Visual Culture

20 Rising Female Photojournalists

Brienne Walsh and Jacqui Palumbo
May 14, 2019 4:55PM

The visual stories populating major newspapers and magazines have historically been chosen, assigned, and told by men. But more and more, the tide is shifting, with the belief that a variety of voices means richer perspectives on world events.

Today, young women comprise the majority of students in college-level photojournalism and documentary programs. Women have climbed the ranks and lead the photo departments at major publications like the New York Times, Time magazine, and National Geographic. Photographers, fed up with the excuse that photo editors don’t know enough contacts outside of their networks, have spearheaded databases like Women Photograph, Diversify Photo, and Native Agency to offer up more voices in the industry. Still, the gender gap persists: Last year, Women Photograph reported that in half of the major newspapers it analyzed, women only made up single-digit percentages of lead photo bylines. And while many publications are assigning more stories to photographers of different backgrounds, wire agencies—who supply breaking-news images to all major outlets—seem far behind.

Here, we present 20 female photojournalists and documentary photographers who are on the rise. Each of them herald change to the field in their visual style, unique perspective, and focus on underrepresented topics.

A young man turns to run away from the National Bolivarian Police during a demonstration in support of interim president Juan Guaidó in El Paraíso, Caracas, Venezuela, on January 30, 2019. Photo by Andrea Hernández. Courtesy of the artist.


Andrea Hernández compares the first time she held a camera in her hands to the first time Harry Potter handled a wand at the Ollivanders wand shop. “[It was] as if it had chosen me,” she said.

Hernández began her career as a text journalist for El Estímulo, an online publication based in Caracas, Venezuela, after graduating with a degree in journalism. A photographer for the past three years, she has contributed stories largely about her home country to publications including BuzzFeed News, the Washington Post, and El País. This year, she was named one of PDN’s “30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch.”

What drives Hernández is the profound gap in Venezuela between those with power and those without. She is interested in exposing not only the corruption, but also the kindness this disparity engenders. She recently captured a woman who feeds an entire community of children from her home using scant resources. “The simple act of giving me a hot plate of food startled me,” she said.

Ultimately, Hernández would like photography to help heal the divided country. “I hope that respectful and powerful work will spread empathy, and eventually tolerance will come along,” she said.

Irene Sonia, 17, wants to become a bank accountant, but in Bidibidi refugee camp they do not have the right subjects in school. Her mother, Esther, has been fighting for better education in the refugee settlements to provide their kids with a better future when the war in South Sudan is over. Photo by Nora Lorek. Courtesy of the artist.


Recent assignments:

In Uganda, a unique urban experiment is under way,” National Geographic, April 2019

See the ingenious toys made by refugee children,” National Geographic, December 2018

Nora Lorek believes that there are more ways to show the reality of war than to cast those who live through it as victims. Photojournalists have a responsibility to show them as survivors, too.

“To me, it’s striking to see the strength of the women from South Sudan who’ve fled civil war up to four times,” she said. “But a sad face still seems to sell better than the face of a proud woman, happy for the life she’s built up after surviving another war.”

Lorek, who has been freelancing since 2016, joined the agency Panos Pictures in 2017. As a photographer focused on human rights and migration, she sees inequity in her own status—a German migrant who sought citizenship in Sweden—and the refugees she has photographed. “Why should we…be able to move around the world while others are stuck between borders, not knowing if they’ll ever see their home again?” she asked.

Lorek goes beyond her role as a photographer: Her portrait series of South Sudanese women in front of their embroidered milayas—which they carried to Uganda while fleeing war—garnered so much interest that she co-founded the nonprofit Milaya Project to help refugee women in the Bidibidi settlement sell their crafts online.

A homeless man poses for a portrait in Mbale, Uganda, on July 24, 2015. Mbale District has a high rate of homeless children, and access to clean water, food, medical services, and education are often lacking. Photo by Esther Ruth Mbabazi. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

Diagnoses by Horn, Payment in Goats: An African Healer at Work,” New York Times, March 2019

Picturing the dreams of South Sudan’s new generation,” Washington Post, April 2019

The most magical moment in Esther Ruth Mbabazi’s career didn’t come from institutional recognition—though she has received plenty, including being named a National Geographic Explorer and a Magnum Foundation fellow—but instead when a girl in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, noticed that she was carrying a camera, and shouted: “Look, the cameraman is a girl!”

“This melted my heart because I believe, in that moment, a young girl’s idea of what she can do was broadened,” Mbabazi said.

