SNAPSHOTS: Ask a Photo Editor
PDNedu: Is there a particular segment of stories that you work on at
National Geographic Are there certain stories that you’re drawn to?
Jennifer Samuel: I was very involved with the series about race and diversity
this year. We kicked that series off with the single-topic April issue, and
there have been several stories in follow-up issues as well.
I focus on people and culture stories at National Geographic. As a
child of immigrants, issues of race, identity and culture are part of how
you experience the world even before you can articulate it, so working on
stories that relate to these issues both domestically and globally are the
ones I’m most drawn to.
PDNedu: Can you describe a recent project that you were involved with?
JS: The single-topic issue on race was timed to coincide with the 50th
anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Knowing that most
publications would be reflecting on this date, we thought a lot about what
we could add to the conversation. We decided to research and photograph
visually and historically significant streets around the world named after
Martin Luther King as a way of visualizing his global impact and legacy.
Then we commissioned five photographers regionally: Elias Williams
photographed U.S. locations, including Harlem and Memphis; Ian Teh
photographed Kolkata, India; Philomène Joseph photographed her own
city, Port au Prince, Haiti; Martin Roemers photographed Germany; and
Andrew Esiebo photographed South Africa. It’s unusual for us to send
multiple photographers to shoot one assignment but in this case it worked
really well. It was all their first assignments for the magazine.
I’m currently wrapping up a story
PDNedu: Can you give us a sense of how you select photographers for projects?
on South Asian Americans that will be
published in the September issue. This
story is very close to my heart because
it is the story of my generation, the
children of South Asian immigrants,
who were born or raised in the United
States. The photographer, writer and our
editorial team reflected the diversity of South Asians in America, so there
was no shortage of ideas of what to photograph since we were all already
connected to various communities around the country. Ismail Ferdous
was the photographer; it was his first assignment for our magazine.
JS: We think about how we envision the story and then narrow it down
to a few photographers whose style, strengths and knowledge base will
play well to the subject matter. Typically, we look at photographers who
have already been working for several years and have shot assignments at
other major publications already.
I’ve worked with ten new photographers on their first magazine
assignments since I joined the magazine t wo years ago. We ask and expect
a lot from the photographers we hire for assignments. We want you to be
curious, great researchers, figure out creative ways to tell a story visually
over multiple images, be great journalists who write extensive, thorough
captions and, of course, take powerful, sensitive images. We expect the
same level of integrity and quality from new photographers as we do of
established photographers who presumably have more experience and
We also have a section of the magazine called “Proof” where we often
publish a photographer’s personal project. While we have a variety of
projects that have been published in “Proof,” many are more fine art in
their concept or visual approach.
PDNedu: Are there any emerging photographers that you’ve recently worked
with? If so, how did you discover that photographer and what was the
JS: I would say most of the photographers we hire we already know of
them—we’ve either been following their work online or have met them
through portfolio reviews. Hannah Reyes Morales is one of the newer
photographers we started working with this year. We met her when she
got a grant from National Geographic Society. Her career has exploded
in the past year as she’s started working for several major publications.
She pitched us a story on the Philippines which will be published later this
year. I think it’s ideal when a photographer can pitch us a story that they
know about because they are plugged into their home and region—one
that might not be on our radar or part of the international news cycle but
much more nuanced and surprising as a result.
PDNedu: What’s one piece of advice you would offer a photographer looking
to shoot for National Geographic?
JS: I would say know your strengths, hone your craft and decide what
kind of photographer you want to be. Do you want to shoot journalistic
assignments, do personal artistic projects, make portraits, do commercial
work? You can do more than one of course but it helps to know what your
goal is and focus on that. Don’t tell me you can do the work. Show me. And,
of course, please study various publications and make sure you’re pitching
your stories to the right places. EDU
Interview by STACEY GOLDBERG
Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel
Q&A with the National Geographic photo editor
and founder of Fine Grain Films.
Sri Lankan-American Jennifer Samuel has been a member of the photo community since college. A graduate
of NYU and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Samuel brings an informed sense
of social awareness to her role at National Geographic and as the founder of Fine Grain Film, through which she
tells personal stories that connect to larger themes of migration and identity. Get to know more about her here.
ABOVE: Banujah Balasubramaniam
and her daughter attend a
Christmas celebration organized
by the Sri Lankan community in
Staten Island, New York. Dressed
as Santa Claus is Sri Lankan
American Dianna Sriskanda. The
Tamil carol service has taken
place for more than 30 years,
bringing together Christians,
Hindus and others.