Interview with Jana Ašenbrennerová

This article first appeared on Lenscratch as part of the series Photographers On Photographers. The brief included speaking with photojournalists and documentary photographers whose work is exhibited in galleries, museums, and other public displays, as well as in publications and advertising.

Barry Schwartz in Conversation with Jana Ašenbrennerová on Lenscratch:

The full article, sans photos, follows.


Artist Statement and Bio

Jana Ašenbrennerová is a Czech photojournalist currently based in San Francisco. Her specialties include social documentary and environmental portraiture. She dedicates her time to international reporting, pursuing independent projects primarily in Africa and Asia. In collaboration with nonprofit organizations (NGOs), she documents humanitarian efforts in different parts of the world. Her storytelling puts a human face on issues through portrayal of emotions, intimate moments and candid interpersonal interactions. Jana has led photography student expeditions for National Geographic in various parts of the world. She is a member of the screening committee for the International Ocean Film Festival.

Jana’s photography has won numerous awards, including World Press Photo, National Geographic Photo Contest, Czech Press Photo, China Press Photo, and many others.


Barry Schwartz
What drew you to this sort of work?

Jana Ašenbrennerová
I’m drawn to people and am passionate about learning about them, hearing their stories and capturing them, be it through photography or writing. I am curious about people’s lives, how they arrived where they are at, what transformation they went through, what makes them hurt, what makes them happy, what their life is like at that moment and what is their experience of being alive. It fascinates me and I can get fully absorbed by these narratives when I work on a story. Connecting with all kinds of people is the biggest gift I get from my work. If I ever have to choose only one thing I can photograph for the rest of my life there would be no doubt what I would choose. There is nothing I’m drawn to more than people.

I am drawn to stories from the medical field, documenting patients through their process of recovery – physical and mental as they are undergoing transformation. I can manage looking at blood, open wounds, and photographing surgeries in a way that is publishable and not too graphic, though I have had my near-fainting moments. I find these stories highly emotional not just because of the amount of pain that is undoubtedly part of any recovery but also the impact an accident has on the patient, their family and sometimes the entire community. It’s layered and complex and quite relatable as most likely every one of us have experienced it on some level. (When I was 12 years old my older brother Martin, who was 18 at that time, had a very dramatic car accident that completely changed his life and the lives of our family. In a split of a second, everything changed. It was a year-long process for him to find the new normal and to adapt to consequences. We had to transform alongside him. I feel a lot of empathy for those who are experiencing something similar, for the patient or loved ones.) These stories are full of pain, grief, suffering but also resilience, strength, hope and transformation that can turn out to be positive. These stories are about embracing change which I am passionate about documenting, I find it powerful and relatable.  

Most clients seem to be NGOs. Do you pitch any of these stories to publications?

My clients are a mix of corporate, newspaper, magazines, travel agencies and some NGOs – I live in San Francisco, so it is necessary for me to have a diverse clientele so I can afford to do journalism. Working with NGOs is among my favorite kinds of work and I’m always on a lookout for new opportunities and organizations to collaborate with. I don’t always pitch the stories I do for NGOs to publications; it’s a different kind of coverage and the materials I collect would be considered incomplete for photojournalism. However, I often find a story while working with an NGO and develop and pitch it afterwards on my own when I’m done with my assigned work for the organization. It simply requires more time and a different kind of treatment.

Tell me about your marketing strategies.

I don’t have specific marketing strategies and it certainly is and always has been a challenge. I feel fortunate however that clients I have worked with in the past come back as well as recommend me to others; that is mainly how I have built my clientele. It’s word of mouth, the only ‘marketing strategy’ that has ever worked for me, be it in the corporate world, with NGOs, or in journalism.

Did you study to be a photographer in college?

Yes. I did a photography program at San Francisco City College over 15 years ago. It was fantastic and great exposure to a variety of techniques and photo styles. We started with B&W film, processing it ourselves, developing our own images and learning darkroom techniques which I’m thankful I don’t have to do anymore. We worked with 4×5 cameras, had a portraiture and editorial class, learned basic photoshop and lighting techniques, but also explored more experimental approaches like mixed media or cyanotypes. What I found the most appealing was the class I took last, a documentary course with Ken Light. I was drawn to storytelling. From there I went on to SF State to study photojournalism with Ken Kobre, who was my professor and became my mentor. I did several internships while at school, including darkroom techniques with one of Ansel Adams’ former assistants. From there I went to the San Francisco Chronicle to learn about capturing news through photography and then to the Kathmandu Post newspaper in Nepal, which was a unique experience that taught me more than any school course ever could.

I studied directing and screenwriting at the Film Academy of Miroslav Ondříček in Písek back home in the Czech Republic, then photography at City College, followed by photojournalism at San Francisco State.  A few years ago I completed my masters in Visual Anthropology, also at SFSU, where my focus was on improving my writing skills, learning video, production, and editing.  My background in filmmaking, formal photo and journalism education — and three very different internships — gave me a pretty good foundation for the work I do today.