Mbabazi, who is self-taught, has been shooting professionally for three years, and already has contributed to publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and i-D. Some of her coverage has included photographing traditional birth attendants who help women in rural Uganda; the traditional healers who are battling the Ebola epidemic; and the youth in her home country, where nearly half of the population is under 15.

Mbabazi loves being able to represent her home to the larger world. “When you’re from a certain community,” she said, “there’s an unsaid sense of connection, respect, and responsibility that applies to the work you make, which in turn makes the work outstandingly strong.”

Kat, 16, in a drive-thru on Halloween night. “She checked her phone and started to cry but wouldn’t tell me why,” Bottoms said. “All I could do was sit there and comfort her. I asked if I could take her photo. She said yes and looked right at me. Sometimes her resistance to communicate is hard.” From Bottoms’s ongoing story about the relationship between her mother and Kat, who has autism and prodromal schizophrenia. Photo by September Dawn Bottoms. Courtesy of the artist.

September Dawn Bottoms only recently began pursuing a career as a photojournalist, yet she has already amassed recognition for her self-assigned work, earning a spot in the volume American Photography 35 this year.

Bottoms tells stories that she feels invested in. She has turned her lens on her mother and teenage sister as they grapple with mental illness; the residents in Boley, Oklahoma, a once-wealthy black town in decline; and the daily lives of three women who dance in strip clubs in Los Angeles.

“The reality is that I’ll never completely understand someone else’s situation,” Bottoms said. “But it’s important to tell a story not just from a place of empathy, but of camaraderie.” She believes her own background provides that. “Although I come from a place of privilege as a young white woman in America, I also come from a place of hardship, poverty, and mental illness,” she said.

Bottoms hopes that poverty will no longer be a barrier to entering the photojournalism field, for those who cannot afford to attend top universities. “There are other paths that aren’t so direct,” she said, “and I think that if you put your heart and soul into a project and you are persistent as hell, you can beat those odds.”

Julie Aman, who is transgender, dances to a folk band at the Aurat March event celebrating International Women’s Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on March 8, 2019. Photo by Saiyna Bashir for Reuters. Courtesy of the artist.

Saiyna Bashir primarily documents gender inequality and sectarian violence in her images. Her work is driven by her experiences growing up in Pakistan, where laws don’t support women nearly as much as they do in the Western world. She has photographed women who survived acid attacks stemming from domestic violence, as well as the achievements of transgender people in Pakistan.

Though Bashir herself has been subject to personal harm while on assignment—last year, she was groped while covering a Diplo concert in Islamabad for Reuters, and in 2014, she was tear-gassed while covering the Ferguson riots in Missouri—she emphasizes the importance of the field she has chosen. “Photos are something that most people can relate to,” she said. “It is the most objective form of insight into a certain place or culture.”

Bashir has contributed to outlets including the New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, and NPR. She said that photojournalism still looks like a “big boys club,” though she credits the platform Women Photograph for “working tirelessly to lessen this gap everyday.” Bashir mentors female photographers in Pakistan—even if that change is only one small step in correcting disparity.

Horse whisperer Oscar Scarpati in the farmyard with a wild foal in Villa de Merlo, San Luis, Argentina, on July 27, 2017. Photo by Erica Canepa. Courtesy of the artist.

Before she received her master’s degree in photojournalism eight years ago, Erica Canepa was an art restorer, and she believes she joined the field at just the right time. Photojournalism, she said, is changing. “Stories are no longer only told by white men, but there are many voices, many realities and ways to see things,” she explained.

Though Canepa has been shooting since she received her degree, she said that her photojournalism career really began in 2014, when she was living in Egypt. There, she photographed the Zabaleen people, who pick up 4,000 tons of Cairo’s waste each day. Among the piles of trash, she encountered a wedding. “I learned [that] beauty is everywhere, and looking for it can be a balm,” she said.

Since then, Canepa has photographed a broad array of subjects, from impoverished country girls driving taxis in Bolivia to a community that self-identifies as elves in Pistoia, Italy. Her work has appeared in publications and media outlets including the New York Times, Bloomberg News, and the BBC.

Lately, Canepa has begun to turn her camera on herself, documenting her life in Buenos Aires in a series entitled “Sapucai,” which translates to “an ancient prayer” in a language indigenous to Argentina.

