When students critique recent news pictures
and photo essays in Nina Berman’s classes at
the Columbia University Graduate School of
Journalism, they consider composition, light,
shadow and color. And then they keep going.
The associate professor of journalism says
she wants her students to also delve into the
wider context and cultural frame of the images.
They discuss whether the photos reinforce or
subvert stereotypes, for instance, and how
shooters could have approached the stories
Her students, who use photography as
a dominant or secondary medium for their
journalism, also read texts by anthropologists,
photo historians and visual critics.
Berman combines the readings and critiques
with in-the-field photography assignments to
teach her students the importance of context
and representation in visual journalism and
narrative storytelling, she says.
“For example, if the public only sees drug
addicts depicted in one way—in terms of
depravity—then students are encouraged
to ask if there is another story of addiction
that hasn’t been told, so as not to perpetuate
narrow mindsets,” she says.
Berman, who directs the school’s photo
program, still spends time in the field
herself. She covers issues of violence and
their aftermath, ranging from harm inflicted
on vulnerable women to destruction of
communities by corporations engaged in fossil
fuel production. Working outside the classroom
is important to her, and doing so helps her stay
connected to the creative challenges of those
“When your student comes in completely
freaked out about something, you feel it,” she
says, “and you remember that feeling because
you just had it yesterday.”
PDNedu: How did you get involved with the
Shirley Yu: I met Amani Al-Khatahtbeh while
photo editing for Rutger’s college newspaper, The
Daily Targum. She was also interning at VICE while
building up MuslimGirl. I knew that we were cut
from the same cloth. I admired her for pursuing
her dreams while doing important work for her
community. After our first jobs in the industry,
Amani made the leap to grow MuslimGirl from a
blog to a full-fledged digital media startup and I
joined the team.
PDNedu: How large is the core team, and, as
the visual media director, what is your role?
SY: MuslimGirl has a small team consisting of
young, active and mainly Muslim women of
color, spread across the country. I am tasked
with special projects that involve original content,
which includes liaising with our collaborative
content partners (including Getty, media
brands and nonprofits) and coordinating cross-promotion efforts, as well as sourcing freelancers,
directing and production, including street casting
for Muslim women.
PDNedu: What type of photographers are you
seeking out to shoot for Muslim Girl?
SY: MuslimGirl is rooted in lifestyle, portrait and
fashion. We look for emerging photographers
with new and intriguing perspectives, especially
those who understand the diverse experiences of
Muslim women. Sometimes, as a woman of color
in America, I’ve felt there exists systemic barriers
to entry in my field. It gives me hope to see our
industry shifting to become more inclusive—I like
being a part of that.
PDNedu: How did the partnership with Getty
SY: During a speaking engagement, Amani
asked everyone to search “Muslim women” in
Google Images. The images shared common
traits: anonymous, homogenous, miserable,
foreign. Because of this, the media industry can
complain that they don’t have images to choose
from. Amani reached out to Getty with the idea
to change the mainstream image of the Muslim
woman. When I got the call, I agreed that there
was going to be no better partner for the scope
of this initiative.
PDNedu: What kind of response have you seen
SY: When we released our image gallery, we
saw it go viral. We’ve seen plenty of people
tweeting and sharing on social media how
important this work is, and specifically for
Muslim women, how much it means to them
to see better representation. Beyond that, a
lot of publications have been using our images.
Hopefully, it’ll help change the narrative!
- Interview by Jacqui Palumbo
Shirley Yu, Visual Media
Director of MuslimGirl
When Getty Images announced a partnership with MuslimGirl to diversify images of Muslim
women in media, the news spread like wildfire. It’s one of Getty’s recent partnerships that aim to
make stock photography more inclusive. Leading the visuals of MuslimGirl is Shirley Yu, a former
PDNedu Student Photo Contest honoree. We asked Yu about her role in the MuslimGirl initiative.