We talk to Pixsy featured artist Amanda Mustard about what it’s been like surviving the years of instant noodle dinners to become a resourceful and responsible photojournalist. We also discuss how and why female photojournalists are disrupting the industry.
It seems there is never a dull moment in the life of talented photojournalist Amanda Mustard, as she strives to show difficult topics from a fresh perspective. Originally from Pennsylvania, she is currently based in Bangkok. Her chosen career has already placed her in a variety of challenging environments, and life-changing situations.
“I’ve shot between the front lines of Egypt’s revolution and a tennis ball factory in Thailand, and have chased pythons with firefighters and seen countries experience massive shifts before my eyes. This week I’m shooting a Buddhist pet cremation ceremony – It’s an exciting job, and keeps me constantly learning.”
Amanda is inspired by those who take risks, go against the grain for the greater good, or who “overcome and turn their pain into something productive”. She credits these people with inspiring her to pick up a camera to share their stories. When asked what makes a great image, she says “one that tells a story, and maintains the dignity of those in it”.
It’s apparent that Amanda has a deep respect for photography and photojournalism, as well as an emotional attachment to her chosen line of work. “I’m really sentimental, and took photographs since I was a teenager to try and hold onto moments around me”. Her sensitivity is tempered by a level head and a courageous temperament, and she says of her career so far, “It’s been incredibly challenging, but equally rewarding in the interesting people, places, and things I have the privilege of experiencing. It’s not a bad way to spend a life if you have the resourcefulness and endurance to make it in such a tough industry climate”.
Amanda is a strong advocate for better conditions for modern creative freelancers, especially where physical and mental risk is involved. In Cairo, during the Arab Spring, she cut her teeth in the industry.
“The rules of the game completely changed due to shrinking budgets and high-turnover newsrooms. It’s left freelancers incredibly vulnerable in their work, with low pay and/or no expenses or insurance coverage, with high risks of mental or physical injury, or even death – it’s a critical issue that needs immense improvement for integrity and sustainability of this industry”
As well as advocating for her fellow freelancers, Amanda is also outspoken about the diversity crisis within the photo industries: “The world is, for the most part, only getting perspectives of Western men, which is detrimental to the very purpose of what we do. There’s a web of factors deeply ingrained in the culture of photography, including issues of sexism and harassment, that need to be addressed aggressively and honestly if we want to change the opportunities available and storytelling representation in our industry”.
When discussing equal gender representation, Amanda takes the opportunity to mention some of her peers. Andrea Bruce has spent the past eight years chronicling the world’s most troubled areas for the Washington Post. In 2012, she was the recipient of the first Chris Hondros Fund Award for the “commitment, willingness, and sacrifice shown in her work.”
Sara Hylton – a freelance photographer based in Mumbai, India – covers women, conflict, and migration, working for top news outlets as well as several non-profit organizations.
Alex Kay Potter is a photographer and journalist from the Midwest working mostly in the Middle East. Her work explores conflict and trust, loss and isolation within communities and relationships.
Amanda also mentions Stephanie Sinclair when talking about her influences: “I’ve always been inspired by the female photojournalists like Andrea Bruce and Stephanie Sinclair, whose work has such nuance and dignity – it’s clear when significant time is invested and respect is shown in the approach”.
Amanda Mustard also points to diversify.photo and nativesphotograph.com, as well as the roster of womenphotograph.com. Women Photograph is an initiative that launched in 2017 to elevate the voices of women visual journalists. The private database includes more than 700 independent women documentary photographers based in 91 countries, and is available privately to any commissioning editor or organization. Women Photograph also operates an annual series of project grants for emerging and established photojournalists, a year-long mentorship program, and a travel fund to help female photographers access workshops, festivals, and other developmental opportunities. Their website states “our mission is to shift the gender makeup of the photojournalism community and ensure that our industry’s chief storytellers are as diverse as the communities they hope to represent. We believe that gender is a spectrum. Women Photograph is inclusive of a plurality of feminine voices including trans, queer and non-binary people”.
Very much motivated by the diverse connections and experiences photography gives her, Amanda warns aspiring photographers that this must be your main motivation. “Photography will never make you rich but will give you a wealth of life experiences. I’m incredibly grateful for all the fascinating people I’ve met, the homes I’ve been welcomed into, the history I’ve witnessed, and bizarre situations I’ve found myself in because of a camera”. She is quick to again point out that photojournalism is not a get rich quick career plan.
“Be very aware of the financial state of this industry, and be prepared to for your first few years to be full of instant noodle dinners”.
Canon is Amanda Mustard’s go to for gear. She’s currently shooting with D Mark III and IV bodies. Ever keen to share her knowledge she puts together annual recommendation lists for gear she’s found useful for business on her blog.
Particular software she mentions is “Photo Mechanic for asset management, Lightroom for editing, Pixsy for managing copyright infringements, and Fotoquote for job pricing”. When discussing image theft she says, “I think most photographers have experience with having their photos stolen – sometimes it’s an innocent lack of education around copyright, sometimes it’s more blatant theft. I used to feel helpless, but using Pixsy has empowered me to be a better businesswoman and secure licensing fees where they are due”.
So what does the future hold for this inspiring young photographer? A long-term documentary film project in the US is in the works with any sales from her prints currently go towards funding this, “it’s really exciting to be learning a new craft as an extension of my photography”.
Although not “a big Twitter person” you can follow Amanda on Instagram at @amandamustard.