Nika, 24, a sniper for the Ukrainian army, on September 2, 2016, posted near the front line. Photo by Sarah Blesener. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

High School Shooting Teams Are Getting Wildly Popular — And the NRA Is Helping,” Time, March 2019

The Art of Crowdfunding War,” Bloomberg Businessweek, January 2019

In a news landscape that feeds instant culture, Sarah Blesener is focused on “slow journalism,” where the story is carefully dissected from all angles.

“I think there is a deep desire for storytelling that moves beyond headlines, beyond black-and-white and linear thinking, and offers challenging, hard-to-digest questions,” she said.

In only three years, she has brought a keen eye to in-depth stories about war, nationalism, inequity, and education for publications like Newsweek, Time, and the New York Times. In each instance, she searches for “the off moments; the quieter, more poetic side to the story.”

Blesener’s particular area of focus is adolescent culture and identity, which combines her background in youth development with her love for narrative storytelling. Her most recognized body of work, on patriotism camps and education in America and Russia, shows two cultures historically at odds with each other that share commonalities in the political beliefs instilled in children. Through that series—which earned her a World Press Photo award, as well as major grants from CatchLight, Alexia Foundation, and the W. Eugene Smith Fund—and her other work, Blesener ultimately strives for nuance. “I’m interested in what is left when we peel away the many layers that are most often times portrayed in the news,” she explained.

Men are seen saying their prayers inside a mosque in the Manila City Jail in Manila, Philippines, on October 31, 2018. In the Philippines, men with pending cases spend months, sometimes years, in overcrowded cells waiting to be charged, sentenced, or tried. Photo by Hannah Reyes Morales. Courtesy of the artist.

Over the past six years, Hannah Reyes Morales has grown from an unknown photographer to a regular contributor to the New York Times, covering the violent war on drugs in her native country. Growing up in the Philippines was an insular experience, and photography was her way “of learning, of asking questions,” she said.

Morales believes that digital platforms have helped democratize photography, including her own entry into the field, but she added that diversity within photojournalism still has “a long way to go.” While including more voices is a start, “it requires more rebuilding and more listening.”

Morales often takes on local or diasporic topics for publications like the Washington Post and National Geographic, but she has also delved into other cultures, like an assignment on eagle hunters in Mongolia. One of the most powerful moments she has witnessed was during a medical mission where hundreds of Filipinos recovered their vision through cataract surgery—a typically unaccessible procedure within the country. Morales photographed a husband tenderly hugging his wife, her eyes covered by bandages.

“I carry the stories of those I photograph with me,” she said. “To be entrusted with someone’s story is an incredible privilege, and I try my best to honor that.”

Recent assignments:

Four fires and six souls,” Gli Occhi della Guerra, June 2018

Bees Above Our Heads,” National Geographic, December 2018

Looking through Camilla Ferrari’s work is not a static experience: She tells her stories by experimenting with the interplay of stills and video. As digital media outlets look to create more interactive experiences, Ferrari’s practice seems to herald a new direction in visual storytelling.

Ferrari’s work most often deals with humans’ relationship with their environments, as well as vanishing cultures. One of her published multimedia series looks at a tiny village of only six people, built on an eroding tufa rock in central Italy. “The traditions and culture of the village are as fragile as the ground that supports it,” she said. “It was important to have a testimony of them, to understand in depth their love for the place and the fear of seeing it vanishing in front of their eyes.”

In a crowded field of storytellers, Ferrari doesn’t feel the need to make her work loud. “For me, it’s really important to have an element of delicateness and gentleness in my images and videos,” she explained. “In a world where images often scream at the observer, I truly believe that there is also a powerful dignity in silence.”

Shimika Sanchez, 34, nurses her newborn son Antonio Sanchez on September 1, 2018. Antonio is one of 11,234 children under age 6 living in New York City’s homeless shelters. Photo by Gabriella Angotti-Jones for the New York Times. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

Baby Antonio: 5 Pounds, 12 Ounces and Homeless From Birth,” New York Times, October 2018

‘My Whole Heart Is There,’New York Times, July 2018

Gabriella Angotti-Jones—who is half-black, half-Italian—has embraced her background as a source of strength. “My ethnicity does not hold me back; it propels me forward,” she said. “My perspective is a gift and is needed.”

Angotti-Jones first started taking photographs while interning in husbandry and research at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. “Climate change is the story of our lifetime,” she emphasized. “I want to tell stories that are action-oriented, as opposed to ones that feel hopeless.”

After graduating with a degree in environmental studies, Angotti-Jones landed a string of internships, including at the New York Times. There, she shot assignments that included a story about children born into homelessness, focusing on baby Antonio and his parents, Shimika and Tony Sanchez.

