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11 Memorable Photo Challenges For Photo Editors In 2018

Never a dull moment on the photo desk.

Posted on December 31, 2018, at 10:17 a.m. ET

The photo desk at BuzzFeed News has the privilege of working with the entire newsroom, working to conceptualize the best way to visually tell stories alongside the reporting, hire photographers to go out in the field, and show readers the most compelling images. Our days are never boring, as we are constantly shifting gears between diverse topics such as BDSM, gun violence, immigration, and celebrity profiles. A lot of our work is collaborative, building a connection between the person at the center of the story, the photographer, and the reporter.

Here is a sample of some of our most challenging and most interesting assignments in 2018.

“Finding God in Kink”

Megan Mack for BuzzFeed News

“This story examined the connection between dominatrices in New York City and their conservative Jewish clients. When I was told this assignment involved a photo shoot in a BDSM dungeon in the city, my initial concern was sourcing the right photographer. Megan Mack’s work on sexuality had been on my radar, so I texted her to ask if she’d be comfortable shooting a dominatrix and her client in a real dungeon. Her response was immediate: 'Where and when???'

It took calls to a couple of dungeons and some convincing on the part of myself and the writer (who has worked as a dom in the past) to secure a location. Even though we promised complete anonymity in the portraits for both subjects, there was so much at stake for Mistress Rose and ‘Moishe’ that I wasn't certain if they would go through with the shoot until the last possible moment. Happily, they did, because what Mack was able to capture is an unparalleled look at the Orthodox Jewish and BDSM worlds intersecting in a most interesting way." —Laura Geiser, senior photo editor, BuzzFeed News

“ICE Agents Are Frustrated at How the Public Perceives Their Job”

Dania Maxwell for BuzzFeed News

"Dania Maxwell really rose to the challenge on this one. I called her with an action-packed assignment covering ICE raids that would start in the middle of the night, with no light, and also we couldn't show faces. Of anyone. Not the people being arrested, not the immigration agents, nothing. Dania took this creative challenge in stride, coming back with enough photos to show the entire booking process from the pre-raid paperwork to the eventual detention of several individuals, an impressive feat for four hours of work." —Kate Bubacz, deputy photo director, BuzzFeed News

"Nathan Mathis struggled to accept his daughter when she came out to him. When she killed herself in 1995 at age 23, he became an activist for LGBT rights, and we decided to share his story of pain turned to activism with our readers. The photo plan was to shadow Mathis across a few days of events, including a Pride parade, an LGBT-friendly church service, and a PFLAG award presentation. I hired photographer Wes Frazer because I wanted his unique voice to tie the events together into one visually dynamic story as opposed to a straightforward documentation of a few loosely connected occasions. Frazer provided more incredible images than I was (sadly) able to include, but what we put together was warm, cohesive, and honored the story of Mathis's mission." —LG

“This Is What the World Looks Like for Kids Traveling With the Caravan”

The Aguilera family for BuzzFeed News

"This story idea was from Adolfo Flores, our immigration reporter who had spent extensive time with a caravan of migrants earlier in the year and knew that the kids would be both eager and bored. Handing out the cameras was thus relatively easy. Getting them back was less so, as the chaos of several thousand people moving made it hard to find families again. I worked with him to figure out possible story frames that we could use, especially worried that the kids wouldn't be seen as either exploited or trite, and the best way to edit the piece together when the scans came back. We were both pleased and surprised with the level of skill that the kids had with cameras and proud to share their viewpoint." —KB

“Fatal Errors”

Zack Wittman for BuzzFeed News

"This heartbreaking story about people who have accidentally shot friends and loved ones (often with deadly outcomes) called for a soft touch by the photographer to gain the trust of the two subjects, making them comfortable enough to open up to us. Zack Wittman traveled to two different cities to meet both Alexis and Anthony. I had asked Wittman to follow their leads and levels of comfort, but to push for visuals of the weapon and the wounds. Most important for me as an editor on this story was to publish strong visuals that adequately represented the life-altering consequences of accidental shootings for both the victim and the shooter. Wittman's intimate portraits of Alexis with the gun in her bedroom and Anthony shirtless in his living room cut to the heart of Albert Samaha's tragic reporting." —LG

