Manager of Communications and Events at Magnum Foundation
- How did you get started in PR and how did you find yourself where you are now?
I came into communications through a research fellowship at Human Rights First (HRF), where I was working with the Fighting Discrimination Program to assemble a compendium of blasphemy laws and related legislation from around the world. During that time, the Olympics were being hosted in Sochi, and the organization was doing a lot to shed light on the persecution of LGBTQIA+ activists. I began writing for their blog, assist the communications and video production teams, and fell in step with a mentor––Marc Climaco, now at Ford Foundation––who taught me a great deal about approaching advocacy through new media.
My educational background is in photography and human rights, and after my time at HRF I was eager to find a way to apply this new and growing interest in communications in a more arts-forward space. It was actually through an interview for another job that I found out about and was introduced to the Magnum Foundation––I always tell interns and other young(er) people this story to illustrate how a potential opportunity can lead to something entirely different and more fulfilling! I studied Susan Meiselas, our president, in college, where I was thinking about how to integrate my passions for photography and social justice, not knowing an organization based on that very premise was just getting off the ground.
What is your role at Magnum Foundation?
Let me first start with the elevator pitch: Magnum Foundation is a non-profit organization expanding creativity and diversity in documentary photography. Through grantmaking, educational programming, and strategic partnerships, we work with socially engaged image-makers to activate new models for impactful storytelling.
Leading communications and events, I manage our public facing identity and initiatives. Working closely with Kristen Lubben, our Executive Director, I develop and implement strategies to raise and clarify our profile, increase donor and stakeholder engagement, and strengthen relationships with aligned institutions. Because we’re a very small organization, my role serves both our programmatic and fundraising activities––I write institutional collateral for various audiences, produce print and digital campaigns, and identify opportunities to bring grantee projects into the public sphere and support them in getting there.
- What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a third iteration of #reframeclimate, a project I initially produced to activate public space during the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference. In partnership with a grassroots group called #Dysturb, we wheatpasted large-scale prints of compelling documentary photographs in city-streets, each with a text-messaging prompt to trigger a phone call, enabling the viewer to hear the story behind the image directly from the photographer. This September, San Francisco is hosting the Global Climate Action Summit to uphold the Paris agreement, and we’re hoping to expand and deepen engagement by residents and passersby.
I’m also working on a few big announcements we have coming up: our 2018 grantees and fellows, the line-up for our annual symposium, and the newest additions to our board of directors. Never a dull moment!
- What is a recent success you're particularly proud of?
This year marks Magnum Foundation’s ten year anniversary, so I’ve actually been spending a lot of time reflecting on a range of successes, big and small: Six of the ten artists features in Open Society Foundations’ current Moving Walls exhibition and inaugural fellowship are former MF grantees and fellows. Since piloting a few years ago, our Arab Documentary Photography Program has brought 38 projects to fruition. Early fellows in our training programs have gone on to become mentors for the newer generation. And upon looking into our overall grantmaking the other day, 50% have been women.
A lot of our success is seen steadily over time. The impact of my work, and that of my team, is sometimes slow to manifest in a tangible way––we see it cumulatively as more projects are greenlighted, out-of-the-box ideas come to fruition, and a network of peer support is strengthened and becomes self-sustaining across years and countries. Someone said to me a few weeks ago, “Magnum Foundation always does stuff before it's cool.” That, to me, is a real marker of success, and one that I’m very proud of.
- What is most important in your work?
Clarity and creativity.
I read a lot of jargon and industry-speak everyday, and empty or overused phrases like “voice for the voiceless” or “a tool for social change,” that detract from really meaningful work. It's very important to me that the projects we support have a strong sense of authorship and intentionality––and our own institutional language is no different.
In our grantmaking and mentorship programs, we emphasize innovation, collaboration, and experimentation. The process is as important, if not more sometimes, than the final product. To practice what we preach, I try to employ this same philosophy in our events, exhibitions, and campaigns––trying new formats, bringing in partners from other disciplines and industries, and taking creative risks.
- How would you say the media landscape in your field has changed since you started in PR?
I’ve observed the demands of rapid news cycles prevent photographers from telling nuanced and complex stories. I’ve seen an increasingly competitive awards culture place more value on what's in a frame than in the ethics or safety of its author. And we’ve all watched a growing distrust in the media play out, the dawning of fake news, and most recently, the consequences of Facebook’s data breaching.
The media landscape is fraught with issues, many which are unique to our current moment, but here are people and initiatives that are embracing the current challenges and pushing for a major sea change: the Everyday Projects, poking holes in stereotypes and amplifying local perspectives; MFON, addressing issues of representation and creating a platform to celebrate women photographers of African descent; Women Photograph, holding gatekeepers accountable for hiring and publishlishing as many women and non-binary storytellers as they do men; and the Bronx Documentary Center, holding space for youth and emphasizing community and education. I could go on and on! Critical, varied, and artist-driven narratives are urgently needed, and I hope that realization continues to gain traction. There is a lot of lip service being paid out there, but I hope that larger institutions put their money and influence where their mouths are and help us all to push the field forward.
I can speak to this institutionally as well. A huge part of what Magnum Foundation has been doing for the past decade is responding to the various ways the media landscape has shifted. As traditional sources of funding collapsed, newspapers and other outlets shed their staff photographers, and storytellers found it more difficult to pitch anticipatory projects, our first grant initiatives were intended to help fill the void and continue supporting independent, long-term stories. We adapted––and continue to adapt––our programming to assess the needs of emerging storytellers and the field more broadly, offering space, mentorship, and resources to people and projects that are paving the way for a more diverse and expansive future of documentary photography.
Where are your favorite places for business meetings or drinks with writers/clients?
My go-to is The Standard––the East Village location is right around the corner from my office. Coffee to drinks, summer to winter, it always hits the right note...truly lives up to its name.
For more of a working session, the lobby of the Marlton is in my regular rotation. Plenty of table space for a couple of laptops and a pot of tea or bottle of wine, and plush seating centered around a cozy fireplace...it's basically a living room with table service.
PR/Communications can be fast-paced and stressful, what is your favorite way of relaxing?
Spin class, face masks (foaming, sheet, clay, charcoal––I love ‘em all), and hitting the steam room. I try also to get together regularly with a close group of friends and colleagues to share resources and to problem solve. As a one-woman department, I rely heavily on my network as a sounding board and a stress-check, and always try to return the favor.
- What are you reading these days?
My partner and I have maintained a two-person book club from our long-distance days. Right now, we’re reading The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Like everyone, I have about a billion email subscriptions, but its the NYT Daily Briefing and my weekly horoscope by Chani Nicholas that cut through the noise.
- What are you listening to these days?
The Internet, Daniel Caesar, Anderson Paak. And Jamiroquai, because he is coming to the states for the first time in 13 years and I’ll be there with no choice but to get down down down!
What is the next event you're the most looking forward to in the next months?
I’m really looking forward to our upcoming Photography Expanded Symposium. Our largest annual event, it brings together over 300 photographers, writers, technologists, and other creative thinkers to experiment with new approaches to visual storytelling. This year, we’re honing in on the theme of counter-histories, highlighting projects that question official histories, disrupt the power structures embedded in archives, and/or explore the radical possibility of alternative narratives. Mark your calendar for May 1st!
Immediately after this big push, a friend is getting married in the South of France, and I’m very much looking forward to a few days of R&R in the countryside with close friends and good cheese.