Angotti-Jones treats her subjects as collaborators rather than objects of fascination. “So much of practicing documentary photography is taking from the people we photograph—their time, patience, energy, and likeness,” she said. “I try to destroy any power structure that’s present as much as possible.” She also aims to empower women of color by showing the strength they exhibit in their lives. “Showing everyday situations is a really powerful storytelling tool, especially with low-income or historically disenfranchised communities,” she added.

The National Dance Ensemble, just before a performance in Sukhum, Abkhazia, on May 17, 2016. Photo by Ksenia Kuleshova. Courtesy of the artist.

“As a photojournalist, it’s exciting to avoid cliches…and to give people the opportunity to tell their own stories, not create the story for them,” said Ksenia Kuleshova, a Moscow-to-Germany transplant.

Kuleshova entered the field with a sustained series on Abkhazia, a former tourist destination that lost its status and identity amid the violent reshuffling of territory following the Soviet Union’s collapse. She has called the small region “a country that is caught in a two-decade-long sleep”; her images reveal a place knitted together by tradition, but caught in stasis.

In the village of Ilor, Kuleshova recalled knocking on a door and being welcomed by a woman, who said she had waited for a journalist to come for 20 years. “For several hours, she showed me everything she had and told me her family’s story,” Kuleshova said, emphasizing that it’s a privilege to enter a person’s life in such a way.

For about four years, Kuleshova has balanced documentary work with assignments for publications including GEO France, the Wall Street Journal, and Die Zeit.

“I don’t rush in the attempt to catch the daily news event,” she said. “I’m keen to…build real relationships and to develop [the story] deeply.”

Chan Hak-chi goes swimming in Hong Kong, on May 25, 2017. Photo by Yue Wu. Courtesy of the artist.

Yue Wu experienced the power of photojournalism after her story about Chinese medical tourists was published online. Her subjects, who traveled far to China’s cities for treatments, received donations to cover their expenses.

“Journalism doesn’t just change the world; it also changed me,” she said. Wu believes that images have the ability to act like a mirror. “I see myself in the story,” she added. “Even if we speak different languages, we all love, hope, and suffer.”

Working as a photojournalist since 2013, Wu has contributed images and videos to the San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters, and The Guardian, and interned at Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post before returning to her native China. She joined Sixth Tone, an online, English-language publication based in Shanghai, as a staff photographer; today, she is a freelance photographer and filmmaker.

Wu has turned her lens on an array of local stories, including China’s child models; a former sex club on the outskirts of Dongguan that has been converted to a nursing home; and a massage parlor in Chongqing that exclusively employs blind people. As the only child in her family, Wu is fascinated by the inner workings of other communities. “I am always curious about how other people live,” she said.

A father holds his daughter after she was killed by a mortar in the fight against ISIS in West Mosul on March 11, 2017. Photo by Alexandra Rose Howland. Courtesy of the artist.

Four years ago, Alexandra Rose Howland was working out of her Los Angeles studio as an abstract painter. One year later, after starting a documentary photography practice, she moved to Iraq.

“What I have learned since moving to Iraq is that there are oddities of working in a war zone that make this job impossible to understand,” she said. “Being in a war zone does not always mean being in war. Life continues right next to an active frontline.”

Howland doesn’t consider herself a formal photojournalist; instead, she uses photography as a tool to “translate a larger concept,” she explained. When she does take assignments—for the New York Times, Le Monde, and the Wall Street Journal, among others—her painter’s eye is always present. In her coverage of the Battle of Mosul, from 2016 to 2017, Howland wielded color and landscape as a narrative tool to show scenes seemingly more familiar within the gritty, recondite atmosphere of war.

“I have been very lucky to work with editors who hire me because I am looking to work in a different way, not in spite of it,” she said. “We are all eager to continuously redefine the visual language we are accustomed to, and the fact that’s possible is exciting.”

An expectant Bibi Aysha Valiallah clutches her belly while praying at the Zawiya Naqshbandi in Baccleuch, South Africa. Photo by Gulshan Khan. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

How Did Rifles With an American Stamp End Up in the Hands of African Poachers?New York Times, December 2018

“Zimbabwe economic crisis drives cross-border cargo shuttles from South Africa,” Agence France Presse, March 2019

As a photojournalist who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, Gulshan Khan has experienced when injustice is sanctioned by law. Khan’s first long-term documentary series turns the camera on her own Muslim community. “Apartheid divided us in so many ways, including putting us into reductive racial groups: Black, Colored, Indian,” she said. “We still have these stratified, ghettoized ideas of trying to understand each other through the oppressive lens of these different boxes.”