How did you begin your career?

Not sure what I would consider the starting point of my career but my passion for telling stories, capturing the world around me, and connecting with people was something I have been drawn to as long as I remember. One of the turning points was probably when I was taking a news writing course at City Colleague right before I went to study journalism at SF State University. It was the year the Olympics were held in Beijing, China and the famous Olympic torch was supposed to be carried across San Francisco. Protests were expected by the Tibetan community and supporters. Our professor, Jon Rochmis, suggested we go cover it for extra credit. I spent the entire day following the torch, running around taking photos and then at night attended an event where I photographed Desmond Tutu and Richard Gere giving speeches in support of Tibet. I did a full day of coverage and as exhausted as I was at the end of it I felt incredibly alive. I also conducted some of my very first interviews and felt like I had a front seat to history. I got in touch with a magazine back in the Czech Republic that was interested in the coverage and they ended up publishing it. So my extra credit work for a news writing class ended up as multiple page spreads published in a magazine. After this experience there was no doubt in my mind what path I want to take going forward. It was the beginning of my career and life I’m thankful for.

Tell me about photographers you admire.

One of my long-time favorites is Sebastião Salgado, I admire his photography as much as his activism and dedication to make a change in the world. His shipbreaker photos from Bangladesh inspired me to document the same ship yards in Chittagong myself back in 2010. 

Tell me about teaching.

Once a year I lead student photo expeditions for National Geographic. I teach photography and storytelling in different parts of the world; the location depends on the program I get assigned to. I did a couple in Asia — India and Bhutan — and then a photo worksop in the Czech Republic. This summer I’ll be leading a trip in the Canadian Arctic. Even though the concept and approach we follow with our students is similar, each trip is very different. I like working with students, especially when they come into these trips with some kind of passion – be it photography, culture, or just nature or people, anything really. That gives me something to work with and connect with them over. My hope is to inspire them and to help develop their passion further in the little time I get to share with them. It is an opportunity for me to move them, to inspire them, or to expose them to somebody or something that will. Even though I’m considered the teacher and leader, what happens on these trips is always an exchange. It is transformative for all of us involved.

Beside these expeditions I do guest lectures for photojournalism students, most frequently at SFSU for Kim Komenich’s classes.

How about writing?

Since high school I found writing to be quite intimidating. This became even more pronounced when I emigrated to the United States and started to communicate in a language that was not my first. I was holding back and was unable to fully free myself from that inhibition until I started to study anthropology. We were writing excessively and constantly, producing long essays and analysis on a daily or weekly basis. There was no time to worry anymore. It was overwhelming but it helped me to shake off that fear of writing. I gained some confidence and my attitude towards writing has changed dramatically. I started writing more freely, focusing on the content and what I want to say rather than obsessing about the mistakes I might make in the process. I now write articles to accompany the photo stories I document and even though I am a slow writer, I find the process satisfying and am thankful to editors who polish my work up before it gets published.

When I work on personal projects I take excessive notes and do my own interviews. I do a lot of medical reporting so it’s crucial for me to understand the technicalities. It often takes a long time and multiple interviews to understand the scope of the medical work. I record interviews on the iPhone, upload them to the Otter app to transcribe and then write my article based on notes. That is my process. I believe it’s crucial to be able to write. I’m both a journalist and a photographer and therefore I like to have a toolbox of skills to best tell a story. Writing is certainly one of these skills.

Have you been on staff at any publications?

I have never been a staff member on any publication and it’s not something I was ever interested in. Even though freelance life can be stressful and uncertain at times, I would always choose it over a secure staff position. Regardless of the frequent anxiety, it aligns better with who I am and how I like to work and live my life. I appreciate the flexibility my work offers.

How do you market yourself to publications?

I don’t do a whole lot of marketing and consider pitching among the most difficult aspects of my work. It feels awkward and I have yet to learn how to do it properly and effectively. There are, luckily, some publications I have worked with for a long time — they trust in what I do and give me a great freedom in doing my work. I appreciate these relationships and often produce my best work for these publications as a result.

Roughly how much of your income is from secondary licensing or stock?

There are some unexpected chunks here and there but overall, not a lot. Time is the main obstacle for me. I started to contribute to some stock libraries and agencies during Covid but it takes time to develop. There don’t ever seem to be enough hours in a day to do all I would like to do. There always seems to be more that needs to be done, I often feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, I’m certainly never, ever bored.

Tell me how your work ends up in exhibitions and museums.

I did have some exhibits over the years and it’s a question of opportunity or invitation, rather than my main focus. It’s usually in collaboration with an organization or somebody reaches out as they see I have work that would be fitting for their theme. It’s usually quite time-consuming to prepare materials so I don’t pursue it often but when it’s something collaborative and impactful I gladly participate. The two most recent exhibits I had were in Europe. In Prague, I exhibited a portrait series of gay couples that are raising children together. The project was done in collaboration with a Czech NGO Jsme Fér that fights to legalize gay marriage in Czech Republic. The other exhibit was in Spain (FineArt Igualada), where alongside other photographers I was exhibiting my project “Growing Up Among The Dead” from the Philippines.

