Assignments The Press Photographer Year

How (some) photographers around the world make a living

Five photographers share how they make ends meet

The World Press Photo Foundation’s annual survey on The State of News Photography paints a broad and generally grim picture of the lives of photographers around the world. Relatively speaking, few have regular employment, women and those outside of Europe and North America are under-represented, income is low, and assignments are rare. In 2015, “the average photojournalist… was a self-employed man aged 30–50, earning less than $30,000 a year from photography, while also making some supplementary income from other sources.” In 2016, only 39 percent of those surveyed said they earn all of their income from photography. As clients and assignments dwindle, many photographers have turned to other photography-related work or found part-time employment in other industries altogether.

I thought it would be interesting to move from this wide view of the industry and get a close-up look at how a few photographers around the world make a living. I spoke to five photographers about their livelihoods and their photography, focusing outside of US, Canada, and western Europe. Photography isn’t an easy way to make a living anywhere in the world, but outside of those places, it’s even more difficult to make ends meet.

I didn’t choose these photographers completely at random, but I also didn’t want to speak to photographers who may be outliers in their region. My goal was to talk to photographers at different stages of their respective careers and who have figured out a way to make a living as a photographer, whatever that may mean to them. These photographers, like many others I’ve met around the world, have figured out a way to cobble together a career. In our conversations, a few common themes emerged:

  • Editorial assignments are welcome, but can’t be relied on;
  • Local markets can’t generally sustain a photographer, but it’s difficult to get attention outside of one’s home country; and
  • It’s important to shape one’s own photographic ecosystem.

Imre Szabó, 61, in Belgrade, Serbia

I first met Imre Szabó when I attended an opening in Zagreb, Croatia, of Lessons From 91, a traveling group exhibition on the war years of former Yugoslavia, which includes some of his work. “I started in the end of the 1970s. Last century. Last millennium,” Szabó said laughing. In 1980, he started working for the daily Serbian newspaper Politika, the longest-running newspaper in the Balkans and the country’s newspaper of record, and continued until 1995, when he left to become a freelance photographer. “Since then, it is a shitty life,” he said. When asked about how he makes a living as a photographer, Szabó just starts laughing again.

In 1995, the newspapers didn’t want to cover the issues Szabó wanted to cover in the way he wanted to. “Not enough time, not enough film…” He speaks fluent German and began freelancing for the German news weekly Stern. It was during the war years, and international interest in the region was high. He could photograph, translate, drive, and fix for writers. The pay was good and the assignments came often enough.

In 1997, he began working periodically as a photo editor for different publications, but negotiated with the publishers to give him time off when an international assignment came his way. Since that time, though, things have only gotten worse.

“Every year is much worse than the former year… As a young photographer, I could establish my family. The young photographers today [in Serbia]….They have no possibility to earn enough money to establish a normal family. I could pay for that 30 or 40 years ago. Today it is not a possibility.”

Though he perceives little international interest in Serbian news, the refugee crisis in Europe has drawn the eyes of the world back to the Balkans recently and he’s been able to shoot some stories connected with the migration. The UNHCR has become a good client. Sixty percent of his income in 2016 came from assignments from the organization. Some of the assignments have been documentary stories, but others have been coverage of governmental meetings and the like.

And while he used to work frequently for international publications, he’s lost contact with editors outside of Serbia. “In the magazines, if there’s no one there that knows you, you have no work,” he lamented. The local market can’t sustain photographers. “It is not like in America. The publications are mostly all publishing the same things. The same situation with the wire agencies.” At each event he photographs, he sees photographers from the same local publications and wire agencies.

“We are always doing the same things…The problem is that there are a lot of publications here. Not a lot of magazines, but a lot of newspapers. I don’t think that they have interest for good photography, for good stories, for something like that.”

Serbia’s presidential election is currently underway, and because of that Szabó has been able to secure a contract with Fonet, a national press agency. How much does it pay? “Nothing! Almost nothing. Really!!! Really, really….” he trailed off. He then went into the details of the arrangement: the contract is for two months of coverage of the election. He receives less than $400 per month. He said this is a special rate he was able to negotiate because of his history in the industry. And his commitment for that money? “Everything! Possibly more than everything! I am arguing all the time with the owner of the agency [about what he asks me to do.]” An average week under this contract is four days of shooting with three assignments per day.

He has had to diversify his relationship with photography to make ends meet. He teaches workshops in his apartment and through partnerships with local universities. He’s paid to give lectures to foreign students studying in Belgrade about his experiences during the war years. The photography classes are at all levels of photography; he’s taught some people how to hold a camera and others about the procedures for photographing in parliament. He wanted to hold a masterclass for young photographers interested in photographing the news, but they had no money.

