Katie Orlinsky is a photographer, journalist and cinematographer from New York City. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science/Latin American Studies from Colorado College and a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University. Orlinksy is currently a contributor with Reportage by Getty Images and regularly works for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and various nonprofit organizations around the world. She was one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch in 2013, and won the Alexia Foundation student award in 2012 and the Pictures of the Year International Emerging Vision Award in 2011 for her long-term photographic project Innocence Assassinated: Living in Mexico’s Drug War.
How did you get started in photojournalism? I studied political science and Latin American Studies, and wasn’t until I moved to Oaxaca, Mexico after graduating college that I became a photographer. I taught myself as I went along, shooting for the local newspaper and sitting in on workshops at the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo. When a conflict broke out in Oaxaca in late 2006, I was in the right place at the right time. I had a very good understanding of the situation, great access and I was fluent in Spanish. It was the first big news story I ever shot, and I loved it, but I knew I could have done better. So after that I committed myself to pursuing a career in photojournalism, mostly because I wanted to make sure that the next time an important story came about, I would be capable of doing it justice.
Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? When I’m in dangerous or strange, far-off places, I like to wear this black knit hat with a short brim. It is super ugly and makes me feel invisible.
What do you think of the photojournalism field at the moment and where do you see it headed? Independent and investigative journalism is crucial, but advocacy journalism (photographers working for NGOs, or being funded by grants and foundations with specific agendas) is becoming the reality. More and more photographers are working for NGOs funded by foundations and the foundations are funded by corporations, and now the same corporations are going to own the newspapers. So it is up to the individual photographer to maintain their integrity in this murky new world.
What is the weirdest thing that happened on a shoot and how did you handle it? I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, photographing a woman in her home. I had just reached the front door when all of a sudden I got drenched in this disgusting, indescribable liquid. It turned out it was a bucket of wastewater that her son had just thrown off the roof. She felt terrible, and I kept trying to make her feel like it was fine, but I smelled so bad I actually wanted to throw up. She couldn’t have been any taller than 4’9,” but she insisted I change into some of her clothes. I finally did the shoot smelling like god-knows-what and wearing too-small pajamas
What is your biggest challenge as a photographer? I think it’s patience. Good work takes time, and a story is rarely ever truly finished. And even after it is “done,” it takes more time to get the work recognized, supported and seen by those who need to see it. This can be especially frustrating when dealing with photojournalism and stories that are time-sensitive. I was working in Mexico for years before the work was recognized and supported by editors and foundations.
How do you stay inspired? Other people’s stories are what inspire me most. Maybe that comes from being born and raised in New York City, immersed in all that diversity. But reading the news, listening to the radio, talking to strangers and generally keeping up-to-date on current events is the main way I find inspiration.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Hustle and don’t be shy! E-mail, make calls, meet people at photography events, sneak into offices, do what you have to do! Meet with editors at the publications you want to work for and the photographers whose work you admire, or who are simply doing what you want to be doing. You will get rejected and blown off a lot, but not all the time.