Do you pitch to contests?

I do my best to constantly submit my work to contests, if I have something fitting. It pushes me to work with the material I have, make an edit, sort it out. I find it to be a helpful practice and often a first step to get the work organized and prepared for a pitch.

Do you print yourself, or outsource?

I never print anything myself, always outsource.

Do you do your own post?

Yes I do my own post production on everything I shoot unless it’s a commercial gig when we have an editor on site who processes on my behalf. When it comes to personal projects, I always do all my processing.

Do you go to portfolio reviews as an attendee or reviewer?

I have attended a good amount as both over the years, reviewer and attendee. There is no regularity, it depends on opportunities and time but maybe one a year?

What social media do you do?

I probably use instagram the most. My regular posts are curated – therefore not too frequent – but then the 24 hour stories are what I use quite often. There I share more personal experiences from my own life and my frequent travels; it’s rather spontaneous and not always related to my work but it does refer to some of it. It’s a mix.

How about commercial work.

I do a lot of corporate work when in San Francisco.

And video?

Yes, when requested by clients I am able to provide it.


Jana Ašenbrennerová is a photographer, educator, and writer.


Interview with Victor Moriyama

This article first appeared on Lenscratch as part of the series Photographers On Photographers. The brief included speaking with photojournalists and documentary photographers whose work is exhibited in galleries, museums, and other public displays, as well as in publications and advertising.

Barry Schwartz in Conversation with Victor Moriyama on Lenscratch:

The full article, sans photos, follows.


I became aware of Victor Moriyama through his essay “Living on the Margins, ‘Surfing’ on the Buses” as part of the New York Times series, “The World Through A Lens”.  As I went through his website, I noticed he placed the text description at the end of his photo essays, rather than the top, where most people — myself included — place them.  It indicates his sense of the primacy of images to tell stories, part of his training (which included writing) at university, where he learned photography and filmmaking, including how to be a camera operator.   Moriyama worked for a television production company for a few years, doing multimedia, advertising, and documentary projects.  


Artist Statement and Bio:

For the past 4 years, I’ve documented hell in the world’s largest rainforest under the administration of ultra-right former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. The Amazon rainforest experienced its worst moments breaking records of deforestation caused by the greed of the white man, who illegally operates in the region in a predatory and historical manner with the connivance of the Brazilian state.

I document photographically as a long-term project the process of occupation of the Amazon and its socio-environmental impacts for many years, but the “Oco” project intensified between 2018/2022. The word “Oco” in Portuguese means empty inside, devoid of meaning. Indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa, who writes the book’s preface, has a thought in which he says that we whites have empty thinking, because we don’t understand nature and we violate it until we reach its death. “The planet will end up like a big ball of fire”, says Mr. Kopenawa.

I believe that the model of historical exploration of the Amazon is part of the dynamics of the white colonizing man repeatedly violating women (Planet Earth, understood as the sacred feminine), a portrait of the history of Brazil since the invasion of the Portuguese that extends until today.

In this sense, the title of the book becomes urgent as the publication portrays the process of land grabbing that takes place inside the forest and summarizes the entire chain of destruction. First, invaders map trees of commercial value for export, then they cut them down and transport them to be traded. Then, they set fire to the area so that the ashes fertilize the soil for future cattle pasture. After the site is constituted as a large pasture farm, it can become a high-production soy or corn monoculture farm. The result of this process is a large forest converted into ashes, into something hollow. These are the images that close the publication.

I put myself as a photojournalist and activist for climate and nature. This condition has shaped my personal and professional trajectory over the last decade. It is in this context that I hope to sensitize the audience to a call back to Earth, to nature. It is urgent that we join forces: journalists, indigenous peoples, anthropologists, scientists, environmentalists, politicians, young people, to pressure decision makers from companies and governments towards environmental policies for the conservation of natural biomes.


Barry Schwartz
You spent two years on staff at a local newspaper in your hometown of Sao Paulo.

Victor Moriyama 
It was my second school. It was amazing to work for a local, small newspaper and I learned a lot.  I spent two years working for them. And I worked for Associated Press in Brazil as a stringer photographer. It was in 2010, 13 years ago.

You have been working as a photographer or camera person since you got out of school.

Yeah, pretty much.

Normally, the route is still photographer moving into video, but you actually started with motion.

I was working as a cameraman, and then I just realized that photography is more interesting than video. There’s the challenge to capture the one single moment, and I just wanted to be a photographer.  

Here in Sao Paulo, the biggest newspaper in Brazil is called Folha de São Paulo. It started a TV department inside the newspaper. It was a very nice project because it was completely done by photographers with a documentary perspective, and they started to film some stories.

