Publications, The New York Times Lens Blog

The New York Times Lens Blog Turning Point Series: Kirsten Luce on Ami Vitale

Finding Pictures When You’re Not Looking
By KERRI MACDONALD AND AMANDA RIVKIN
October 27, 2010, 3:39 pm

Kirsten Luce, a 28-year-old photographer living in Brooklyn, is a regular contributor to The New York Times. She spent two years photographing along the Mexican border and has freelanced in Mexico City and Atlanta. She is the coordinator for the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, a nonprofit program for emerging photojournalists. Amanda Rivkin’s conversation with Ms. Luce has been edited.

Q. Where and how was this picture taken?
A. It was taken at a ranch in rural northeastern Mexico. I was living in McAllen, Tex., on the Mexican border, and I was invited to watch a bullfighting practice session. This young matador-in-training was suited up and anxious to begin, but the rest of the men involved were taking their time, socializing. I think it’s important to document everyday life along the border. With the violence occurring in the region, we see a steady stream of dramatic imagery. It is easy to forget that the border is home to millions of people, each one with his or her own story.

Q. How has this image changed the way you work?
A. A few days before it was taken, I resigned from a staff position at a small paper in McAllen. I was preparing to move to New York. For the first time in years, I was shooting without an assignment, deadline or particular format in mind. I was able to sit back, relax and wait for the quieter moments.

It was a turning point in my life, because I had just left a steady newspaper job to join the throngs of freelancers in New York. I was shooting for myself, not for anyone else. Now, when I’m on assignment and think that I’m done getting the obligatory coverage, I always go back and shoot a few extra frames for myself. Not surprisingly, these often end up being the ones that are published.

Inspiration: Ami Vitale
Image: Kashmir, 2004

Q. When did you first come upon this image? How?
A. I first saw this image when Ami gave a presentation at a photojournalism conference in Charlotte, N.C. I was still in school, studying art and anthropology, and I had just started taking classes in photojournalism.

Ami showed some recent work from Kashmir and I was floored. This photo in particular etched itself into my memory. At the same time, it has both a stillness and a sense of urgency. The tones reminded me of a painting of birch trees by Gustav Klimt, which was hanging on my bedroom wall at the time.

Q. How has it influenced you?
A. When I saw this work, I had just returned from a summer in Haiti, where I assisted an anthropology grad student with her doctoral fieldwork. In Ami’s photos, I saw a powerful combination of art, cultural anthropology and journalism. It was inspiring to see that I could use documentary photography to layer my interests.


“Turning Point” is an occasional series featuring images by young photographers. The column was conceived by the 26-year-old photographer Amanda Rivkin.

Previous Turning Point Columns:

Wednesday, Aug. 4
Amanda Rivkin, 26.
Inspired by Dorothea Lange.

Wednesday, Aug. 11
Aga Luczakowska, 29.
Inspired by Stanley Greene.

Wednesday, Aug. 18
Robert Caplin, 27.
Inspired by David Alan Harvey.

Wednesday, Aug. 25
Yana Paskova, 28.
Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Wednesday, Sept. 1
Ayman Oghanna, 25.
Inspired by Alex Webb.

Wednesday, Sept. 8
Newsha Tavakolian, 29.
Inspired by Naser al-Din, the shah of Iran (1848-96).

Wednesday, Sept. 15
Maja Hitij, 26.
Inspired by Kevin Carter.

Wednesday, Sept. 22
Ed Ou, 23.
Inspired by Finbarr O’Reilly.

Wednesday, Sept. 29
Mustafah Abdulaziz, 24.
Inspired by Richard Avedon.

Wednesday, Oct. 6
Justin Maxon, 27.
Inspired by Antoine d’Agata.

Wednesday Oct. 13
Matt Eich, 24.
Inspired by Rich-Joseph Facun.

Wednesday, Oct. 20
Peter van Agtmael, 29.
Inspired by Mark Steinmetz.