Guestagrammer of the Week: AJ Chavar
Momenta welcomes this week’s guestagrammer, AJ Chavar!
Current job: Staff Video Journalist, New York Times
Current location: Washington, DC
Connection to Momenta: Became a member of the #MomentaFamily through my time at Syracuse University
Tell us about your journey as an image-maker and how you got to where you are today.
I think my journey has been almost equally spontaneous and carefully planned. My father was a wire photographer when I was very young, covering conflict, but I never earnestly picked up a camera as anything other than a curiosity until mid-high school – I was studying very hard to be an engineer but I was immediately hooked on the technical and artistic combination of photography. So, in college, I studied photography, worked at the campus paper, and planned to be a photojournalist – but I’ve actually never done any still photojournalism professionally. I ended up going straight into video when I noticed how much the industry was changing as I got closer to leaving school.
What stories or issues are you most passionate about covering?
Right now I’m very immersed in politics for the Times. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of working on the Hill, and I’m most passionate about covering the upshot that policy and lawmaking has on people outside of Washington. I think nearly all journalists are passionate about covering inequality, and that really struck home for me recently covering the week of unrest and protests in Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s funeral.
Where do you look for inspiration for your work: books, movies, authors, photographers, art, certain people?
The first place I look to is what my peers are doing, especially friends. I think that the photo communities in NYC and DC are incredibly strong, and the work being produced is so varied. Having so many friends and peers and a tight network is important. It forces you to up your game and provides a support network when you’re not feeling so great about your last (or next) assignment. I get a lot of inspiration for individual projects by cruising YouTube and Vimeo and getting fixated on one user or one technique. Then I try to break that apart and make it work for me. I also love cartoons because there is no limit for where the camera can be or how it can move, so you see how well the artists construct a sequence and it gives you ideas. Finally, being in DC means LOTS of free art museums. I normally pop in to one or the other at least once a month. Even if you’re not inspired directly while there, surrounding yourself with beautiful things doesn’t hurt.
What social media or news feeds do you follow regularly?
Way too many to list. It’s a necessity for modern journalism to at least be lurking on Twitter. I use Tweetdeck while I’m in the office to organize different types of feeds, and follow relevant hashtags on my phone whenever I’m in the thick of it reporting. I do make sure to read the Times’ news briefings that we offer in our NYTNow app mornings and nights, and our First Draft politics newsletters. I also think it’s incredibly important to follow industry news, both in photo/video and journalism at large, so I follow BagNewsNotes, Poynter, etc. as well.
What is one passion you have outside of photography that might come as a surprise to our readers?
I’m a huge fan of being outdoors as much as possible. Last year I started rock climbing, which is fast becoming a favorite pasttime. Mountain biking is also a great way to exhaust yourself. In terms of finding my zen, I’ve been snowboarding for about 15 years or so – I actually used to compete at the national level, and did halfpipe and slopestyle – but now I just love to cruise. Very few things make me feel more at peace than that.
What can we expect to see next week from your “guestagramming” on our Momenta Instagram account?
I’m sharing a personal project that I’m pretty passionate about. It’s essentially an essay on using my camera to make sense of my own issues with depression, social anxiety, and isolation – super fun stuff, I know, but the point for me is that photography is a way to exercise control over these parts of my life that make me feel not so in control sometimes. You can read more about the project on my website.
#seizethemomenta, and follow @momentaworkshops on Instagram May 31 – June 6 to see AJ’s personal work!
About the author…
Manuela Marin Salcedo
Manuela Marin Salcedo is a research and development team member and content developer at Momenta Workshops. Her expertise is in visual communications and social media.