I’ve just been working as a freelance photographer for the past decade. The NGOs and newspapers I’ve been working with rarely asked me to do video recording… just special things. Right now, we are doing some B roll to open a story.  We are talking about how we can bring in audio recordings or video or drone: which fits better for the story we’re trying to tell.  This is pretty new and to be honest, I think it helped me to better understand how I can build my line, how I can be a better storyteller.

I studied that at university, about movie directors and how to be a storyteller, and I think it contributed a lot to my journey.

I tell my students there’s a reason a lot of photojournalists become wedding photographers and move into advertising, all kinds of things, because their skill set has to be so broad.

Yeah, absolutely. If you’re working as a staff photographer for a newspaper, you need to photograph everything, politics, sports, whatever.  It’s the best school for photography. I feel comfortable if I need to shoot some something different than photojournalism, because I have the good skills photojournalism gave to me.

There was a time when being a specialist was really the way to go. If you did advertising, beauty, or fashion, or product, that was your lane. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, which is really quite nice.

Yeah, and life is short. I think about how I can try something that I never tried before, like use a flash in the mid-day, or something different just to try it and see if it works. We can develop new skills. This is a very interesting thing about our formation as a photographer, and how you can just surf into different languages in photography.

Twenty or thirty years ago, it was unusual for a photo journalist to show in a museum or a gallery. Now, it’s much more accepted.

I think photography is the universal language. We don’t need to translate anything. It touches our hearts and it’s about feeling.  I just was listening to a podcast with Sarah Leen. She was the Photo Editor at National Geographic for years and years and she was talking about, we don’t always need text. We don’t need explanation; the picture just needs to talk with our hearts and the feelings that pop up. Photography and photojournalism is about that. The world is a global society, so while everything is local it is also a global issue. 

I’m working here on a story nearby my home.  It’s about the ocean, but it is talking about the entire world, if we’re talking about climate change. I think people want to see what’s going on in different parts of the world. I am working in long time perspectives, long term projects about the Amazon destruction.  The Amazon is the biggest tropical forest in the world so everybody’s interested in it, and thinking about climate change. We have Greta Thunberg and young students saying, hey, we need to stop this, it’s completely wrong, let’s think about that. 

Photojournalists, we are on the ground and showing the world to the people. Art has this potential to connect, to touch your heart, to bring you back to feel something different. And with that, you can organize your mind and the way you’re living your life. It can make changes in you, or push for different policies for governments to stop deforestation, or for human rights.  I truly believe in the power of pictures, the power of our job to push companies or governments to create new programs, balancing inequality or the environmental crisis.  I am an activist for the environment. I just want to keep it preserved because I think it’s so beautiful. We are so far away from nature, from the trees, and from all the knowledge we have from the indigenous tribes here in the Amazon rainforest. 

I’m really fascinated by them and by their knowledge and how they see the world, and telling their stories to a global audience. Galleries, museums, institutions, they’re trying to connect with authors like me, or other photographers that are trying to talk about issues and how it connects with the values of these institutions or companies. The Open Society Foundation just opened a local bureau here in South America and they printed a lot of my pictures of the Amazon in their office.  It’s beautiful, the ways I can inspire some institutions to talk about this subject. 

Selling pictures is complicated. Magnum, or the VII agency, or Noor, are trying to sell pictures, but it’s not easy because we are not in the art markets.

I did an exhibition in Switzerland two years ago.  I transferred all the money to the indigenous people to support their causes. They’re struggling to produce success in their communities. I’m glad to have that kind of relationship with them.

I did a final pass at everything on your website before we spoke, and I had to take a break, because it was so heavy-going — but it’s never as intense as it is for the person on the ground. You’re in difficult environments, sometimes dangerous environments, in order to tell a story. You have to be alert and awake all the time.

I think it’s much more about the subjects we are interested in and how we can bring these subjects to another level of discussion in society. I remember once I was flying over the Amazon rainforest in a very tiny airplane, a very old plane, and it was raining, and it was almost like a nightmare. I realized that, I’m going to die over here. But if it happens, I am happy with that, because I’m doing one of my assignments, I truly believe I’m doing what I love. I make my peace with death. A lot of people, they never think about death and how it works. For us, it’s very important, because if you’re covering a war, or if you are in dangerous positions, you need to have a very clear and peaceful relationship with that, if we truly believe in what we are doing. That’s why I think photojournalism is a profession that you need to be passionate about, because otherwise, you’re just like doing bureaucratic stuff. Right now, at this moment, we have billions and billions of images. And we need to do something different. We need to tell this story in a different way or in some way that can touch the hearts and minds of different people around the world. I think this is the most important thing.

Did you apply to be part of these exhibitions? Or were you approached to do them?

Sometimes I was invited to festivals, and other times I just applied, but most of them invited me. Visa pour l’image, Perpignan in France during the pandemic.  Everybody starts to know your work if you’re doing an exhibition in Arles in France or a festival in Santa Fe, good festivals about photography. They start to invite you to participate. I think, in 2019, the fires in the Amazon rainforest was a turning point. What is going on? The same in California. Everybody knows fire season is so bad. People are dying in Portugal. What happens in Australia? It’s happening in Indonesia. I think climate change is the most important topic right now…and Victor is doing work about Amazon destruction and deforestation. So let’s bring him to our festival to talk about that, and see how we can learn about this. I think it’s a natural, organic process.

