Photo by Annie O'Neill

Photo by Annie O’Neill

“It’s not about what you can take. It’s really about what that person chooses to give you.” It is a sentiment woven throughout Lynn Johnson’s photography, in which the respect she has for those whose stories she is telling shines through.


Lynn has dedicated the last four decades to exploring the far reaches of the human condition. She is known and respected for shooting elusive subjects—vanishing languages, disease, rape, the invisible injuries inflicted by war —and for asking tough questions. But what is striking about Lynn is the respect and integrity she demonstrates throughout her work, always putting the people who let her into their lives above her own ambitions. Her ego never gets in the way of allowing the people in front of her lens to tell their story. In her most recent story for National Geographic Magazine she put away her medium format camera in favor of her smaller, less intrusive iPhone, as her friends mother passed away before her. For a story on crossing over she went against the instructions of her editors to honor the people that invited her to witness such a profound and moving moment.
Lynn’s images frequently grace the pages of National Geographic Magazine, and she was recently awarded a National Geographic fellowship.
It was a rare treat to sit down with Lynn at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC to discuss everything from her unique approach to photography to how she came back from being told by an editor that being around her was like being dropped into a pit with a cloud over it, and to absorb some of the wisdom she exudes.

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On developing as a photographer

“In my younger mind I believed that I wanted to be in the presence of hard news – that that’s where intensity lived – to some extent that’s true. Now I understand it lives everywhere.”

“The work has to come from that deep place [like a profound experience in your life that gives you purpose]. And then you will learn the tools that you need to do that work. But if you start from the outside – ‘I have to know how to do video, and audio and stills, and I have to know this program and that program’ – you’re starting on that widest circle. Whatever level you are, starting from that interior self and working out is the best way.”

“I don’t think of images I’ve done in terms of relationship to history as much as in relationship to first and foremost hoping it changed the life of the person that allowed me to photograph them, because they have to go through a process of self awareness and reflection.”

On being an outsider

“I am an outsider, I’ve always been an outsider, and I think being an outsider is what enables me to do the work.”


Annie-Griffiths-Belt-Web-headshot“In a creative field you need inspiration and you need comfort and you need humor. You need to not take yourself so seriously. And move that focus to the work. That’s when stuff happens.”

Annie Griffiths is a photographer with a mission – some might say many missions.

She is a true trail blazer, refusing to be bound by convention and unafraid to push for what she believes is possible and right. Annie was one of the first female photographers with National Geographic, and managed to balance the demands of assignments that would span two or three months with motherhood, bravely taking her two children, Lily and Charlie, with her to the remote corners of the earth. Their presence opened doors for Annie in cultures in which other mothers welcomed her, and demonstrated that women did not need to relinquish their chance at a successful career to become mothers.

Annie has photographed in over 150 countries and has seen the good, the bad and the ugly in the human condition. But where others may see only problems and challenges Annie sees opportunity. Angry at the role the media was playing in portraying disenfranchised women and girls around the world as vulnerable and weak, Annie decided to tell a different story, and founded Ripple Effect Images to cover under-reported issues that impact women and girls. She assembled a team of some of the best photographers to help her, and Ripple Effect is going from strength to strength in helping to scale solutions for women and girls globally. Annie is also a Senior Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.

Annie’s exuberant personality and positive outlook shine through in her vibrant images and stories that paint women and girls around the world as strong, resilient and bursting with hope.


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On finding your path

“When you get your internship, when you look for your job, make sure you are surrounded by people who are better than you. The last thing you want is to be the best photographer at the place, because it will make it much more difficult to grow.”

“There isn’t a clear path. No-one to fix it for you. Your expectations should be high of yourself, but not of the world and the path that should lay before you.”

“Don’t be competitive. I’ve seen it trip people up all the time. I see them lose focus on their work, because they’re looking over their shoulder. It’s like being at a cocktail party with someone you’re trying to have a conversation with and they’re constantly looking over your shoulder.”

“You grow up and realize that the only people looking at your byline are your parents and that it’s the work that’s important.”

“Attorneys don’t start out at the supreme court. For some reason with photography there can be an unrealistic focus on the goal and not the path. And the path is really important. And it humbles and it informs, and sometimes it takes you in a completely different direction than you had planned.”

“In a creative field you need inspiration and you need comfort and you need humor. You need to not take yourself so seriously. And move that focus to the work. That’s when stuff happens.”

On self doubt and humility

“One of the things many photographers struggle with is self doubt. There’s a perception that we’re all just totally confident in what we’re doing, and it’s just not true.”

“You get [to these remote communities] and people have never heard of National Geographic or Photographer of the Year, and they are just being kind to a stranger. It’s another thing my mom taught me: People who have nothing give everything. And it’s true.”

“There are celebrity cardiologists and celebrity businessmen. In each profession there are people that lead. And what matters is not them, it’s the work that they do. So I’ve always wanted my work to be useful as well as beautiful.”

Advice to her 20-year old self

“I would tell myself not to be so hard on myself, and not to worry about silly things like style and reputation and the kind of lala land stuff. If you want to be a photojournalist you need to count on your curiosity and your skills, and be proactive about moving stories forward not just yourself forward.”

“Be kind, treat people well, do your job to the best of your ability, set lofty goals and work your way towards them, but don’t think you’re going to start with your lofty goals.”