Alexandra Avakian was first drawn to photography because of her dad, filmmaker and photographer Aram Avakian. From a young age, her father explained the top photo essays of LIFE Magazine, showing her how they were masterfully shot and edited to tell powerful stories. At age nine, she told everyone that she wanted to be a National Geographic photographer. In 1995 that dream became a reality when she shot the first story she photographed for them and wrote the text for her photography book, Windows of the Soul: My Journeys in the Muslim World. Her freelance work has always been about social consciousness and a personal need to effect change. She has worked for National Geographic in various roles across the company’s magazines, TV channel, public lecture forums, books, podcasts, and radio shows, as well as for TIME from 1988-1996, photographing conflicts, peace, and world events. When asked what a typical day as a photojournalist entailed, she said, “There is no typical day; that’s the beauty of it. Every day is different.”
Here are Alexandra’s 5 tips on becoming a photojournalist!
1) Be proactive, not passive. There have been times when I haven’t slept in three days because of a breaking news story, like the Fall of the Berlin Wall. For that assignment, I flew from Paris to Berlin with no assignment. By the time I landed, I was shooting the story for LIFE Magazine. Be proactive and put in the hard work, rather than waiting for things to happen.
2) Have a network of mentors. I’ve had several mentors that shaped me as a person and as a photojournalist, starting with my parents. From fellow photographers to teachers to friends outside of the field, there have been a lot of people who supported me throughout my career. No matter what field you’re in, it is important to find people who will always be there for you.
3) Be passionate about it. Do it if only if you are intensely passionate. The arts and documentary photography are demanding fields and you have to be willing to work hard, be ethical, and challenge yourself.
4) Learn how to make a pitch. You have to become good at pitching projects and stories that you’re interested in. This involves a lot of research, reading, and writing, so strengthening these skills will only help.
5) Embrace the insecurity. Due to my parents’ similar situations, I understood what being freelance entailed, especially when it came to financial insecurity. For me, it was freeing because it meant I was able to decide where I wanted to go and what types of projects I wanted to do, but it also involves more responsibility.
If it doesn’t suit your personality type to fly by the seat of your pants, then try and get a photography job at a local paper or magazine, and work your way up. Work in a more commercial way that you can make a good living from—photography with an emphasis on portraits, ad photography, fashion, and, weddings. It is important to understand your feelings and listen to your own voice when deciding upon your path. You must have a great amount of courage, confidence, and certainty to succeed in anything you choose to do in your life.
To learn more about Alex’s work visit her website www.alexandraavakian.com.
Contributor: Megha Keshav