In less than three years, Khan’s work has been published by publications including Al Jazeera, El Pais, and the New York Times; and she became the first woman from Africa to be a stringer for Agence France Presse. Last year, her image of a woman at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Johannesburg was named one of Time’s top 100 photos of the year.

Khan wants to see a greater shift in ethics in photography. “There is still a big difference in the way in which white people are photographed compared to black and brown people, and most people in the upper echelons of this industry still don’t even see it,” she said. “Consent by a person to be photographed is not enough, and often this is used as a justification to produce imagery that is disrespectful or compromising of the person’s dignity or safety.”

A portrait of Rubeilis in the Los Olivos neighborhood, on the outskirts of Cúcuta, Colombia, on May 11, 2018. Photo by Fabiola Ferrero. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

Hungry and Desperate, but Away From a Country in Chaos,” New York Times, April 2019

‘Maman, hier j’ai rêvé que je mangeais,’Le Monde, April 2019

Fabiola Ferrero explores stories of trauma and healing in her home country, Venezuela, amid its economic crisis. She balances assignments for Bloomberg News, NPR, and the New York Times with work that goes beyond traditional reporting. Her series “I Can’t Hear the Birds” combines her images with diary entries and archival family photographs of those who have fled their homes. Instead of addressing what is happening in the country, it asks the question: How is this affecting our souls?

Ferrero grew up in violent unrest and revolution. “It has become my responsibility to document it,” she said. She has begun covering other Latin American countries, too, such as coca farmers in Colombia. There, she asked children to draw something that represents their lives, and a seven-year-old girl drew a landmine.

“War can be subtle like that, too,” Ferrero said. “It is not just the bullets; it is people adapting to a hostile reality that eventually becomes normal.”

Ferrero, who is a Magnum Foundation fellow, said that selective empathy is one of the biggest challenges in journalism today. She asked, “How can we make an audience engage with a reality different from theirs?”

Briana at the beauty contest “Miss Arcoiris,” an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights in Honduras. Photo by Francesca Volpi. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

The Vatican Is Talking About Clerical Abuse, but Italy Isn’t. Here’s Why.New York Times, February 2019

Italy Allows Illegal Homes to Be Rebuilt, Earthquake Zone or Not,” Wall Street Journal, March 2019

Whether she’s covering the war in eastern Ukraine or the struggles of the LGBTQ community in Honduras, Francesca Volpi likes to focus on the stories of people who aren’t covered by major media outlets. “I think it is a great moment historically to challenge the status quo and talk about gender identity,” she said, “as well as help people to see how environmental issues affect the world’s population.”

Volpi has been working as a photojournalist since 2013, and she admits that the industry is tough. She has survived in large part because of grants and fellowships from nonprofits and NGOs, including the International Women’s Media Foundation, Women Photograph, and Women Equality Center, all of which have funded her projects in Honduras.

Volpi is almost constantly on the move, chasing assignments from Egypt and Mexico to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lately, she’s been particularly interested in showing the ways that violence and abuse leave mental scars on survivors. “It think it is important to see what other people go through to make us understand how important is to be united and supportive with each other rather than divided,” she said.

A view of a school window blocked with sandbags to protect from shelling in Verkhnyotoretske, Donetsk, Ukraine, on November 28, 2016. Photo by Anastasia Vlasova. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

This is what it’s like to live through freezing winter in a war zone,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, January 2019

Women on the Front Line,” International Committee of the Red Cross, March 2018

In 2014, when Anastasia Vlasova was just 21 years old, she began covering the Ukranian revolution that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. Since then, she has covered the Russian annexation of Crimea and the effects of conflict. She chooses to focus on the lives of people instead of war images. “My photography is about quiet and unspoken sorrows and joys of individuals and communities on the front line,” she said.

Vlasova—who was a Magnum fellow in 2015 and has shot for Newsweek, Spiegel Online, NBC News, and The Guardian—finds that visual storytelling can be more powerful than text journalism. “Ideally, it strikes you and stays with you, while words can be lost in translation and interpretation,” she commented.

Vlasova believes that photojournalism boundaries are blurring, and that photographers can choose to be more than a fly on the wall and begin interacting with the people they photograph. She cautions against those who don’t take the ethics of their profession seriously.

“As a war photographer myself, I always keep in mind that I will leave the area, but the people I photograph will stay, and the choices I make can influence [their] lives,” she said.

