Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Talking with Nicole Tung (CAS '09): Photojournalist in the Middle East

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Nicole Tung graduated from NYU in 2009 with degrees in Journalism and History. Since then, she has been traveling throughout the Arab world following developments that hold significant international importance.

Much of Nicole's time has been spent in Egypt, Libya, and (currently) Syria. Her work has been widely recognized and awarded by organizations including the International Photography Awards, The Maybach Foundation, Women in Photojournalism, the Hearst Foundation and the NYPPA.

As a young, twenty-six-year-old photographer, Nicole captures intimate moments of historical significance that a vast majority of the Western world would otherwise never see. Despite the inherent dangers, she says it is her duty to tell these stories.

NYU Arts and Science Alumni Relations: As a young photographer, to what do you attribute your early successes?

Nicole Tung: Being in a place like New York. I attended photo shows and met some close friends there, I was able to connect to some of the biggest newspapers and magazines to meet editors. It took me a long time to build up a portfolio but I kept pushing for meetings, I shared ideas and grew into a network of young photographers. I also looked up to a lot of experienced photographers like Chris Hondros of Getty Images, and although he was a close friend, he was also an important mentor to me. I was able to sign a freelance contract with The New York Times after graduating in 2009 and from there I began taking assignments in New York.

Alumni Relations: How do you decide where your next shoot will take place?

Nicole: Often my next assignment or shoot is dependent on the news and current events, so it's always hard to set a schedule or place to follow. Right now, I'm following Syria closely, but last year, I spent most of my time in Libya. I think my generation of photographers has had an amazing opportunity to witness the changes in the Arab world over the past year and a half. I think it's our responsibility to continue documenting it.

Alumni Relations: And in documenting such internationally significant events, the images you capture are often quite emotional or graphic. Can you recall any certain situation that was particularly moving for you as a witness from behind the camera?

Nicole: When I'm in the physical and mental act of taking a photograph, I'm not thinking about the international importance of it. I'm thinking about the human aspect of what I'm witnessing. In Libya, it was young men from various backgrounds making the transition from civilian to fighter. In Syria, it has been the senseless loss of so many innocent people.

One particularly moving moment was when I was in Maarat al Noman in June 2012. I photographed the women of a family grieving over a 22-year old French Literature student. He was studying for final exams when shelling in the city started. He wanted to help the wounded outside and was killed by another incoming round. It was so powerful and moving because none of it made any sense. The women gathered around his body and read passages from the Koran, but they found it so difficult to read on as they were overcome by grief.

Alumni Relations: Have you ever been in a life-threatening situation?

Nicole: Yes. I think I've been in many life-threatening situations and sometimes I don't even realize it when I come out of it and reflect on it. Libya was a deadly war, and Syria even more so. The regime's of Gaddafi and Assad stop at nothing, and civilians, journalists, fighters are all targeted.

Just yesterday I left the seemingly calm city of Aleppo to the outskirts, no more than 10 kilometers away, and as I got out of the car, a short but heavy burst of shelling began and the impacts were probably no more than 100 meters away from me. A colleague of mine saw two women rush past with bloodied faces. Two were killed in that shelling.

Sometimes it's easy to think you won't be affected, that you can be invincible after surviving so many scenarios, but there is always a fear that you will be next. I learned many sobering lessons from the deaths of Chris Hondros, Tim Hetherington, and Marie Colvin, all of whom were friends. It doesn't make me want to stop in this profession but it certainly makes me think a lot more about my mortality.

Alumni Relations: How do you choose between black and white or color photography?

Nicole: Choosing between black and white and color photography really depends on the subject. I decided to show my Libya work [See: "The Libyan Uprising" and "Uprising in Libya: Exodus"] in black and white because I want to continue with it, there was a certain kind of mood I wanted to convey which I felt color wouldn't do justice to. It really depends on the situation and subject.

Alumni Relations: You have been all over the world. Do you have any crazy travel stories?

Nicole: There are always hitches when you're traveling. But the best, and most tiring trip was taking a bus from Kashgar in Western China all the way down to Islamabad, Pakistan, on the Karakoram Highway.

It's the highest international highway in the world and it stretches across some of the most incredible landscape I have ever seen, weaving through villages of Central Asian ethnicities and stunning mountain ranges near K2. The way of life in some of these areas was as though they'd never been touched by the outside world. I loved that purity, and meeting the local villagers who were very hospitable.

It took about two days to reach northern Pakistan, and another crazy 32-hour bus ride from Gilgit to Islamabad on a bus full of crying babies, mothers, and young men with wild looks in their eyes. All the while, Pakistani music was blaring from the speakers. We stopped in the dead of the night to buy food, take toilet breaks, and smoke cigarettes. A bus full of complete strangers making a journey together.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Receptionist: Janet Groth (GSAS '68, '82) Discusses Her Education at NYU and the New Yorker

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In her recent memoir, "The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker," Janet Groth transports us back in time to the New Yorker offices from 1957 to 1978 where she worked as a receptionist on the 18th floor.

Groth's tales are filled with colorful personalities from E.B White (who hired her) to poet John Berryman (who proposed marriage), essayist Joseph Mitchell (who took her to lunch every Friday), and playwright Muriel Spark (who invited her to Christmas dinner in Tuscany), as well as E. J. Kahn, Calvin Trillin, Renata Adler, Peter Devries, Charles Addams, and many others.

Just as the movies once painted a picture of New York City for the young woman from Iowa, now Groth paints us a picture of what it was like as a woman working at The New Yorker during the span of 21 years.

Listen to our interview with Janet Groth with the player below or Download this episode (right click and save)

Click here to purchase a copy of "The Receptionist: An Education at the New Yorker." Click here for more information on Janet Groth.

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