In your work, you’re showing the fires, but you’re also showing the people who live there who have been abused and mistreated and marginalized.

Very hard challenge.

The NGOs that you work for want to get the photos into publication. It’s all about the message.

It’s our goal, absolutely. Greenpeace, here in Brazil, are trying to bring celebrities with millions and millions of fans on Instagram to see the Amazon destruction, to look at what’s going on. Then the celebrities, they do some TikTok videos, and I’m here in the middle of the jungle when it is on fire. Greenpeace, it’s very serious for them. I’ve been working for them for the past decade. It’s about the message. This is very important.

You also do a photo column for El Pais.

El Pais is the biggest newspaper in Spain. We had an office here in Brazil for almost 10 years. I worked for them since the beginning, and I realized that I need to write again, and I started my column. It was about photography. But then we had the pandemic, and the Brazilian Bureau was closed by Spain. It was a very short moment of my career, but it was very nice.

What was your subject?

Most of it was to show Brazilian photographers and their work. I mostly wrote about Brazilian women photographers and their work, with a beautiful gallery.

You were doing interviews?

Yes. It wasn’t a weekly column. It was whenever I wanted. I started my career in writing. It’s almost the same. We have this passion. When I was a young kid, I said to my mom — I was 8 years old, 10 years old — hey, Mom, I want to write a book. She agreed — amazing. I had no ideas about being a photographer.

The impulse is the same. You take photos to find out what you’re seeing. If you write, it’s to find out what you’re thinking. I think writing is the same as the photography in that way.

Yeah, it’s a very similar process.

You do mentoring and teaching. How did that start?

It happened as a huge influence from Ed Kashi. I have a great relationship with him. Then I realized all of them at VII are doing that, at least Ed, Ron Haviv, Sarah Terry, and other photographers.

I saw one of the last tours they did as the original group of seven. They came to Art Center in Pasadena for two days, not doing workshops, just being there and doing presentations.

Jim Nachtwey, too?

Yes.  It was amazing to just be in the room with him. Some people, they have a presence.

Yeah, he has a presence. Absolutely. Jim is amazing. I’ve seen his TED talks, and his “War Photographer” documentary film. We have his book, “Inferno”. 

I learned from Ed Kashi and the VII folks how important it is to be a mentor to people. Ed did that for  me for a couple of years. It is a very important thing to stay with young photographers for a year. We have weekly conversations or monthly conversations, to help provide more tools for them; how I can express myself on this subject or how I can develop my photographic language.  I just stopped a little bit because I have a young baby, but it’s very important. It’s a very rich process, because I learn and they learn, seeing how I can empower them to to be good storytellers and support their ideas. 

I want to create more connections between us, and empower our community as photographers in the world because I think we are very far away from the rest of the world. For instance, I was in Washington DC two weeks ago at the National Geographic Summit, and we had seven Mexican photographers, lovely people. And we just had one Brazilian photographer. Something is wrong, because Brazil is bigger than Mexico, we have a lot of a lot of issues pressing over here. We’re not accessing some important festivals around the world. Let’s think about photography, let’s print your pictures, put them on the wall and see how we can edit this job.

It’s important for me.  I like talking with students.  I’m invited to join universities and journalism courses and it’s a pleasure because sometimes the way I see the world, or my words or my images, can touch some hearts. 

For instance, I saw Sebastião Salgado’s book, “Workers”, which my mom bought, and when I saw the pictures I said, what is this? 

How old were you?

I was like a young kid, 15 years old. I was listening to Lindsey Addario. She was talking about that.  When I saw the Sebastian Salgado pictures, I realized that I want to do that. 

He’s doing similar things to what you’re doing. And he’s a Brazilian to boot. I think teaching is to give back. And to make it real.

I think it is magical. I like this educational perspective. For me, it’s another part of my job.


Victor Moriyama is a photographer, educator, and writer.



Interview with Rachael Wright

This article first appeared on Lenscratch as part of the series Photographers On Photographers. The brief included speaking with photojournalists and documentary photographers whose work is exhibited in galleries, museums, and other public displays, as well as in publications and advertising.

Barry Schwartz in Conversation with Rachael Wright on Lenscratch:

The full article, sans photos, follows.


Artist Statement and Bio:

Rachael Wright (b. 1981) is a portrait and documentary photographer based in Oakland, California. 

Originally from Northampton, England, her work is shaped by the unique perspective gained from her travels and experiences living abroad, underpinned by innate curiosity and a deep sense of empathy. With an intuitive, photojournalistic approach to both personal and commissioned projects, Rachael seeks to reveal the beauty and complexity of the human experience, while exploring the universalities and idiosyncrasies connecting us all. 