Noor, a Rohingya refugee, was gang-raped by soldiers in Myanmar. Photo by Rebecca Conway for the New York Times . Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

When a Baby Is an Everyday Reminder of Rohingya Horror,” New York Times, July 2018

Investors Are in Retreat, and the Poorest Countries Are Paying for It,” New York Times, December 2018

Before Rebecca Conway was a visual journalist, she was a writer, and then a photo editor. She believes that images have an immediacy that other mediums do not. Learning how to take photographs required a steep learning curve; Conway was helped by advice and guidance from fellow photo editors and photographers.

Within a short amount of time, Conway was shooting stories for the New York Times, The Guardian, and Reuters, among other outlets. In particular, she has a talent for connecting with her subjects—whether they are Rohingya women who are victims of rape, or bonded laborers working in brick factories in Pakistan. Conway especially appreciates the opportunity to spend time with her subjects when she is on assignment. “People often invite journalists into their homes and their lives despite personal risk, and that’s something I always try to remember—that we’re trusted to tell people’s stories respectfully and accurately, without putting them at risk,” she said.

Conway is particularly interested in the stories of those whose lives remain invisible to many. “We’re living in increasingly polarized societies, and the gap between those who live in safety and security and those who don’t is terrifyingly wide,” she said.

Bianca Castillo cradles her newborn son, Eliseo, on March 21, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. Behind her hangs a photo blanket of Ama holding her other great-grandson, Jack, when he was a newborn. Photo by Desiree Rios. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

‘I Had Finally Found the Right Place for My Son,’ New York Times, March 2019

The Cities Where The Cops See No Hate,” BuzzFeed News, December 2018

Desiree Rios is deeply suspicious of the long-held notion that photojournalists must keep themselves at a distance in order to remain objective. Instead, she believes that connecting with subjects brings out a more truthful—and compassionate—story. “I try to approach storytelling by listening and understanding the people I photograph before picking up the camera,” she said.

While covering the aftermath of the Coyote Creek flood in San Jose, California, in 2017, Rios got to know Julia Mata, a woman who lost her rent-controlled apartment after it was damaged. Rios photographed Mata as she moved from a hotel to temporary housing, all the while being treated as a member of her family. “I would not have had that access or trust if I wasn’t who I am as a Latinx woman,” Rios said.

Rios has only been working as a full-time photojournalist since 2018, but in that short time, she has contributed to the New York Times, CNN, and The Guardian, among other outlets.

She credits her success, in part, to the Women Photograph Mentorship Program, which has connected her with editors and seasoned photographers committed to amplifying female voices in the industry. “In order to decolonize the lens and reclaim narratives, we need more representation,” she said.

Nirma, 16, plays with her friends and cousins in Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh, India. Nirma is married to Rakesh from a nearby village. Photo by Saumya Khandelwal. Courtesy of the artist.

Recent assignments:

Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in exile, National Geographic, upcoming

The City of My Birth in India Is Becoming a Climate Casualty. It Didn’t Have to Be.New York Times, July 2018

Born and raised in Uttar Pradesh, India (where the Taj Mahal is located), Saumya Khandelwal almost never sees her home accurately represented by Western photographers. “The nuances of cultures are hard to achieve, and it’s very easy to get stuck in the colors and depictions of the region,” Khandelwal said.

Khandelwal brings nuance to her own work, turning her lens on child brides in Shravasti—an ancient city in her home state—and on the polluted banks of the Yamuna River in New Delhi. She has received multiple accolades, including the Getty Images Instagram grant and the National Foundation for India Award, both in 2017, and she participated in the World Press Photo 6x6 Global Talent Program in 2019. She has been published by the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Bloomberg Businessweek.

When Khandelwal first started working as a photojournalist in 2014, she found herself in a boat on the Yamuna surrounded by hundreds of migrating Siberian birds. “I was stunned by the view and did not know how to respond—whether I should shoot, or just experience,” she said. “I chose the latter. I realized that I did not want to stop experiencing the world because of my photography.”

Brienne Walsh
Jacqui Palumbo
Jacqui Palumbo is a contributing writer for Artsy Editorial.

Header and Thumbnail Image: Talap Zamanbol, 14, poses for a portrait with her eagle in Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia. Photo by Hannah Reyes Morales. Courtesy of the artist.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Yue Wu is currently a staff photographer at Sixth Tone. She is currently working as a freelance photographer. The text has been updated to reflect this change.