Milton Academy Alumni Featured in Nesto Gallery
by Hannah Nigro on Friday, June 5th, 2015
On April 4th, 2015 an exhibit opened in the Nesto Gallery, showcasing the photojournalist and videojouralist work of five Milton alumni: Scout Tu- fankjian ‘96, Sebastian Meyer ‘98, Ian Cheney ‘98, Mae Ryan ‘05, and Ciara Crocker ‘10 Below are interviews with Meyer, Ryan and Crocker.
Sebastian Meyer’s ‘98 work in photography began in 2004. His photos have been published in TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Sunday Times Magazine, as well as many other leading international publications. In addition to his work in photography, Meyer has worked with video to make documentaries for National Geographic, The Guardian, Time Magazine, Channel 4 News, and PBS. Meyer has been living in Iraq since 2009 doing his own photography in addition to establishing the first Iraqi photography agency : Metrography.
How do you think your Milton experience affected your passion for art?
I took Brian Cheney’s photography class and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think that set me off on a path toward photography. It was definitely a definitive and important class. It wasn’t so much art in the broader sense that I developed a passion for. Our class was entirely based on film so we shot black and white film. We developed the film and would then print the photographs. Because we shot in film, our class was based on a lot of technical work. You had to know how to properly expose a picture. There were no shortcuts; everything was manual, so it certainly was different than how I work today. There are lot of easy shortcuts now, so I think I really gained an appreciation for the technical side of photography.
Do you still do film photography?
I still love film photography. I haven’t done any for a long time because commercially there isn’t much room for it. Employers need photos quickly and they don’t have the budgets for film. I have been exclusively digital for the past 10 years. I occasionally shoot film on the side. The nice thing about film is that you really slow down while shooting with it. You pay much closer attention to what you’re doing and you’re aware of moments happening because it takes longer to shoot just one fame. Every frame costs money and you want to conserve it and be intentional.
I heard that you sometimes experiment with video?
What encouraged you to try it out? Two things got me into it. Cameras changed and suddenly I could produce high end HD film because of new lenses. Suddenly it cost me no more money to film video because I could use all the same equipment, so it allowed me to easily transition. There’s a lot more need for video so I started experimenting and I grew to really enjoy it. It’s a very different way of telling a story. I couldn’t say which, photography or video, is easier or harder, but both skill sets are not as transferable as I initially thought. You think “oh it’s the same camera, it’s a frame, what’s moving, what’s not,” but to produce good work with both you have to have two different mindsets.
How long have you been working in Iraq?
I’ve been working in Iraq since 2008. I was living in the UK and I got an assignment from a British film director making a documentary. He needed stills so I accompanied him and then I went again with him for 2 months in 2009. I sort of fell in love with the place. It made sense for me stay here because I made a group of colleagues in friends.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists at Milton?
I’m going to tell a story to answer this. In 2007 I had been working in the photography field for about 3 or 4 years and things weren’t going well. I wasn’t making money. I was having a hard time. I had a good friend who was a journalist. We went out for a drink and I told her that my profession wasn’t working out. I wasn’t making money and the whole business was just not what I had expected. She told me I should get another job. She asked me what my plan B was. And I thought about it and I realized that if I had a plan B, I would already be doing it at this point. What I do is much more towards journalism, rather than art. The business of what I do is very different from the business of art because there is already an obvious way to do my job. The art world is much more complex, more subtle. In terms of making a living at it I can’t give advice. My advice is just do it, just do it. I know that sounds obvious, but If you care very deeply about it , and you’ll know if you do, then you really just have to go all in. The first ten years, unless you’re are a prodigy or extremely lucky, are going to be really tough. You’re going to have success that won’t feel like success, and if you keep thinking that, it will get better. There is no magical light bulb moment, but it gets easier every year and you’ve got to stick with it.
Mae Ryan ‘05, Brooklyn-based visual journalist, directs, produces and shoots documentary videos for The Guardian US. Prior to that, Ryan worked for a local NPR station in LA. Her work has covered a diverse subject matter including pregnant women in prison, heroin rehabilitation centers in rural Russia, Neo-Confederates in Alabama and a whale warehouse in Los Angeles. Her work in journalism has taken her all over the globe. Ryan is a graduate of Milton Academy. She spent three years in Bryan Cheney’s photography classes where she first found her love for photography and the dark room. After Milton, she attended Stanford where she studied Architectural Design and received two grants to pursue her independent photo essays.
What’s your Milton background?
I was a day student living in Newton.
How did you become interested in photography? What was your experience like in Mr. Cheney’s class? How did that class affect your passion for photography?
My dad gave me a photo book by Henri-Cartier Bresson, one of the early icons of street photography, in my freshman year of high-school and after that I knew I wanted to take photography classes at Milton. Mr. Cheney was an amazing teacher and I managed to take three full years of classes with him while I was at Milton. I used to love spending time in the darkroom (which I hear is gone!) and scanning slide film in the photo lab. He had a very gentle way of pushing me to work harder and make more interesting images throughout high school and I definitely fell in love with image making in those three years.
When/ how did you get into documentary making?
I started making documentaries while working at KPCC — a local NPR station in LA. I still took photos for KPCC, but one thing that I really enjoyed about working with radio journalists was their commitment to storytelling. I got obsessed with listening to podcasts and dissecting what a good story is and how I could challenge myself to make better stories. I realized that while I love photography, it’s not always the most straightforward vehicle for complex stories so I dove into making videos.