Her work has been recognized by the British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Humanity (2022), the Julia Margaret Cameron Award (2022) and American Photography (2021, 2020, 2019). Commercial commissions include projects for Marc Jacobs, Converse and A24 Films, and she has been published by The Times of London, The Guardian, The Sunday Times Magazine and The New York Times. In 2020, Rachael was featured in the critically acclaimed six-part PBS/Sky Arts documentary television series, ICON: Music Through The Lens. 


In the wake of the sudden death of a close friend in 2002, Mark Kuhn tore up the cattle feedlot on his Iowa farm and, with the help of his two sons, spent 18 months constructing a perfectly manicured grass tennis court in its place. 

It was a dream the third generation farmer had held since discovering Wimbledon – a tennis tournament held 4,000 miles away in London, England – on hearing it broadcast on his grandfather’s shortwave radio when he was 10 years old. 

The court soon became a community hub, with people traveling from all over the world to Charles City, Iowa, to play at the ‘All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club’ – named after Wimbledon’s home, the All England Lawn Tennis Club. 

Having repeatedly written letters to Wimbledon’s head groundsman, a then 61- year-old Mark went to London for an internship at the All England Club in 2012. He finally got to see Centre Court for himself and diligently set about learning the very precise methods used on its hallowed turf. The same methods he uses with monastic dedication on his own court today. 

In 2016, Mark was invited back to Wimbledon to serve as a Court Attendant. It was the honour of his life, and he returned to the farm overjoyed from another stint at his spiritual home. Two days later, his youngest son, Alex, took his own life. 

Dandelions is a paean to a unique man, the realization of his far-fetched dream… and the love and loss of his boy. 


A meditation on death, grief and transformation, made in the coastal New England states of New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts over the course of winter 2021. 

The project was initially conceived in late 2018, during an off-season visit to the seaside town of York Beach, Maine. It was the middle of a chapter of life punctuated with cancer, suicide, ill- health and loss. The dissonance of bold colours on boarded-up beachfront facades set against the gray skies and frigid air, with a hostile Atlantic Ocean churning nearby, deeply resonated with me. A temporary move from season-less California to the Nor’easters of seacoast New Hampshire at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic gave me the opportunity to delve into and express this internal emotional landscape visually. 

Though predominantly shaped by the absence of people, the series includes a traditional approach to portraiture (‘Samantha’ – whose grief was palpable as she spoke of the recent loss of her ‘soulmate and sweetheart’, Tom), as well as a more abstract interpretation (‘Rhonda’ – a pink balloon marking the spot where a 35-year-old mother-of-three was violently murdered at the place she loved most by her partner in broad daylight). 

Each winter breath is a ghost
Of our recent selves:
We can learn to die easily,
No resistance, just

A gentle shrug into everything.
No one mourns their breath in winter.
Though you watch the essence of you
Escaping. Winter has its reasons.

– Greg Gilbert, Seeing Winter as Death and Finding Solace


Made during the dog days of summer on the edge of New England, The Wall explores the relationship between a 11⁄2 mile sea wall and the community who call it theirs. 

In contrast to the wealthy enclaves nearby, with their private beaches, exclusive rules and parking permits, The Wall is a democratic place. A silent witness to the ebb and flow of humanity and nature, and the myriad ways both interact with it. 


Barry Schwartz 
You’ve got editorial and commercial work on your site, and they’re all mixed together.

Rachael Wright
I want everything to look cohesive, like it all comes from me. The personal work isn’t separate, either. This is my eye, and this is what I do. I redid it recently, I divided it into selected work and archived work. The selected work, these are my favorite projects, and this is what I want more of. The archive stuff is: I’ve also done this. I’ve done a lot of celebrity work and work for musicians; it’s to show I’ve worked with these people and I can be trusted.

You were a publicist…

Many years ago. In the music business. In my 20s.

Were you taking photos then?

No, I was hiring people to take photos

Were you going along on the shoots?

I went on a few shoots. I did a lot of events, I did festivals and would always look after the photographers there.

How did you end up as a photographer?

I worked for a record label and a top promoter, and I’d started writing and interviewing bands for a music magazine in the UK. I went to New York for the first time and I was like, this is where I want to be. I’m going to move here. The music magazine that I interviewed for when I was in London asked me to interview a band in New York. I had just bought a camera, it was just a crappy Canon Rebel or something. I said, I’ll do the interview if I can do the photo shoot as well. I think about that now and what the fuck was I thinking? Luckily, this band knew what they were doing. I didn’t know at the time, but they were doing half my job. I look at the original pictures and I can see that I had the thing that you need to have that you then build upon. But the band liked the pictures and they asked me to go on tour with them. And that was kind of it. 

Because I’d been a publicist, I knew how magazines worked and who the right people to contact were. I’d also worked at a magazine as a writer, interviewing celebrities and writing features and that kind of thing. So I learned lots of different facets of the industry and therefore have empathy. I’m like a magpie, I like to collect. And I now I collect pictures of things, I see a moment or some light, and I’m like, I want that. I’m like being a butterfly catcher.

