toensingheadshot_2013“I look back and think I was so naive. But I actually treasure that I had that opportunity to be naive about it. It was beautiful … There was a freedom to not knowing how intense the pressure can be.”

Amy Toensing, an American photojournalist committed to telling stories with sensitivity and depth, is known for her intimate essays about the lives of ordinary people.
Toensing has been a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine for over a decade and recently completed her fifteenth feature story for them. She has covered cultures around the world including the last cave dwelling tribe of Papua New Guinea, the Maori of New Zealand and the Kingdom of Tonga. She has also covered issues such as the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and Muslim women living in Western culture. For 4 years she documented Aboriginal Australia which was published in the June, 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Toensing’s work has been exhibited throughout the world and recognized with numerous awards, including an exhibit at the 2012 Visa Pour L’image, Festival of the Photograph in Perpignan France. Her work has also appeared in Smithsonian, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. A photograph she took in the Australian outback was chosen as one of National Geographic magazine’s all time 50 Best Photos. Toensing began her professional career in 1994 as a staff photographer at her hometown paper, The Valley News, in New Hampshire. She then worked for The New York Times, Washington D.C. bureau covering the White House and Capitol Hill during the Clinton administration. In 1998, Toensing left D.C. to receive her Master’s Degree from the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University.

In addition to her photojournalism work, Toensing is committed to teaching photography to kids and young adults in underserved communities. This includes working with the non-profit organization VisionWorkshops on numerous projects including teaching photography to Somali and Sudanese refugees in Maine, Burmese refugees in Baltimore, young Pakistanis in Islamabad and children and adults in South Sudan and Jordan.

Toensing lives in the Hudson Valley of New York with her husband Matt Moyer, who is also a photojournalist.

Load More
Something is wrong. Response takes too long or there is JS error. Press Ctrl+Shift+J or Cmd+Shift+J on a Mac.

SELECT QUOTES

On humanity

“Everything for me has humanity in it. Even if I’m doing a story on the drought. What’s the human impact? I’m always looking for the humanity in every story.”

On developing as a photographer

“I look back and think I was so naive. But I actually treasure that I had that opportunity to be naive about it. It was beautiful.”

“There was a freedom to not knowing how intense the pressure can be.”

“I try really hard to acknowledge how wonderful it’s been when I have opened up myself to different ways of seeing things. I’ve always been rewarded when I do that.”

“The most beautiful thing about photography is that I’m always rewarded when I put in the time. I think that’s a really wonderful life lesson that I don’t think I’m very good at applying to everything in my life. But I do know with photography that I really trust that – it’s about being present, being there, and giving the time to somebody or something.”

“One way that I’ve been most shaped by another person is when they’re pulling images out that I took, but I didn’t even see it, and it’s like they’re pulling things out of me that I didn’t even know I had. I think that’s probably the strongest way you can teach somebody, because you’re not saying ‘well you should go out and do this and that and you should approach it this way’. You’re actually finding things within them and celebrating them.”

“Whoever we work for, there’s always these pressures, and the real goal is to keep all those voices out and stay true to your artist’s voices.”

“I think the biggest challenge for a photographer is cultivating their instinct to know when you’re in the right spot and when you’re not, and when its time to leave or time to stay.”

“That’s the really, really hard thing, with our work; how do you take information and then get it to a photograph, but in some sort of beautiful, visual way? That’s hard. How do you get your camera out of the way?”

On advice for aspiring photographers

“I wouldn’t encourage people to go straight through and study photography. It’s like writing. What are you going to say?”

On teaching

“I love teaching, and it also gives me a break from myself and my work. I think that it’s a really great challenge. To try to frame things and get outside of your head to explain your own process.”

“One thing I love the most when I’m doing some of the workshops, especially the National Geographic photo camp, is editing. I really love working with the kids, but I really love just looking at other people’s work. I find that really like a psychological study.”

On shooting for National Geographic

“I think my first few stories at Geographic, I was probably, to a fault, not acknowledging what the formula is for a Geographic story.”

 

 

Robin Moore setting up his sound recording equipment as he prepares to interview Pete Muller in a basement apartment in Washington, DC. Photo by Pete Muller

Robin Moore setting up his sound recording equipment as he prepares to interview Pete Muller in a basement apartment in Washington, DC. Photo by Pete Muller

Pete Muller profile shot copy“I never think I’ve got the story. Ever. It’s almost ridiculous. I put myself through the wringer” says the ever humble, ever dedicated Pete Muller. Muller is a contributing photographer to The New York Times and The Washington Post, and is currently working on his third story for National Geographic Magazine. Since 2005 he has been working to document the individual consequences of war, poverty and social unrest. Through a combination of photography, text, audio and video recordings, he aims to illustrate broader issues through individual stories. He creates images and material that demand consideration for the lives of those depicted, driven by the belief that intimate, sensitive photographs leave indelible marks on the conscience and actively oppose the sterilization of human suffering. In 2011 Pete was named TIME Magazine’s Wire photographer of the year for his contributions to the Associated Press from Sudan and Central Africa. Visit Pete’s website and follow him on instagram below.

 

Load More
Something is wrong. Response takes too long or there is JS error. Press Ctrl+Shift+J or Cmd+Shift+J on a Mac.

 

SELECT QUOTES FROM THIS EPISODE:

On photography and the role of art

“Photography is a relatively simple medium in its technical elements. Therefore it has to mean that what’s driving the photography is something bigger than just the photography. I love the visual elements of photography. I love the artistic components of photography. But to me it’s got to be part of a conversation.”

“It might be beautiful to look at, but your staying power comes from your critical thinking. What are you helping to explain or explore or understand through photography?”

“The role of art is to connect us and let us know that we are not alone… You have to give a lot of yourself. And that’s where connection happens. That’s where trust happens. And that’s where vulnerability happens.”

On self doubt

“I never think I’ve got the story. Ever. It’s almost ridiculous. I put myself through the wringer.”

Advice for younger photographers

“I would advise younger photographers to put your head down and think about what you are shooting and why. Think about how you can add to the conversation. Think about how to contextualize your work in broader conversations that are unfolding. Try to make yourselves relevant by contextualizing yourself appropriately and situating yourself in discourse that’s interesting and important beyond photography.”

On being asked to shoot the ebola story for National Geographic Magazine

PM: “When I got the chance to shoot the ebola story, I was SO scared. SO nervous. I was a ball of nerves.” RM: “Did you have to sit on it, think about it, do a little research before you agreed?” PM: “Well I accepted it right away. There was no way I wasn’t going to do it.”

Other Links

Peter van Agtmael has been a mentor and source of inspiration for Pete – check out his work here.