Discovering the work of new photographers is a joy, and every year it is exciting to see which photographers get recognized for their talent. Many lists are published throughout the industry of who’s hot and upcoming, but one of the most defining is the The 30 list. It used to be limited to young photographers (30 under 30), but in recent years it has expanded to include all ages, and has continued despite the folding of Photo District News, which originally sponsored the list. The range of talent is remarkable — fashion, fine art, documentary, and commercial work are all represented, and being named on the list is a coveted honor. Everyone on the list is worth checking out — you’re sure to see these names crop up more in the future, and in the meantime, we compiled a list of our favorite Instagram accounts to follow.
BuzzFeed News also spoke with Conor Risch, one of the editors involved in selections for this year’s list, about the selection process.
What are some characteristics that jurors look for when selecting photographers? Is it experience, range of work, vision, or some combination therein?
Yes, a combination. Certainly the work and creative vision of the photographer are paramount, but we also consider factors such as consistency: Does the photographer create at a high level across several projects, bodies of work, or assignments? Depending on the type of work, we also will consider factors such as perspective, the uniqueness of the stories they tell, or the concepts underlying the work. Another implicit criteria is a photographer’s ability to edit their own work and put together a strong submission.
What makes this list an industry standard? It used to be for up-and-coming talent (30 under 30) — do you still focus on younger artists?
The fact that The 30 has been around since 1999 probably has something to do with its place in the industry, and I like to think the work the PDN magazine staff put into the program was a big factor as well. The nomination and submission process is also essential to the program. A lot of people who work in the photo industry have contributed to The 30 over the years by nominating photographers; more than 650 photographers have been featured; and thousands of photographers have submitted their work.
Age used to be a factor, but we got rid of the age limitation several years ago because we saw that people were becoming professional photographers at different stages of their lives. The 30 is still a list focused on “New and Emerging Photographers to Watch”; however we are focused more on experience than age, and we consider people who have worked as full-time professionals for five or fewer years at the time they submit their work for consideration.
Now that the Photo District News magazine is defunct, are former editorial staff still involved? How is The 30 supporting photographers, especially now?
Two former members of the Photo District News staff — myself and art director Sharon Ber — are still involved. One of the goals of The 30 is to celebrate these folks and the work they’ve put into pursuing a career in a challenging industry. The list is really focused on working photographers, so we hope it helps expose the photographers to people who will hire them or curate them into shows or offer them other opportunities. We also hope it gives the photographers a boost of confidence if they need that. Certainly this year it’s been nice to hear from quite a few of the photographers that The 30 has generated some positive energy during a really challenging time for all of us. I also really love to see that other photographers congratulate and support their peers when we release the list, and to see how a lot of other people throughout the industry do the same.
Another goal of The 30 is to offer education and information to everyone who is interested in photography, particularly working and aspiring photographers. We want the profile of each photographer to give readers some insight into both the creative and business sides of building a career. We also create educational programming so others can learn from the examples these folks are setting. Several of the photographers appeared in four talks last week about career building, which are still up on-demand on PHOTOPLUS+, which is free with registration if people want to check it out. We plan to host monthly conversations throughout the next year, and we also hope to soon be able to host in-person discussions at photography schools, which has been a big part of the program in the past.