You talked in another interview about photographing David Crosby, and you had 30 seconds or something along those lines.

I got what I needed from him, but I let him have it on his terms a little bit more than I would have with somebody else. It’s not because I was starstruck; it’s deference, not reverence. I have a lot of respect for these people.  I remember at the end of the shoot, I wanted to do a few more, because photographers, we’re always trying for more, but I knew I had it. I was about to open my mouth to ask him to do something new. He just looked at me, like: We’re done. He wanted to go and get dinner. You’ve got soundcheck and then dinner, and I was the barrier to his dinner. So, okay, we’re done.

I remember going to a shoot with K.D. Lang. I went to her apartment, just me and her. I straight up asked her: What do you not like, and qualified it by saying because I’ve heard about photographers that have a concept in their mind, and I’m much more of a person that will come to another person’s space, figure out who they are from the clues in their space as if it is your picture too.  K.D. Lang has been doing it for years. She knows what she’s doing. She’s seen enough photographs of herself to know what she likes and what she doesn’t like. She said, Oh, I hate that, I’m so glad you said that. We ended up having a really nice shoot.

I read that she was a Buddhist. And I noticed she had a little room set up as a temple. I went to step backwards and realized I was about to step into this room, and I had my shoes on. I immediately stopped and said, Do you want me to take my shoes off if I go in there and shoot? She looked at me like I was the most considerate person on earth. She opened up to me more as well, because I was considerate of her space. It’s those little things…you can learn them to a degree, but it’s about learning to be a person rather than a photographer. My main takeaway from a shoot is to feel like I was a good person and a good photographer, and if you get both, brilliant.

I want to have a nice time, I want to enjoy what I’m doing. I want them to have a nice time.

Tell me about your Pluto Transits project.

It’s a project about death I did in New England when I lived there during Covid. I was kind of feeling burned out, not knowing what I wanted to do anymore, but I wanted to do a personal project. Magnum released this educational series with different photographers, and one of them was Alec Soth. I just love his vibe.

I’d already started the Pluto Transits project. York, Maine in the summer is popping. It has the Fun-O-Rama. But everything was shuttered, everything was freezing cold, there was nobody around. I love the aesthetics of offseason seaside towns when they’re waiting for the life to come back. It’s quite gray, with the juxtaposition of the happy colorful arcade signs against the churning grey sea and all the sand and the flotsam and jetsam from a nor’easter.  I wanted to go out and explore where I am. I’m living in this weird place where I never thought I would be living. It came at a time when we were in the depths of Covid.  I was dealing with the grief of a couple of people that I had lost, right before Covid. Death just seemed to be everywhere. I had started therapy six months before that, so I was kind of interrogating my own inner landscape. I found that all around me, the world was showing me my internal landscape using external things.  

I’ve always taken pictures of other people and other people’s stories, and never really thought about what that says about me or what I’m feeling or thinking. So it was an exercise, really, just to see what I came back with. I was also in a group with Brian Fink, doing an online class where we’d have Zoom meetings every weekend. I was trying to keep the wheels turning and stay sharp and make pictures. We had this group that met every Monday where we’d show each other the work, so it forced me to go out and make work, and then it forced me to also talk about the work, which I’d never done before. I’m not a winter person but I’d go out every day in January in New England, freezing weather.  I would look for the things that expressed what I was feeling inside.  Somebody else very important to me died during the project. 

I stumbled across a murder scene in York Beach, a woman was murdered on the beach on a day that I was going to go there, by her partner. I went back there a couple of days later and made a picture of a pink balloon on some rocks with the ocean in the background.  And then I saw a house that had burned down and a woman had died in that house. I was just exploring grief and death and looking it in the eye, if that makes sense, instead of turning away from it or trying not to feel it. I told my therapist about this she helped me really interrogate later on. It is helpful having a person sit and ask me questions. I have to form sentences and tell her about it and talk.

Being intentional in that way.

I didn’t want it to be about death, I wanted it to be about ‘there is always hope’, I wanted hope. There was always this element of hope that I wanted the project to ultimately get to. 

In Alec Soth’s class he talks about sequencing a lot. That project was so personal and I remember saying in the group that I would meet with every Monday, I don’t care if nobody actually sees these pictures ever, because I’m working through something, these are for me. In the sequencing, there’s three stages to it. The first one is death and everything falling apart. Second stage is standing in the rubble and surveying: Okay, this is the new reality. The third stage of the sequencing is running towards two pictures, where one is looking behind at some footprints in the sand, and the next picture is completely white, virgin snow, and an empty drive-in theater screen. That feels like that’s the past then moving into the future. It doesn’t really look like a lot of my other work. I’m just going to put it out there. It’s something I love. It’s very personal to me.

But that led to being able to go to Iowa, and talk about the hard things with Mark and try to articulate that in pictures. 

