On a Saturday evening in early January, Jonno Rattman walked the streets of Greenwich Village. He noticed that
everyone around him was on their phones. (Of
course, he was too, answering the questions of
a curious reporter.) He was imagining the work
of his heroes: Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander,
Rosalind Fox Solomon, Roy DeCarava, Larry Fink,
William Eggleston, Garry Winogrand, Robert
Frank, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Louis
Faurer. Their street photography was interesting
because people were engaged with each other
rather than their devices.
Rattman is an old soul with reverence for
artists and techniques of the past. One thing
he knows as well as photographic history is the
hustle of being a freelance photographer in
2019. At 28, he regularly shoots assignments for
The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street
Journal and The New Yorker, to name a few.
Rattman is a phenom of sorts because
his success came days after his 2013 college
graduation from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts
Photography & Imaging program. His first two
paid assignments were photographs of Charles
Rangel for The New York Times Magazine and
documenting the Mermaid Parade for The New
Yorker. He was also named one of PDN’s 30: New
and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2015.
If it isn’t obvious, the speed at which he achieved
these accomplishments is unusual.
“I never really had any doubts about what I was
going to do,” Rattman says. “At some point when
I was younger, I got it in my head that my goal
was to work for the [New York] Times Magazine
and The New Yorker. In one weekend, about two
months after I graduated, I’d accomplished my
career goals. Which was really kind of fucked up!
I never intended to do it that quickly.”
For a person who checked his career boxes
at such a young age, the question for Rattman
became, “Where does one go from here?” He
discovered that it was learning to navigate the
mercurial world of freelance photography,
media and making personal work.
FIND A MENTOR
There’s always an envy-worthy classmate like
Rattman in school—hyper-focused, self-assured and interested in making art above all
else. Rattman found that identity early; as a
child growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, his
first love was music. After quitting jazz band
in high school, Rattman needed to find a new
creative outlet. At the time, he was interested
in film and video, so he approached the school
newspaper. “Thankfully the guys who’d been
working as photographers just graduated, so I
had a spot,” Rattman says.
His journalism teacher introduced Rattman
to the school’s librarian, Bill Lowenburg, also a
photographer, who then introduced the high
schooler to his own mentor, black-and-white
photo legend Larry Fink (who just happened
to live about 20 miles from Rattman’s home
“[Fink] looked at all my pictures and
told me I had a great future as a postcard
photographer,” Rattman says. “Which was
a funny way of telling me that I needed to
do a lot more work.” Rattman took this as a
challenge, and found a new level of motivation
to improve. He eventually returned to Fink with
a fresh set of images.
Over the course of two years, Rattman
created a portfolio that he was proud of and
applied to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School
for the Arts, a five-week summer program
for high schoolers interested in different
artistic disciplines. During the program,
Rattman discovered the darkroom and was so
romanced by the process that he built his own
darkroom in his family’s basement when he
Now he was spending as much time making
silver prints as he was making pictures.
Rattman continued to visit Fink for review, and
it was with this work that he built his college
application portfolio. He was accepted into
NYU in 2009, a program he chose based on
Fink’s advice and the quality of instructors.
LEFT: Rattman captured
images of the Harlem
Ship Canal for a 2016
story in Newest York.
The canal opened in
1895, three decades
after the boroughs
were legally one city,
and connected the East
and Hudson rivers.