Diana Cervantes - Women In Photography
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
Diana Cervantes is a photojournalist from Albuquerque in New Mexico who works both in news and long-term visual projects. She is part of Authority Collective – a group of womxn and non-binary photographers and film-makers reclaiming their authority and their place in the male-dominated and privilege-based film and VR/AR industries.
Diana’s image was one of 70 entries shortlisted for the National Geographic Best of Your Shot 2018 competition chosen from more than 1.2 million images.
Diana was selected to take part in the campaigning organisation’s Women Photograph workshop in New York.
Her humanity shows in her visuals and she enjoys staying with the story and really getting to know the people in her pictures. Diana’s own family were immigrants to the US, making her empathetic and passionate about telling people’s stories of migration and culture.
Diana’s work has appeared in the Alibi, The Farmington Daily Times, The Mountainview Telegraph, The Independent, The Rio Rancho Observer, The Albuquerque Journal, The Santa Fe New Mexican, Bitterroot Magazine, New Mexico Newsport, and Buzzfeed news.
What was your journey into photography and particularly photojournalism?
My journey into taking pictures began in Sydney, Australia. I moved out there after I finished high school. I was living in the suburb near Surry Hills in Sydney, which boasts a lot of design firms. I remember that on a cool spring day I walked down Boronia Lane, and saw designers out with their cameras, which in turn inspired me to begin documenting my time living there. I worked as a waitress to save up for my first DSLR. After I returned to New Mexico and began university here I realised I missed capturing the candid moments around me, so I decided to work at the university newspaper where I worked as a photographer for four years. By the time my senior year rolled around I had taken on the role of photo editor which I greatly enjoyed. I realised that documentary photography (or photojournalism) was truly what I felt compelled to do. I was motivated and inspired in the ability to connect with people through my camera. There is nothing more rewarding than individuals opening up their worlds to you, their pains, their joys, entrusting the essence of their journey to you is a gift I could never repay. I truly see it as such a great honour, and I find immense fulfillment in visual story telling. Currently, I am freelancing throughout New Mexico for a few local and non-local news outlets.
Can you tell me about your involvement with the Authority Collective?
So, the Authority Collective is “a group of womxn, femmes, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people reclaiming their authority in the photography, film and VR/AR industries.” The mission of the collective is to “empower artists with resources and community, and to take action against systemic and individual abuses in the world of lens-based editorial, documentary and commercial visual work.” Being a woman of colour, and of course a minority I needed a place where I could feel safe and share the struggles of working in a male dominated industry, while also navigating the freelance world. I also needed a place where I knew others could relate to my hardships. The community is mostly built around communicating on the Slack app where we talk about everything from freelance work to mental health. Thus far my involvement has been mostly just engaging with artists in all walks of life, sharing work, at times encouraging a fellow photographer as they do me, and posting any opportunities or connections I may have to help someone else. It’s been a great place to meet new people but also a place where we can openly share our frustrations and openly be ourselves, and if other photographers seek to get involved feel free to look at the website (http://www.authoritycollective.org/) for more information.
Please tell me about your photojournalistic works including the story of Sierra Sanders - a survivor of the Aztec High School shooting?
My photojournalistic work at the moment is still very much shifting. Currently, I am drawn to more long-form storytelling, and stories that require me to spend ample amount of time with the individual I am photographing, which was not often the case in the newsrooms I was in, mostly because we didn’t have the time or budget to do more long form storytelling.
However, in the case of Sierra Sanders I was asked by Buzzfeed to spend a full day with her.
Spending this day with her I felt we found ways of connecting, which meant being in a car together driving around her hometown doing errands, and getting a feel for what kind of music she liked because of what she played in the car. These small details are missed when you show up at an event take a few pictures and leave, with this type of storytelling you pick up more on who the person is, their likes, their dislikes and what they hold dear in their life. It also gives them a chance to ask you questions and makes it feel more of a give and take type of situation instead of me just doing all the taking. It is my hope for individuals to feel as though they can be their true selves around me, to feel comfortable, because that is where the magic of the images happens.
On top of all of that, it was beautiful to witness the resilience of Sierra and her family after enduring such a traumatizing event, how they could still laugh and dream and share happiness. Due to the shooting Sierra decided to change her major to criminal justice so she can become a police officer. She hopes to return to Aztec when she graduates from college to serve her community. The rest of the images focused on her daily life while home on break from college and being back with her family, running errands and living her life albeit carrying such a painful memory.
This is also how I approached the wild horse story I had the privilege to work on for two months entitled, “Amid Rancour, Advocates Scramble to find homes for Wild Horses,” I spent a long time with the founder, Sandy Johnson, of Placitas Wild in her car, I witnessed her cry and saw her go through rehoming 70+ horses that are like her children. I had to earn their trust and be ready to drop anything at a moment’s notice to photograph key moments and days of them throughout their journey. But that is something I wouldn’t trade for the world. It is my hope to continue to be able to tell stories like these where I am able to spend time with people, because I think it does justice to their stories, and it is in this exchange that I become a better visual composer, so that their stories are told with dignity and the respect they deserve.
Does the current political climate (Trump) give photojournalists a renewed sense of urgency in truth telling?
Definitely. 100%. I think with the whole idea of “fake news” journalists are using images now more than ever to give people what they need to make their own minds up. It is cliché to say but images are worth 1,000 words. It was the image of John Moore of the little girl crying at the border that unveiled the crisis and injustice of the separation of families. It is definitely a crucial time in our history, especially when our own president is calling us liars, and enemies of the people, when that is not so. Photographers, writers, news outlets-- are here to give people the information people need to be free and self-governing.
'A Thousand Little Faces' charts homeless children in your town of Albuquerque. The use of colour is striking and a change from some of the monochrome photo essays you do. Can you tell me a bit more about this editorial process in order to illustrate wider truths?
Of course, so, I like to work in black and white because, personally, I feel colour can be too distracting at times. However, in this case, colour seemed to be the best way to go. What else evokes child-like wonder like colour? For me, it was interesting to see the liveliness of colour in a brief moment of time where these little ones felt free, in sharp contrast to their lives in the programme. Most of them lived in shelters or in cars with their families, so I felt it was important to capture the colour and happiness of this place where they could just be kids. When it comes to the editorial process, for me, it is important to edit to photojournalistic standards, which is not to go beyond the basics because it is my job to present the moment as is, this in turn helps not impose our own thoughts or beliefs to the viewers.
Can you tell me about your involvement with Women Photograph?
Every year Women Photograph has a workshop geared towards women photographers and non-binary photographers from around the world. The workshop includes skill building sessions, panels, portfolio reviews and hostile environment training. Every year they select a number of women to attend the workshop and they also allot a travel stipend for photographers travelling from outside of New York. Last year I was one of the lucky 58 women and non-binary photographers chosen to attend. This was the extent of my involvement so far with WP, but I have to say it was an incredible opportunity that helped me grow immensely as a photographer and as a professional. If it wasn’t for WP and meeting the editor of Buzzfeed at the portfolio review I would not have had the opportunity to share Sierra’s story, so I am so grateful for WP and all they offer to help empower women and non-binary photographers. Women Photograph also offer and extensive database of freelance photographers available for hire. They also offer grants and mentorship opportunities which can be found on their website.