This is the project in the New York Times, “Tending to Grass, and to Grief, on a Tennis Court in Iowa”, that you call “Dandelions” on your site.  I would guess one of the reasons you were able to connect with Mark was because he recognized you were sympathetic, empathetic, that you’re not one of those journalists that want to feed off tragedy.

Yeah, exploiting that. Some photography projects you have to be really careful not to exploit people.

April 2022, Covid’s over, I can go to Iowa if Mark will allow me, so I wrote him a letter. I’d love to come take pictures of you sometime, I think was three pages long. Just telling him what his story meant to me. 

I talked about Alex constantly while I was there, because I could tell that he loves talking about him. How you keep people alive is to talk about them. I wanted Alex’s presence to be a part — I didn’t know how I was going to do it during the project, because how do you have the presence of somebody who isn’t here anymore? But he’s in every blade of grass. There’s a picture of a butterfly on some mud — there’s lots of tennis shoe prints, and there’s a blue butterfly in the middle of it. To Alex’s mother, butterflies are a sign that Alex is around.

I would love to be able to give you perfect sentences about what it means to me, but I actually felt healed afterwards. And I felt a healing about my my friend who I lost to suicide. I had this weird anger towards him that came out of nowhere. I couldn’t look at a picture of him. If he came to mind, I felt really angry with him. That all dissipated on that trip. 

It was really meaningful that it was a project that I did on under my own steam. It was something that was mine. And it was from a part of me that I don’t show easily or often. I love getting to share that with people, and share Mark with people. I have a call with him tomorrow to catch up. We’re going to go to Wimbledon and see it together. He’s my Wimbledon soulmate, we’re going to meet at Wimbledon.

You’ve been in some exhibitions.

This first one was through a band I was working with.  Secret 7” is an Amnesty International charity, the money goes to them. It was one song on a seven inch vinyl. The artwork is by a photographer, donating a picture, with the artwork to be exhibited. Buyers don’t know who the band is, what the song is. They pick which one they want to buy.

Live Energy was a group exhibition of live music photography. That was for charity as well. I donated a picture, sold at auction. That was through my editor at Q magazine, who works with books and exhibitions and knows every music photographer going. He approached me to be a part of that. 

Work In Progress was the one that I think of most, at Root Studios in New York.  My show within the show was called Access All Areas, which the tour section on my website is now called; it was all backstage photos. I like backstage stuff, stuff nobody gets to see. I don’t like exploiting — to me backstage is private, right? So I asked all the musicians if it was okay to exhibit the photographs. 

The 100 Club in London, is a storied punk club from back in the day, really famous for its red walls and its black and white photography hanging on all of the walls. There’s pictures of Johnny Rotten, and every rock star you can think of. They have three of pictures in their permanent collection. 

You won a Julia Cameron Award and Portrait of Humanity.

This Portrait of Humanity is in a book. I was really pleased to be a part of that.

What’s your portrait?

I have two pictures in that one. One of them is the the lady from my Pluto Transits project, the lady with the red scarf.

There is also a grandfather and a grandson I saw fishing on Santa Monica Pier. I just watched them until the sun went down, and they had no idea I was watching until until the end. They looked up and saw that I’d been taking a few pictures but I was mostly just watching this little boy that didn’t know that this man wasn’t going to be around forever; again, death.

I was thinking about when I went fishing with my granddad and how I didn’t know that he wouldn’t be around much longer. I think when I take pictures, I’m trying to hold on to something that’s un-hold-on-able-to.

We were talking earlier, and I was trying to remember that quote, I think it’s Beckett, which is “only connect”.

Yeah, that’s true. I think that’s, that’s what everybody is looking for, whether they know it or not. I’m constantly just looking for connection. Like, I went to a farm in Iowa to spend a week with a 72 year old man.  We’re completely different. But what is it about us that’s the same? And I do that with 17 year old Billie Eilish. There’s an artist called Brittany Howard. She was in a band called Alabama Shakes.  She’s black. She’s had a completely different life to me. But I need to go in there and find common ground to connect as humans. I read on her Wikipedia that she grew up on a in a junkyard. My granddad, my grandma, had a farm, and the second place they lived was basically a junkyard. So we were both junkyard kids. We sat talking about being junkyard kids, and how you’d like poke around in like, death traps.  It was finding that we’ve had completely different lives and yet, there’s this one weird detail about us that makes us who we are. I’m constantly looking for that detail in anybody I meet.

Annie Leibovitz has a famous shot of Jack Nicholson in his bathrobe on his lawn, holding a golf club. That wasn’t part of the plan. He was practicing while the crew was setting up inside and she looked over, and the picture was just there.

That’s where the magic is. I try not to go in with too many expectations. I like to have a plan, but I think it’s important to be open.

The Iowa project ended up being completely different to how I wanted it to be. I drove all the way there, and the whole way I was telling myself I need to let go of what I want this to be, because it’s not going to be that, it’s going to be what it’s going to be; just how it ended up being.


Rachael Wright: