We're pretty excited to have dual Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist, Essdras M Suarez with us for "5 Minutes with..." today!
Who are you, what do you do and how long have you been doing it?
Essdras: I was a photojournalist for 20 years working as a staff photographer. The last twelve of my career were spent at the Boston Globe. On 2015 I moved to DC and got involved with a startup called million eyez that was about image gathering and showcasing by themes or topics. At the same time I was leading photo workshops abroad- mostly to Cuba. Eventually I opened my own company called EMS Photo Adventures. Things were going well until covid-19. By mid-last year I got back into the photojournalism game and I covered events in DC such as George Lewis and SJC justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, Trump rallies, including the January 6th attack on the US Capitol.
When you started out in the field you’re in, how did you get your first “break” / was there a defining moment you just knew “This is what I want to do!”
Essdras: I’d met the then photo director of photography for National Geographic, Tom Kennedy, while in college. We talked, I asked him if I had any chance working for them while getting a major in Journalism, a minor in Zoology and a specialization in magazine writing. He said no. He then added, “You’d have better chances if you were a photographer.” That’s the moment I changed my major to photojournalism. Seven months later I was in the jungles of Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia as an intern/ assistant to a couple of pros who were on assignment for the Geographic. After that I never looked back.
When people like me ask you that question “What’s your favourite photograph you’ve ever taken” which one do you think of first
Essdras: That’s truly a tough one. But I guess my mind first goes to a photo I made of the funeral of a 14-year old boy who died while being smuggled into the US. I followed his body all the way back to his native village right on the border with Mexico. That photo, which was part of an essay who won that year the Robert F. Kennedy International Photojournalism award, was the first photo I ever took that I knew right away was transcendental.
Do you have a photographic inspiration?
Essdras: Oh, I have many. I followed religiously what is now known as the Nat Geo’s old guard: Sam Abel, David Alan Harvey, Alex Webb, Jodi Cobb, Jim Stanfield, etc. I have so many NG books, I kid around they are the reason why I have bookcases at home. I also follow the work of Jim Natchwey, Christopher Anderson, and Lindsay Adario, Konstatine Costamanos, Chris Hondros, etc.
What gear do you mostly use and what bags do you use mainly?
Essdras: As far as photographic gear, I always carry on me a minimum of two DSLR cameras with me and as of the last year or so I’ve added a mirrorless to my arsenal. Usually one of my cameras will have a wide-angle zoom, the other one will have a telephoto zoom. The mirrorless also has a wide angle zoom too it’s a bit wider than my other wide angle lens.
For many years, I was continuously traveling, and my Think Tank Travel 2.0 bag was a fixture of my carry-on. I recently upgraded to the a T3.0. Also, I’ve always been a waist pack kind of guy. About two years ago or so I added a Speedracer V2.0, which has now become my constant companion while on assignment, and more recently, an Essentials Convertible Rolling backpack as well.
Any advice for someone wanting to do what you do?
Essdras: A long time ago former National Geographic photo director Kent Kobersteen told me the following: “Give yourself the assignment you want someone else to give you.”
It took me a while to understand what that truly meant. But I did. I gave myself the task of documenting a neighborhood in Denver mostly made up migrant workers intermingled with older generations of European immigrants. That is where I learned how to see, how to understand light, decisive moment, etc. In honest, that was the best advice someone has ever given me.
Thanks very much, Essdras! A great insight into your work and life!
Follow Essdras on social media.