As our conversation drew to a close, he was laughing about how difficult things have become. He’s been doing some exhibitions, but they aren’t frequent enough to pay the bills. He hasn’t had much success licensing images from his archive. “The only thing left is micro-stock photography. I plan to do it. It’s much more than nothing.”

Connect with Imre on Blink.

Ruhani Kaur, 39, in New Delhi, India

Ruhani Kaur has been a photographer for 15 years. She had some early success in her career when a year-long project on female feticide won the Days Japan Award in 2005. The work was also exhibited at a biennale in South Korea. “My work took me internationally, but I couldn’t figure out the contacts thing, so I just joined a newspaper.” She worked for a national Indian newspaper for about a year and then joined the staff of Open, a national news magazine where she eventually became a photo editor. She left in 2014, after six years at the magazine.

“I left too late. I should have left earlier. The market’s really dead [for freelancers]. The editorial scene, nationally, is still pretty staffer based….If you’re outside of Delhi or Mumbai, you have a better chance of getting freelance work because there are no staffers there.”

Even staffers in those smaller markets will do some freelance work. “They have the best of both worlds,” she said.

Kaur quit working with Open because she felt that the editorial voice had been compromised by the new government ushered in with the 2014 election of Narendra Modi as prime minister, and she said there were many layoffs around the same time.

“A lot of full editorial departments just changed. A whole journalistic community sort of got out of the industry at the same time. The generation below me never joined as staffers. They were always freelancers. My generation were staffers who came out [of staff jobs] and started freelancing and don’t know what to do.”

When asked how she makes a living, Kaur laughs.

“Yeah….hard times. [Editorial photography] is my side job now. The way the market changes, I do a lot more development stories [with NGOs] because it’s more regular and they still have a day rate….I miss editorial badly. I would love to do a lot more.”

For recent editorial assignments, she’s found herself having to front the expenses for a shoot and then wait six or eight months for the payment to come in.

Starting in 2014, Kaur noticed that most Indian publications began a sincere push for their digital versions. She laughed when asked about the pay for a digital assignment. “It’s really bad. Most of them straight on say that they don’t pay. Some will offer 5,000 rupees [approximately $76] for a photo essay. In print, you still get 15,000 rupees for a photo essay.” But, she estimates there are only a couple of magazines that regularly publish photo essays: her former employer Open and another monthly news magazine called Caravan. “Somehow [Caravan] prefers international photographers, even for Indian stories,” she said. She knows of one or two Indian photographers who regularly do assignments for international publications, but most work as she does, working on a story and then trying to push it out to the editorial market.

“An Indian story comes up twice a year maybe [internationally]. Unless you really have a story ready to offer people, it’s tough.”

Kaur has turned to development organizations to help fund her work, which often focuses on women’s issues. “Financially, they make more sense,” she says of working with these organizations. She has worked with Amnesty International on a story about gang rape survivors. She has worked on stories about climate change, menstrual hygiene, and biodiversity for other organizations. For Care International, she covered the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. In that case, a couple of French publications, including Paris Match, ended up printing some of her images, but they got them as handouts from Care. “It’s good to write that I got published there. [Maybe I would have been] paid more if the magazine paid for the pictures,” she wondered aloud.

“The way I shoot [for a development agency] is very similar to the way I would shoot editorial work,” she said. For Amnesty International, for instance, Kaur said, “They want a journalistic job. There’s no agenda for what they stand for.” Other organizations might focus more on celebrities involved in the project or want more happy stories. “Sometimes they keep out something that is not a great case story, but that I thought was a good image.”

Not all of the organizations pay very well, but for Kaur the trade-off for access is worth it. However, she says:

“They pretty much like to keep the copyright of things. If it’s something I’m working on, I have to negotiate my copyright every time because I see it as the larger body of work. It’s tricky with how much they want you and you want them. Where I want them more than they want me, there’s not much I can do. Maybe they pay me less than my rate, and I make sure I get my copyright.”

She is currently working on a personal project about adolescent girls and has been pitching it to various development agencies. She thinks she’ll work on the project for a year and start pitching it to international publications after the first six months, but the development agency will be crucial in the early stages of the project.

When Kaur started freelancing, she was able to make ends meet pretty easily.

“When you start freelancing so late in your career, you’re really stuck up about how low the bar can get. I was extremely badly paid, even as a photo editor at a magazine. When I started freelancing, I said, ‘Let me try to match that.’ That was pretty easy to do. At three days a month, I could make a month’s salary.”

The inconsistencies of a freelance life make things difficult, though. “It’s erratic. It’s more of a mental game than anything else.” She might go two months without work. When that happens, she said, “I’m going to freak out, think about looking for a job. Then I get an assignment for three or four days, and it’s okay.”

She has done some freelance work as a photo editor. There’s a local arts organization that needs someone to pull images together for an annual summer publication that she has worked for a few times. “I’m not tied to them. It’s decent money. It’s not a photo editor like what I was. It’s more of a compiling job, not creating a visual statement. You need to put in so many hours and create so many slideshows.”

She’s also noticed that more clients are asking for video in addition to stills. While there’s no increase in a day’s pay for the additional work, she says it has led to an increase in the number of days a client is willing to hire her for.

“Every day you sort of question whether you’re going to make it through. My first few years of freelancing went off well because I had two or three clients that paid well. The third year has been scary. I try to be positive about it. I need to do my personal work. Personal work is what I thought I’d do a lot more of when I’m freelancing. If I do good personal work, then I will get editorial work. It’s okay if work’s not coming…I need to keep doing it. To maintain quality, I need to keep it going. Otherwise I get sidelined trying to make ends meet.”

She has an 8-year-old daughter, and her husband only works two days a week at a start-up. “That’s one reason I really need to make this year count.”

Connect with Ruhani on Blink.

Alexander Aksakov, 31, in St. Petersburg, Russia

Alexander Aksakov has been working as a photographer for 10 years, and freelancing for the last five or six. “To make a living as a photographer is kind of difficult, at least for me,” he said. In 2016 and 2017, he said he’s only had a couple of assignments in St. Petersburg, though he’s had others for which he’s had to travel. “There are [photographers] who make money in St. Petersburg. They mostly shoot commercial photography for corporations and companies. I don’t do this. I’m really stuck with documentary and photojournalism.”

Aksakov started freelancing after college for local newspapers in his native Komi Republic. After compulsory time in the Russian army, he got a job with Hyundai as a photographer, video editor, cameraman, and designer. “I can’t be here for nine hours a day, waking up at 6 and getting back at 8 o’clock at night,” he remembers thinking. “Life was somewhere else.” After a year, he quit, but the money he received as a severance package provided an important bridge into the life of a freelance photographer. “To start off, it was good.”

He received a grant from a German organization to work with anthropologists in the northern province of Karelia. He moved to St. Petersburg in 2011 or 2012 and started working for local newspapers. “I was able to buy myself some bread and water….money was okay.” That continued for a couple of years and he also found work as a stringer for Getty. He’d get a few assignments each month, but the pay was good. He was paid $300 plus expenses per day working for Getty. “I loved working for Getty,” he said.

The relationship ended when Getty began contracting directly with a Russian photo service for their assignments. “They started working with a local Russian agency, so they don’t need stringers anymore…. I try not to work with Russian media and Russian agencies. I’m not into propaganda stuff. I don’t want to work with them.” Aksakov feels political control of Russian media would compromise his professional image. “Who wants to work with a photographer who lies all the time….I’d rather have a part-time job than work with Russian agencies.”

He concedes that there are a few Russian publications that maintain their editorial integrity. “Novaya Gazeta, Russian Reporter, Meduza…they’re still good. They’re trying to be objective.” While he hasn’t worked for them, he worked for a website that was known for good journalism called Lenta.ru, but the editorial staff was purged.

“I got an assignment from Lenta in Kiev during the revolution. They got purged while I was working on the project. The photo editor, Irina Meglinskaya … we’re friends. [I’m in Kiev and] I don’t have any money. The editor sent her own money — loaned me her money — and told me, just shoot what you want. You work. Maybe go to Crimea. It was a really great assignment. The guys [at Lenta] were just kicked out of their office before I finished the job. I never worked for them again after it changed and got under the control of the Kremlin.”

“There are not many photography assignments these days,” Aksakov says of his work. His last job was as a fixer and translator for a Dutch television program. “I rarely make money from personal projects. I mostly do it for myself. I like going somewhere and making a story about [people’s] lives. If nobody wants to publish…okay…I have all of the internet.”

Aksakov has also been involved in long-term projects without support of traditional publications. From 2013 to 2015, he was involved in a project called From White to Black Sea, in which a group of 10 photographers sailed between the two bodies of water. The initial goal was to crowdfund 10 or 12 thousand dollars through Indiegogo. “We raised 1,500 bucks….like 10 percent of what we wanted.” But it worked out. Aksakov was one of three photographers who stayed with the project from beginning to end. “We were doing okay on the yacht. Doing some stories and selling them to European publications and sometimes Russian [publications] in 2013, when there was more freedom in media,” he said. In 2014, for the second part of the trip, he said, “We didn’t have to sell to publications often. We had assignments on the side, not connected to the expedition.” When asked why he thought the crowdfunding didn’t work out, he explained, “People thought we were fancy guys on an expensive yacht, and we got a lot of insulting comments [about the project on the web].” The reality was far from that. “We were just some crazy guys on a small sailing boat.”

“I can’t say there’s much support for documentary photographers [in Russia],” Aksakov said. He sees young photographers doing interesting projects. “How they’re doing, how they make their living…I don’t know.” There are some private funds in the country that have supported artists and documentary photographers. There’s a group of photographers traveling in Siberia right now, funded by one of these organizations. Aksakov has had a few exhibitions in recent years, including three related to the sailing expedition, in Moscow, Kaliningrad, and Syktyvkar, but they were mostly self-funded.

One particularly difficult obstacle for Aksakov is the value of Russian currency. After Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014 and its annexation of Crimea, the ruble halved in value. “Prices are two times higher than they used to be,” Aksakov said.

Aksakov will soon leave Russia, but not because of the lack of work.

“Despite the lack of money, lack of a job, I like the craziness of this country. It’s one of the most interesting countries to work in. No political freedom. But there is still a lot of freedom to just travel, to meet new people. To be a photographer, to search for something new…it’s a good place to be.”

Aksakov won a permanent resident green card through the US government’s lottery system and he’ll soon be leaving Russia for the United States. “I’m leaving because of my kid. I don’t want her to be raised in a police state.”

Aksakov is already deep into planning his next expedition, for which he hopes to raise some money through crowdfunding. Diffelarities will be a bike journey across the United States, in which he will use his perspective as a new immigrant to contrast life in the US with his decade-long work documenting life across Russia. If the funding and assignments don’t come through, he’ll find other ways to make a living. “If I have assignments, I’ll be a photographer. If I don’t have assignments, I’ll still be photographing my own projects, but to make the living I’d have to do something else. Maybe design.”

Connect with Alexander on Blink.

Rahima Gambo, 30, in Abuja, Nigeria

Rahima Gambo came to photography and journalism late. After graduating with a master’s degree in gender and social policy from the London School of Economics in 2008, she came back to Nigeria to work in the development sector. “I quickly found it was very hard to get a job. I was a civil servant, but started doing a few different things. I started a blog, I was interviewing people.” The blog, which she worked on while employed in the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was a cross between a food blog and a city guide, she says.

The blog didn’t take off like she’d hoped. “It was very difficult to get advertising. People were not getting very engaged.” But it got her more interested in journalism and she applied to the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, where she found herself particularly interested in photography classes. She took a year’s leave from her job for coursework at Columbia, and she received a Magnum Foundation grant to pursue a documentary project for three months. She focused on LGBT asylum seekers in New York, and through the fellowship and her studies, she became very interested in long-term documentary work. “I was very inspired to come back [to Nigeria] with everything that I had learned. I had something to say. I wanted to do work that was really related to who I was and what I really believed in,” she said.

“I came back wanting to continue doing freelance work. I was working with a paper locally and I got a lot of family pressure to get a real job….I came back intending to cut ties with [my previous job]. I wanted to devote fully to photography. I went [back] to [my previous] job for six months — full-time, 9 to 5.”

She spent weekends going to camps for internally displaced people, and pitched some stories to contacts at publications. “Nothing was picked up. I just didn’t have time to work on the stories that I wanted to do. I quit the job eventually to focus on photography full time.”

“In the beginning, when I first started working independently, I signed a contract with a local magazine to do photo essays for them every month. They aren’t in existence now. They were paying the lowest rate [of any publications I’ve worked with], but I wanted a sort of steady income. I didn’t mind getting paid a lower rate when I knew [the pay] was coming round.”

She received 60,000 naira (about $200) a month for each photo essay.

She didn’t try working for any local daily newspapers, recalling an earlier experience before her time at Columbia when she tried to get work as a writer. “I wanted to be a reporter. They wanted to pay 20,000 naira [less than $100] a month as a starting reporter. Sometimes they don’t pay you. They expect you to travel around on your own. If they don’t even value words…” she trailed off. “They don’t even have pictures in the newspapers. It didn’t even cross my mind to work for them.”

