. There wasn't a photojournalism degree offered at that time, so I took as many photo classes as I could. During my internship and early staff jobs as a reporter, I volunteered to take photographs to illustrate my stories. My editor tentatively agreed because all reporters say they can take photos. Once I showed him I could actually produce, he gave me much more freedom. After a year at the paper, I realized my heart was in photography and I knew I needed better training; so I researched the best graduate schools where I could improve my skills to a competitive level in photojournalism.
Did you receive any formal photography education?
I have a Master's of Science in Visual Interactive Communications – Photojournalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse University. I was a graduate student lucky enough to have studied under Mark Dolan, Chip Maury and David Sutherland. It was an amazing experience and changed my entire perspective on life, photography and my career.
Were you influenced by a famous photographer’s style?
My biggest influence is still Sabastiao Salgado. Human migrations changed my whole world. I knew I wanted to focus on humanitarian photography with my work, but Salgado made me want to be a better artist at my craft. His work still breaks my heart.
What was your first professional/commercial photography assignment?
I honestly can't remember! I vividly remember my first "big break" though.
During 2003, I started doing freelance work after graduate school. I received a call from Evan Eile, the editor at USA Today, to illustrate a story on women who were both mothers and players in the Women’s National Basketball Association. I was very green! It was my first national news story and I had to buy a digital camera to shoot it because I had previously only shot on film. I spent the day with this great professional basketball player and her very young triplets. I transmitted my photos and prayed Evan liked them.
During Friday morning, at the crack of dawn, I received a call from my cousin who opened her hotel room door to find the weekend edition of USA Today with my photograph as the lead image, above the fold. I remember there was much screaming and phone calls to everyone I knew to go buy the paper. That was a pretty big day for a 20-nothing-year-old.
Do you specialize in a specific type of photography?
For a majority of my early career, my main client was The New York Times and it had me covering politics on Capitol Hill and the White House with Doug Mills and Stephen Crowley. I kept traveling overseas, however, to work on personal projects, covering humanitarian health care workers. While I loved the political news scene and working with the Times, I realized my true passion was with nonprofit clients that wanted documentary coverage; so I transitioned to documentary nonprofit work. Today, with Momenta Creative, I still photograph for nonprofit clients and I teach nonprofit documentary photography for Momenta Workshops.
How many years have you been a professional in this field?
Approximately 12 years.
What was your most memorable photography assignment/job/project?
Short answer: Photographing a school for children with HIV/AIDS in Uganda for The Global Fund just a few days before Christmas and realizing how incredibly lucky I am.
Long answer: It was December 2007 when I was at that school and the assignment would be my last before I went home for the holidays. I had been in Uganda for approximately a month and I was at the point you always reach during a foreign assignment: exhausted, dirty and ready to go home. During that day, though, my composure received three jolts that had never happened before.
The director of the school said, "We'll go into the classroom for our Christmas party now." I followed her into the room and saw a huge pile of shoeboxes of donated presents from the charity, Samaritan's Purse. As a child, my mother made us participate in the program, so we would understand the importance of giving to the less fortunate. As a donor, you fill a shoebox full of presents for children of a certain age (boy age 8, girl age 4, etc.), which children in the developing world would receive. I'd never seen the final destinations of the boxes. It was the first jolt.
The teacher stood and said, "Okay, children, when your name is called, you can come and get your box, BUT you must dance here." Then, the teacher started a small CD player and a super, jaunty version of Mary's Boy Child piped from the speakers. It is my father's favorite Christmas song. It evoked homesickness for my family during the holidays. That was the second jolt.
Suddenly, one of the male staffers burst into the door in an old, tattered Santa suit and beard. The kids were screaming and laughing and shouting, "Santa!" He danced around the room and started calling their names. These small children, born into hopeless poverty, and with HIV, were so happy, so excited for a small gift that might be their only one for Christmas. That was the third and last jolt.
For the first time during my career, I had to leave the scene of a shoot. I walked around the corner, sat on the stairs and cried. These kids had every reason in the world to be angry and sad. Yet, they danced and sang and celebrated life. I was away from home during the holidays: so what? I was healthy, well fed, had a roof over my head and had a family who loved me. What the hell did I ever have to complain about again?
I had to spend a few minutes talking to myself, "Get it together! You're a journalist, so act like it!" I re-entered the room and did my job, but I've never looked at Christmas the same again.
How would you describe your specific style?
Quiet, unobtrusive and compassionate. I try to keep my documentary approach when working for nonprofits, while always remembering that the dignity of their clients and the truth of their situations are of the utmost importance.
Do you conduct photography workshops?
Yes! As the Director of Momenta Workshops, I plan our entire workshop calendar for the year and I lead most of our nonprofit photography workshops. Our workshops are an equal balance of business skills and photography. The only requirement is a student must have a digital SLR or rangefinder and a desire to put in long hours to improve his or her work. The workshops range from 5 days to two weeks and take place throughout the world. We also conduct one-day business skills workshops throughout the U.S.
What distinguishes our workshops from most others is that we focus on private editing sessions each day with our students. They receive the opportunity to discuss one-on-one with an instructor their daily effort and plan their photo story development. With the editing and the nightly lectures, our workshops are more like a highly compressed college practicum than a photo tour. Our next workshops during 2012 are The Art & Business of Nonprofit Photography in San Francisco and Project DC: Working with Nonprofits. For our 2013 workshops, we will be going to India, New Orleans, Washington D.C. and our 5-Year Anniversary trip with our founders to a yet-to-be-disclosed location in Asia. You can see our schedule at http://momentaworkshops.com.
In which major publications have your images been published?
The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, O Magazine, Kiplingers, Rolling Stone, TIME and Better Homes and Gardens, among others. My major nonprofit work has been with Doctors Without Borders, Physicians for Human Rights, UPMRC, The Global Fund and The Calvert Foundation.
Have you published any books: photography or instructional?
My work has been featured in National Geographic books including WORK: The World In Photographs and the Traveler Guidebook for Washington D.C.
Which photography awards have you received?
The award of which I am most proud would be when I was selected for the United Nations' ICP Photographic Leadership Award during 2011.
Which photo of yours is your all-time favorite?
It's probably not the "best" photo I've ever taken, but I love one image from my first overseas nonprofit documentary piece. I photographed Palestinian and Israeli doctors working together during the start of the second Intifada. The image features one of the doctors on a home visit inspecting a baby held by his mother while the grandmother has a look of both love and concern. It was my first major documentary project, so it will always have a special place in my heart.
Where have your photographs been exhibited?
I have no major exhibitions planned for the future. I've had work featured in gallery shows at Look3 and in Washington, D.C., as part of juried shows. My work is normally displayed on a printed page, not on a wall.
What is most amateur photographers’ #1 mistake?
Short answer: Thinking that business skills aren't equally as important as their portfolios. It leads to people signing horrible contracts, undercutting the marketplace and making bad choices that affect the whole industry.
Expanded answer: They consider themselves "freelancers" and not a business owner. Unless they are one of the lucky few that actually has a secure staff position, they forget they are running an independent, small business. This means photography skills are equal to the skills needed to run a business. Business consulting is another service of Momenta Creative, so we help many start-up photographers with this aspect of being a professional photographer. Too many individuals suffer from the "I'm-an-artist-not-a-businessperson" syndrome. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I'm just not good at all that stuff," but they need to learn it to be sustainable. They place too much emphasis on style and gear, but don’t apply nearly enough effort on operating a tight ship with their clients.
If I had one bit of advice, then it would be to invest early in good business practices and quality collateral marketing materials. Then, grow that business capital as you would a cherished pet. A professional photography business isn't "in spite of the art, it's because of the art." Attend business seminars, learn Quickbooks, hire a great design firm to create your identity package and eventually hire a strategic consultant to help you generate more leads, obtain more clients and be a better professional. Clients will appreciate it, and you'll probably make more money and you'll actually last in this competitive industry.
With what brand name equipment do you shoot?
I have Leica M9s with a range of lenses (28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 90mm), as well as a Leica X1. Video is shot with Canon equipment and Ikan lights.
Do you shoot video and create multimedia presentations?
At Momenta Creative, each creative member works with other photographers, videographers, motion-graphic artists and post-production teams to produce our multimedia pieces. It's actually so much easier and successful than one person trying to be all things to all people. We’re motivated and inspired by each other's specializations and creativity. A one-man-band is great if you can do all things equally well; however, I think our project team approach is why our clients and contractors prefer to work with Momenta. We're able to deploy efficiently and economically a very strong team for multimedia, which uses everyone's specializations and keeps many of our peers working.
What is the most important lesson you learned during your career?
Never think you can't be replaced. Once you believe you are invaluable, you stop learning, innovating and improving.
What advice would you share with aspiring professional photographers?
Study, study and study some more. Learn the work of the masters who came before you. Learn your gear forwards and backwards. Learn about the industry and its trends. Learn about business skills and how to be sustainable. Learn what your competitors are doing and how you can collaborate. Never stop learning!
Photographs © Jamie Rose