How to Follow Your Passion for PhotographyPosted December 2, 2021, 12:00 am by
Fanta Diop, born and raised in the South Bronx, is currently a freshman at Middlebury College with an intended major in International and Global Studies with a focus on African Studies. Read on to hear about her experience with photography — from winning the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards to being published in the New York Times!
The Pursuit for Photography
"The story of how I first began photography is actually one of my favorite stories to tell. It’s essentially a story of me being incredibly persistent and quite frankly a little nosey that got me to where I am today.
I first began photographing when I was 11 years old as a member of the Bronx Documentary Center’s Junior Photo League. Prior to taking classes at the BDC, I had no real interest in photography let alone any experience. I had lived one block away from the Bronx Documentary Center for as long as I could remember but had never ventured in until one day when I saw one of the junior photo classes as I walked home. I remember a group of kids around my age all holding these small pink Sony cameras photographing this dog.
"It’s essentially a story of me being incredibly persistent and quite frankly a little nosey that got me to where I am today."
Mike Kamber, the founder of the BDC, was teaching the class at the time and saw me staring at the students and offered me a camera to join in. I stayed for the class and ended up bringing home an application for the BJPL. Initially, I was so excited to show my mom the application but she was quite hesitant about this random photo class that I was suddenly interested in. Every time I would bring home an application for her to fill out she would throw it away, it took me three tries to finally get her to even consider the class. She eventually agreed and the rest is history."
Building Photography Skills
"I think my genuine interest in photography is what led me to get better. I was constantly taking photos and sharing them with my peers and teachers. Each person I showed my work to viewed it with a different lens and allowed me to have varying perspectives about my work that differed from my own. The more I photographed the more technical methods I learned about.
Eventually, I switched from digital photography to film photography and that switch taught me the most important lessons about photographing. When using film my opportunities weren’t infinite. I only had 36 tries. I had to be cognizant of what I was shooting, I had to make every shot matter. Film taught me to understand composition, aperture, shutter speed, and to utilize light. It also taught me the importance of storytelling. Every image should have a story to tell whether it is standing alone or a part of a larger piece. I improved by watching others.
"I was constantly taking photos and sharing them with my peers and teachers. Each person I showed my work to viewed it with a different lens and allowed me to have varying perspectives about my work that differed from my own."
My biggest inspirations were my teachers at the Bronx Documentary Center. Every teacher had a different style of shooting, and I’ve incorporated different aspects of their individual styles into my own work. Outside of my teachers, I gained inspiration and knowledge from photographers around the world. People such as Kadir van Lohuizen, Emilie Regnier, Yael Martínez, Eugene Richards, Victor Blue, the list goes on all have incredible bodies of work that I look to for technical skills, inspiration, and information on unfamiliar topics."
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
"I first began entering my work into Scholastic at the suggestion of my teachers at the Bronx Documentary Center. I can still remember the excitement of entering my first competition and winning my first gold medal. It was truly surreal to win because it meant that my photography was greater than me, it was reaching audiences I couldn’t even imagine. Around the same time as my Scholastic win, I had my photos published in the New York Times. I was still in middle school at the time and couldn’t even fathom that a publication like the Times caredabout images taken by a young Black girl in the South Bronx, let alone publish them! Both the Scholastic win and the Times publication were a huge deal in my little West African household. My mother called every extended family member imaginable and she still has the original newspaper clipping from that day. It showed us that I could possibly have a future in photography.
I have been a student at the Bronx Documentary Center since I was 11 years old and celebrated my 18th birthday this October. After 7 incredible years, I graduated from the program this past June. I’ve come a long way and owe a lot of my success to the Bronx Documentary Center. I’m currently a freshman at Middlebury College in Vermont and I hope to study International and Global Studies with a focus in African Studies and possibly a minor in Black Studies!
I definitely want to continue to pursue my photography and ultimately move to Mali and travel all across the African continent. Photography has truly changed my life. After spending most of my formative years as a part of the Bronx Junior Photo League I can say that the program has shown me that there's more to life than meets the eye. I’ve been shown worlds far beyond my little South Bronx neighborhood and I will forever be grateful for that."
Advice to Young Artists
"A final piece of advice I would like to leave with teens just like me who have found their calling in photography is simply to stay true to yourself. Your vision, ideas, and perspective are all so unique to you and that is something you need to embrace. There were many times where I would photograph and think to myself, “no one will care” but the truth is that as long as I had even the slightest interest in what I was photographing meant that it mattered.
"Stay true to yourself. Your vision, ideas, and perspective are all so unique to you and that is something you need to embrace."
It is important to put yourself out there. I know I say that as if it’s simple but I completely understand how hard it is to have to do that with work that is personal to you but often sharing your work opens you up to kinds of opportunities you couldn’t even imagine. Beyond the opportunities, the connections I made withpeople through my work is truly the biggest driving force for me sharing my work. I’ve met all kinds of people whocould relate to my photos that made it all worthwhile."