Do you prefer one medium over the other? Can photography capture something that documentaries can’t, and vice versa?
Right now I’m working as a full-time video journalist for The Guardian, but I still take photos all the time, whether it’s on assignment or for Instagram. For me, there’s still something so magical about capturing a distinct moment in time in photography and giving the viewer room to put their own experiences onto the image. Making videos, you get more opportunity to drive the experience for the viewer and craft a story, which I really enjoy.
Was the transition to being a real world journalist difficult?
I first started doing journalism as a freelancer in New York and it was hard. There are so many talented people here that it can be intimidating. I did get assignments and was fortunate to travel abroad a few times. What really pushed me forward was my full-time job at KPCC, where I had the opportunity to experiment and fail a few times. You have to fail a bit to start making anything worthwhile.
What do you aim to do through your photography/ documentaries?
I love getting the chance to enter into other people’s’ worlds, whether it’s for a few hours or a full week. It’s still amazing to me that people are open to letting me into their lives and I hope to convey their experience of the world as best as I can.
Your subject locations are quite scattered- Russia, Alabama, Los Angeles, etc. Do you have specific connections to these places? What draws you to an area/ subject?
I don’t feel tied to working in one place; I like going where the stories are and I love to travel. Right now at The Guardian I get the opportunity to cover all of America without having one specific beat, so my stories are a bit all over the place.
Do you have any advice for aspiring journalists?
Make stuff. If you aren’t out there writing or photographing or filming then you won’t have the chance to fail a little and get better.
Do you have a favorite memory of Milton?
I still get chills when I think about making a buzzer beater three point shot that got us the win on the Milton basketball team.
Ciara Crocker ‘10 is a Brooklyn-based photographer. Crocker earned her BFA from the Tisch School at New York University in 2014 after focusing in photography, imaging, cinema studies, and Irish studies. Since her graduation, Crocker has freelanced for Steven Meisel, Glen Luchford, the New York Times, and Vogue while simultaneously having her work exhibited nationally and internationally at institutions in New York and Beijing. Crocker first delved into the world of photography in Mr. Cheney’s photography class here at Milton. Crocker finds stories of underdogs, community and reinvention the most inspiring. She likes exploring the themes inherent in home, family and belonging within the context of the previously stated topics.
Tell me about your experience in Mr Cheney’s photo class.
I started out taking the year long photography class, which was like an intro course. The first semester I kind of liked it, but I was distracted by other things going on in my life and in school. Mr. Cheney wasn’t giving me good grades and I was in the middle of the college process so I decided to try harder. Once I started really focusing on the class I became more interested. I then took the photography half course and did an independent study with Mr. Cheney, which culminated with my senior project which involved photography.
How did your time at Milton affect you as an artist?
Mr. Cheney really pushed me to create images layered with ideas.
How did you get into photojournalism?
I transferred to the NYU Tisch program, and the focus there was really on photojournalism. All the kids in the program were focused on it. I originally started shooting digitally but then decided to try shooting with film. I did my senior thesis project on the Irish Travellers.
How did you become interested in Irish Travellers?
My mother is Irish, and I lived in Ireland when I was 9 and 10 years old. Throughout all my time living and going to school there, I had never heard of or been taught about the Irish Travellers. I thought that this was really, especially after living in Ireland, and taking 4 years of Irish Studies (I minored in Irish studies). Whenever I drove by them on the road I always assumed that they were part of the homeless population, not their own ethnic group. I later returned to Ireland, and one day, I was driving by a field and saw a caravan. A family – the parents, children and their dog- were playing about in the field, basking in sunlight. I found that moment so beautiful and it caused me to look them up by the only word I knew them by, Knackers, which is a derogatory term for them equivalent to the “n-word.” At the time, that was the only word I knew was associated with them, and after learning all about them, I’m ashamed of having used it. On Google I learned, through the sparse information available online, that these people were called “Irish Travellers” and that they were a gypsy culture with bloodlines different from the rest of population, but are still Irish. I started going to the library and asking my Irish Studies professor about them and eventually decided to do my senior thesis on the travellers. I went to Ireland to stay with and learn from the Travellers.
Do you have any advice for aspiring journalists?
Don’t think, just do.
What is your goal as a photojournalist? What do you aim to accomplish through your photos?
I’m focused on photographing subjects that are close to me. For instance, even though the Travellers are so different from my culture, I wanted to honestly depict them. Growing up in Massachusetts, I found that Boston had a sort of “underdog” personality. I see the same personality in the Travellers, and a lot of my other subjects. I also did a project on a man from Yemen who found refuge in Brooklyn. He had witnessed an Al Qaeda car bombing, and was actually involved in it – shrapnel was lodged in him and everything. He was the only survivor and was thus targeted by Al Qaeda, as he was the only one who could produce information to the police, etc. He subsequently had to flee Yemen and find refuge in the United States. This project coincided with my desire to focus my work on the ability of people to overcome adversity.
Do you have a favorite memory from Milton?
When I came back to Milton for the opening of the show, a lot of Robbins faculty came, which led me on a trip down memory lane. It was crazy to see all of the babies from the dorm, who have now grown into children. It’s hard to produce a single favorite memory. A lot of the dorm stuff was important to me- dorm caroling for example. I also have a lot of strong memories from the photo lab- ordering pizza, working late nights, even working through Chapel (which I wasn’t supposed to do). I also have a lot of fond memories of the Banderobs and Klein-Ash family; they made me food and provided me with a lot of support.
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