What would Margaret Bourke-White do?

People often tell me I was born in the wrong decade. If I had graduated 30 years ago, I would have easily found my place as a successful news writer and photographer. I try not to think about these comments too often, mostly because I wasn’t born earlier so the comments don’t mean much.  I prefer face-to-face interviews, I still write all my notes by hand (though I’m beginning to digitize them), and my favorite work still involves walking, listening, and exploring streets with my old 35 mm. I have a journalism/photojournalism background that stretches back to my high school newspaper days, and I use that specialized training and resentment to this day.

Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, 1987.
Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, 1987.

I always ask established photographers and writers, “If you were a new writer or photographer, in today’s market, what would you do?” Many of them tell me they simply wouldn’t be a writer or photographer- they wouldn’t make it today.  I’m sure this would apply to a few individuals, but I think true writers and photographers always find a way. I would define “true” photographers and writers as the people who work in the industry not just because they love it, or because they’re particularly good at it, but because they have to do this. I’ve tried to envision what some of my photo and writing heroes would do if they were entering the market today, and I think many of them would still find a way to create meaningful work.

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I can see Margaret Bourke-White tweeting updates from her travel assignments, but she would put the phone away to make beautiful and intelligent photographs. If Joan Didion did create a Tumblr, I would actually spend time on Tumblr, but I don’t think it would detract from her writing for Vogue or The New Yorker. M.F.K. Fisher would Instagram all her food adventures, but I would still read and respect anything she published or blogged. If individuals like Nora Ephron and Elisabeth Eaves and can do it, why can’t I?

Do all writers and photographers find their niche path by working? Social media certainly confuses the path today.  I increasingly find that just because I can do something well, doesn’t mean I should do it. This is why I will never be a social media associate or a traditional metro news reporter, and I’ve learned to be okay with that.

Finding my niche has been a difficult process, but it’s beginning to make more sense. My current job title: Freelance food news writer and photographer/ commercial food photographer. I used to worry that news and commercial were incompatible, but I find that multimedia skills are necessary for a new generation of writers and photographers to remain relevant and credible (and well fed). I hope to add other credentials to this title within the year, and for the first time, I’m not worried about compromising my ethics or work quality.

What would Margaret Bourke-White say to that? I think she’d agree I was on my way, and remind me to keep backing up my work in multiple locations.

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Culture Spoon

Freelance Writer and Photographer based in San Antonio, Texas

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