When Photo District News shuttered in January 2020, the industry shared a collective moment of grief the leading trade publication ended its extraordinary 40-year run. Emerald, the magazine’s owner, has just introduced the 2020 edition of The 30: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch, one of the most influential sources for new visions and voices around the globe.
Hailing from all walks of life, the thirty photographers featured in the 2020 edition capture the spirit of the times, offering a vivid snapshot of fresh political, cultural, technological, and aesthetic approaches at the forefront of the millennium. The artists on this year’s list, which includes Nolwen Cifuentes, Celeste Sloman, Rana Young, Giancarlo Valentine, and Yael Malka, employ a panoply of perspectives that push both the medium and the business of photography forward.
The 2020 edition of The 30 has been reinvented for a brave new world, one that requires us to consider new avenues of communication and create innovative business strategies necessary to meet the challenges of living in a time of COVID-19. With people more reliant than ever on digital platforms for information, connection, and commerce, The 30 introduces a series of free online educational sessions on PhotoPlus+, a new online network for photographers, focusing on career building in the editorial, commercial, and fine art markets.
2020: A New Decade
“There’s a reckoning across the culture of how limited our understanding of the world has been,” says Conor Risch, Digital Strategy Lead for PhotoPlus+, Rangefinder, and WPPI. “These photographers are leading the conversation and expanding our understanding of the world we live in. They are creating opportunities for themselves by figuring out what’s really important to them in their heart and in their gut, then finding a way to make compelling work.”
Recognizing the need to take an expansive approach both geographically and conceptually, this year’s edition of The 30 brings together an international group more than 300 photographers from 38 countries nominated by over 75 industry professionals including New York Times photo editor Bent Lewis, photojournalist Chirag Wakaskar, photography director Tracey Woods, and book publisher Kris Graves alongside industry stalwarts Kathy Ryan, Nina Berman, and Ron Haviv.
This year’s jury — the first time members were selected from outside PDN — includes Joshua Chuang, The New York Public Library’s Richard B. Menschel Senior Curator of Photography; Darhil Crooks, a Creative Director at Apple; TIME Director of Photography Katherine Pomerantz; PhotoPlus art director Sharon Ber; and Risch. Their selections make it abundantly clear that no matter what genre in which they work, this year’s honorees understand the power of visibility, representation, and controlling the narrative.
New Voices, New Visions
“If used correctly, photography can give those who are viewing it an honest perspective into what or whom is in front of our lens. From small personal moments to worldwide life-changing events, photography’s role in our lives is to always keep us transparent, no matter what it is we’re trying to portray,” says 2020 honoree Kayla Reefer, a Afro-Panamanian American multidisciplinary artist and entrepreneur whose big break came in 2018 when she was commissioned by The New York Times to document the aftermath of the fatal LAPD shooting of 16-year-old Anthony Weber.
Reefer continues, “My approach to photography tends to speak to the truth and authenticity we all possess. I make images of folks and the environment as is. My perspective is, ‘Why change something that’s already perfect? Why manipulate something that’s already there?’ I feel like keeping up that sense of transparency allows the viewer to accept the world and all that lives in it, as they are.”
2020 honoree Kelsey McClellan, a graduate of Columbus College of Art and Design, who got her start as visual lead with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, a nationwide chain of ice cream shops. McClellan’s vibrant still life and portrait photographs dazzled photo editors at The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker as well as commercial clients like Apple and Häagen-Dazs.
“I hope to see a return to a slower, meaningful media. Accessibility is a good thing, but many crave more cohesion and purpose,” McClellan says. “I always hope people feel transported into the world I’m showing them in a picture. Usually I’m trying to make sets that reflect little places I’d love to be in but that don’t necessarily exist. Outside of the studio I like to zoom in to smaller details that show an average place in a more exciting way, sharing what I love and how I see it even if others find it mundane.”
An Eye for Talent
Launched in 1999, The 30 filled an important void when the last remnants of the traditional photography apprentice system were slowly fading away. Pooling together nominations from leaders throughout the industry, including curators, gallerists, art directors, photo editors, photo agents, book publishers, and photographers, members of PDN juried the works.
“One of the most important things about The 30 is that it reaches people in remote areas who are developing projects on the ground local to their community,” says Amber Terranova, former photo editor of Photo District News who now works as Education Director, Americas, of Magnum Photos. “The photographers were mostly doing self-funded work, applying for grants, or sharing work produced while they were students. It was really exciting to see work that hadn’t been published widely before.”
Over the years, The 30 has introduced an astonishing breadth of visionary artists from across the globe including Taryn Simon, Alec Soth, Elinor Carucci, Alex Prager, Wayne Lawrence, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lynsey Addario, Zora J. Murff, Dana Scruggs, and Fabrice Monteiro, to name just a few.
“Photography is a really competitive industry so getting in front of the right editor or curator can make a difference,” Risch says. “While there’s no set path to becoming a successful photographer, there are some common touchstones and if The 30 has been one of those things, that makes the program worthwhile in our eyes.”
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, and websites including Time, Vogue, Artsy, Aperture, Dazed, and Vice, among others.
For more information on The 30, click here.