“The Lucky Ones”

Ilana Panich-Linsman for BuzzFeed News

"Documenting a refugee family settling into US norms and culture is often visually riveting enough, but this story sought to capture the difficulties of a refugee family doing all those things while also caring for a child with special needs. For this assignment it was imperative to hire someone who could quickly gain the trust of family members and fade into the background when necessary. I chose photographer Ilana Panich-Linsman for the careful care I knew she'd bring to the subject matter as well as her keen eye for finding where the heart of the story is about to unfold. When she filed her images to me, I was blown away by how expertly she captured the love, hardship, and fatigue the family experiences each and every day. " —LG

“I'm Ill, Not Sick”

Emin Ozmen for BuzzFeed News

"This was a hard one to report. The idea of consent had to be considered with people dealing with addictions and those in the throes of withdrawal; safety and access were dodgy at best for part of the reporting trip with dealers and drug dens. Photographer Emin Ozmen and Chriss, his fixer, hit something like four cities in two weeks to explore the full scope of the tramadol crisis. Everyone with a drug addiction had a hard story; those who were treating people with addictions had a different opinion on what was needed. The final edit of photos filed was beautiful, moving, and comprehensive, allowing each individual a dignity and a piece of truth as a part of a larger, more complex issue." —KB

“These People Want You to Know Why They Are Coming to America”

Luc Forsyth for BuzzFeed News

"After breaking the news of the first caravan in April, Luc Forsyth and I worked out a few different ideas that could be approached after the foreign press showed up — and that would look radically different from the other stories being filed. The people were too afraid to show their faces after meeting with immigration lawyers. And the light was bad — too hot and too high in the sky for good portraits. Lighting gear wasn't an option with all the moving around, so Luc improvised a setup and coaxed the people he'd spent weeks traveling with to talk, pulling together a simple but powerful photo essay while everyone else was waiting on news." —KB

“The Trump of Pahrump”

Joe Buglewicz for BuzzFeed News

“This assignment began straightforward enough but with a small twist. I wanted a photographer who could bring the political rally of an unorthodox candidate in Nevada to life. The event was for congressional candidate Dennis Hoff, who also happened to be a pimp, ahead of the midterm elections. The night of the rally came and went without incident, but the following day I received an urgent call from photographer Joe Buglewicz that changed everything. Just hours after Buglewicz photographed Hoff leaving his rally and looking well, he was found dead at one of his brothels. The story we planned to run days later was scheduled to be published immediately. Buglewicz filed his files so quickly and deftly that there was enough time for me to fill the story as well as build out a photo essay of Hoff's last day, in which he seemed happy, healthy, and focused on a win in November, an honor he was indeed bestowed with posthumously." —LG

"The Asset"

Melissa Lyttle for BuzzFeed News

"Every now and again our Investigations team likes to surprise us with a story, and this was one of them. Our reporters had been talking with Felix Sater for awhile and suddenly all the details were falling into place. The piece would publish the next day and could we get portraits? In LA? Immediately? Luckily, Melissa Lyttle is incredible at on-the-fly portraits, and we were able to sweet-talk our way into a conference room and hotel bar to use as a studio a few hours after this hit my desk. The portraits came out exactly as we wanted, moody and evocative." —KB

"Neko Case Is Telling The Truth"

Victoria Will for BuzzFeed News

"This shoot was a delight. Not only is Victoria Will amazing with lighting, but she is also great to hang out with. We built a set with all kinds of plants, some sourced from our office hallway. Neko Case was down for all our different setups and gave us extra time, which rarely occurs. We used a fan on her gorgeous signature hair, much to the delight of my boss. Rarely are shoots so smooth, the pictures so good, the day so fun. Here's to more adventures like this in the coming year." —KB



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