Photojournalist David Degner
"A great photo introduces the viewer to a new complexity in the world"
Interview: Nezih Tavlas / January 19, 2022
( Courtesy of David Degner)
Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?
David Degner: These questions they remind me of the Proust questionnaire, forcing me to take a moment and look at who I am as a photographer.
My interest in photojournalism stemmed from a recognition of my own—and America’s—ignorance of Islam and the Middle East in the wake of 9/11 and its wars. After studying photojournalism and philosophy, I moved to Cairo just before the start of the Arab Spring in 2011.
Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?
David Degner: My latest kit is a Sony A7r III, Profoto lights and an Autel Evo II Drone. My favorite camera is an old Sony A7 II that I converted to shoot infrared photos .
Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?
David Degner: I post mainly on my own website. It’s far more flexible than most social media platforms allowing me to publish short photo stories from around Boston and keep my archive of stories from the last 15 years. I also post irregularly on Instagram
Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?
David Degner: I prepare myself by researching and making sure my lens is clean.
My newest camera bag is a Prius. It has so many places to store all of the gear I might need for any assignment. So I will walk into a situation with a camera and hip bag of lenses, then return to my car as the situation changes to get lights, drone, different camera, or special lenses.
Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?
David Degner: Most of my work is a mixture of daily assignments from publications and personal projects where I pursue a unique idea. I am especially interested in what other people believe and actually enjoy when someone has a political rant for me or tries to convert me to their religion.
Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?
David Degner: Once I traveled for a year with 50 rolls of T-Max. Now I shoot a few hundred frames in a day.
Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?
David Degner: The last trip was to Nepal for a commercial photography job with an exercise company. We spent almost a month hiking up to Mount Everest. The vast majority of my photography now is in Boston and around New England.
Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?
David Degner: My current personal project is about shows of military force in a civilian context.
Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?
David Degner: My personal favorite photos is The Burning Bush, shot in Tahrir square on the first day of the Egyptian revolution. It was a photo that marked a significant change in my life and the life of many Egyptians.
Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?
David Degner: Each photo has a different message. But, the unifying theme is probably that the world isn’t as simple as we want it to be.
(All images © Courtesy of David Degner)
Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?
David Degner: A great photo introduces the viewer to a new complexity in the world and helps them see the world in a new way.
Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?
David Degner: Most photos are simple derivatives of each other so they float in and out of our daily lives without much of an effect. But unique photos hit hard and will linger in my memory for days or years.
Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?
David Degner: I enjoy the process, the people that I meet, the things that I learn, and the stories I get to share.
Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?
David Degner: Moving to Boston is the biggest risk I have taken so far. Like every move I have to rebuild my whole knowledge base, and connect with new clients. But I enjoy that rebuilding process, it allows me to reinvent myself in many ways.
Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?
David Degner: I’ve been working on my dream assignment for Smithsonian Magazine for the last 6 months, but I’ll wait until it’s published to share the details.
Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?
David Degner: Curiosity, empathy, and frugality.
Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?
David Degner: We don’t manipulate photos in ways that deceive the audience. Whenever that happens we erode trust and cheapen the whole genre of photojournalistic photos.
Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?
David Degner: There are many ethical questions around photojournalism. I’d suggest spending some time at https://www.photoethics.org to explore them. I even did a podcast on ethics there.
Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?
David Degner: As partisans and nation states sow miss-information the moral code of photojournalists will become more important and continue to provide a valuable service, if we can hold it together.
Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?
David Degner: Young photojournalists are having a good conversation amongst themselves and aren’t making the mistakes of my generation. I should probably be taking advice from them.
David Degner is a photographer in Boston working for publications and on personal projects. He studied Photojournalism and Philosophy at Western Kentucky University, interned at several newspapers, and moved to Egypt. For more than 8 years he lived in Egypt photographing cultural stories and covering the revolutions around the Middle East. Recently he returned to the US to photograph this unique era in America.