She was a sales representative when I first met. Nadia Shira Cohen was introduced to me as the woman who would introduce me to editors in New York and help pass my work off as something worthy of being published. She actually managed to do this, and convince editors to give me work. But it was apparent from the moment we first met that simply helping SIPA Press sell images was not what she really wanted to do. Over the years we developed a friendship, trust and a shared conviction that where she had to be was out in the world, behind the camera, telling stories.
And today she is.
Nadia Shira Cohen is a young woman becoming a photographer and doing it in her own, individual way. On a recent visit to Rome, where she lives, it was so inspiring to listen to her talk about her projects and the stories she wanted to tell. Nadia has an amazing ability to find some fascinating stories, a fact borne out by the fact that she has managed to convince editors from Harpers, Vanity Fair and The New York Times to assign her to stories that she pitched to them. This is the first sign of a good photographer – an instinct for the story, the curiosity to explore it and the talent to sell it.
Nadia is currently in Cairo, documenting the situation there for The Virginia Quarterly Review, providing images for The New Yorker amongst other magazines in the USA and in Europe. She has recently received a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant that will see her working in Europe just as soon as she helps topple the regime in Cairo. Not bad for someone who just a couple of years ago was still pawning around the works of others while dreaming of getting out there on her own.
Elliott Woods is a journalist. When I first met him two years ago he was young, passionate and determined to make a career as a writer. He and I were working together on a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant covering the consequences of Israel’s assault on Gaza, the operation known as Cast Lead. But just being the writer was not going to be enough for Elliott. He had his note pads, he did his journalist with determination and seriousness, but every day he would also go out with his cameras. As we worked in Gaza together Elliott continued to keep his pen and his shutter finger working. Very often the people we met thought that he was in fact the photographer, his digital gear representing his professionalism, while my little film cameras suggesting the intents of a tourist. The confusions aside, Elliott was serious about the photographs he was making, and it was obvious that this young journalists was determined to push his camera eye, and find a place for himself as a photojournalist as well.
He has managed to do just that. An extensive tour in Afghanistan has seen Elliott produce a wide range of work from the country, and to reveal himself to be a photographer and a story teller.
Elliott was selected for The Eddie Adams workshops in 2010. He is now also in Cairo, providing written and photographic reportage for The Virginia Quarterly Review. His recent work from Afghanistan has been published in a number of journals, including this essay in Mother Jones Magazine on burned brides which reflects Elliott’s growing photographic maturity and his passion for getting to stories.
I can’t say enough how inspiring it is to watch these two young photographers and their careers as they develop. I could not have been more than two years ago that they were stepping out into the field, both chasing individual dreams and working hard – professionally and personally, to achieve their goals in what can only be described as difficult industry conditions. Today here they are out there, traveling, exploring, pitching work and finding ways to live the lives that define them. I wish them more success, and more possibilities.
Elliott was generous enough to write to me from Cairo to tell me that he has appreciated my support for his work over the years. Nadia too has always been generous in suggesting that I have in some fashion given her support during this period. But frankly I want to remind both Nadia and Elliott that watching them out there, working, producing, chasing, growing and doing so with passion and joy remains an important inspiration for me. It is the conversations that I have with young photographers like them that keep me going as well, the help me cut past the cynicism and exhaustion and find again the joy of this act called photography. As I land here in India, my cameras once again in my hands, I am strengthened by the knowledge that I am part of a community of individuals who are serious and inspired. Thank you.