“I spend a lot of time getting to know my subjects,” Toensing said. “My hope is to have that show high in my imagery.”
Kitra Cahana, at 25 one of the younger photographers in the show, left home at 16 to begin her photographic career. By 21 she had an internship at National Geographic that took her to the mountains of Venezuela to shoot a religious cult. She spent weeks among them and captured their annual sacred rituals, including a man jumping through fire, an image that’s alarming and somehow transcendent, since the viewer knows he lives.
In Texas, Cahana had the assignment of being “embedded” in a loud and vibrant public high school, a world away from her conservative Jewish upbringing, to learn about how the teenage brain works.
“As a photojournalist, this is what we do. We embed ourselves in the lives of people with vastly different cultures, vastly different value systems,” she said, sitting among her photographs. “What I’m looking for is an intimate relationship with the subject so I can be there when the intimate thing happens. It requires being part of the landscape.”
Cahana went to class in the Austin high school and after 10 weeks was accepted as “NGeo photo girl.” Her picture of two girls getting their tongues pierced depicts a rite of passage and a sign of acceptance in teen society.
“It takes being a tabula rasa” – a blank slate – she said of taking photographs, “without a judgment or value system.”
Her experience has stayed with her. “A lot of the world’s history was made by teenagers,” she said.
Asked where she lives, Cahana said, “I don’t live anywhere.” She has her backpack, sleeping bag, laptop and camera, always ready for the next – as she puts it – adventure.
Erika Larsen, another photographer, spent several years getting to know the Sami people of Northern Europe, above the Arctic Circle in Norway and Sweden. In the process, Larsen, who’s of Norwegian descent, learned the language of the Sami and came to appreciate their handling of the reindeer on the tundra that’s their livelihood.
“I worked as a housekeeper for one family so I was able to take photographs,” Larsen said.
She sat in front of one of her enlarged photographs, of a charming teenage girl, Ella-Li, with white-blond hair and blue eyes, wearing a plaid scarf that’s emblematic of the Sami.
“There is a light and dark sense of the Sami,” Larsen said. “She represented the lighter side.”
Her goal in her photojournalism: “I look for the more silent time that can be created.”
The photographers want their images to speak for themselves, and they range from Diane Cook’s haunting landscapes to Beverly Joubert’s gasp-inducing close-ups of leopards to Jodi Cobb’s groundbreaking work documenting 21st-century slavery.