Gambo found another grant to support her work through the International Women’s Media Foundation for a project about education in northeastern Nigeria. She received $8,000, intended for three months of work. “It gave me enough money to travel around, to do the reporting. I traveled to three states [in northeastern Nigeria] for about a month each. Instead of lumping three months together, I spread it over one year. I could take assignment work and do NGO work in my off-time,” she said of the work from the end of 2015 to the end of 2016. She did a multimedia assignment for Quartz Africa and a job for a client found through a Swedish agency that connects journalists on the ground in Africa to media in Sweden. These jobs didn’t pay much, she said. “Al Jazeera pays $600 for a photo essay — something like that… — they pay the most…Assignments are more passion work. NGO work is probably the way to go in terms of making money.” And she’s been able to find NGO work between the project work and the editorial assignments.

She’s done work for the Malala Fund, Vitamin Angels, a couple of local NGOs, and some video work for Human Rights Watch. “There weren’t many assignments, but it was there. When I needed it, it was there,” Gambo said. The contract with Vitamin Angels is particularly good. She has a five-year commitment to work for them three times a year.

Gambo also doesn’t have all of the financial pressures of people her age in other parts of the world.

“I live in a family home. I don’t have the pressure of rent every month. Culturally, in Nigeria, as a young woman you don’t really leave your home until you’re married….I’m from a Hausa-Fulani Muslim household. It’s kind of the norm. I’m not expected to contribute to the family. What I make goes back into my photography. If I need to travel, I can pay for that. If I want to eat out, I can pay for that….One of our fears as young journalists is moving back home, but I did that. I have the support of family. I’m using that to my advantage.”

Things have been improving for her as a freelancer, though she says she has a lot to learn about the business of photojournalism. “Over the last two to three years, I’ve been constantly getting emails asking if [I’m] available. They ask for a day rate, which I realize I’ve been undercharging recently.” She attended World Press Photo’s Masterclass West Africa this year and said it was eye-opening. “We talked about contracts. I’m not very business savvy. Now I have a kind of understanding of what I should be getting….sometimes NGOs will hire a foreign photographer and give them a higher day rate than a local photographer. I need to be aware of the standard,” she said. “I’m not someone who’s profit driven. I take work that I’m really engaged in….the NGOs that I’ve worked with have always given me what I’ve asked for.” And she’s aware of the funding difficulties especially facing local Nigerian NGOs. “They always talk about costs and [budget] constraints. They pay lower than international NGOs…they pay like a quarter [of what an international NGO would pay]. If I did something for a local NGO, it’s really something I believed in.”

One difficulty Gambo faces is a result of her location. She laughed when asked if she has a local support network of other photographers and journalists. She did a couple workshops on shooting and a photographer’s vision.

“Recently, this [World Press Photo] masterclass has been helpful. This is the first conversation locally about business. We talked about building your own audience…not being so passive, not waiting for the phone to ring. I’ve been passive because I do have a safety net. I haven’t been hustling to pitch to get the work I need to get the money I need.”

But this situation won’t last forever. “As I look into the future, I cannot keep on going this way. I expect to evolve and grow. I need to make sure I am making enough every month. Right now I’m just very open. Photography is just emerging in Africa.”

“The fact that World Press Photo did a masterclass in Africa…little things like that are really hopeful. There’s more recognition that there are local photographers making good quality work.”

But in spite of this growth in her region, she says she’s on an uncharted path. “Woman…Muslim…I don’t know any other people doing what I’m doing. There’s no template for doing what I’m doing. You have to pick this life and make it work. I love what I do. I wouldn’t change this for a steady income.”

Connect with Rahima on Blink.

Mauricio Palos, 36, in San Luis Potosi, Mexico

Mauricio Palos has been a member of the Boreal Collective for four years and works mostly on long-term personal projects. From 2002 to 2006, he worked for the local edition of the national La Jornado newspaper while pursuing a degree in marketing. As he tells it, he would work and study for a year and then take some time off to live in Europe. He would work as a waiter and spend his free time going to museums and developing an interest in long-term personal projects.

In 2006, in Bilbao, Spain, he participated in a workshop led by Eli Reed. “At that point, I already had a lot of experience in newspapers. But I didn’t know how to do projects. I knew they existed, but I never really tried.” He left to return home to San Luis, “I knew I didn’t want to stay in Spain…I could be in Europe forever being a waiter and pretending to be a photographer.” He doesn’t dismiss his time at newspapers, however. “I learned the kind of things that a newspaper gives [photographers], how to anticipate moments…”

He began to hear stories about migrants traveling through Central America toward the US and started working on his first personal project. “I was interested in migration because of my own experience as a migrant. I worked in Texas cleaning cars…you know, the kind of jobs for a teenager.” As he worked on the project, he began applying for grants. He was looking for the sorts of “programs that help you develop vision and give money to develop projects. I built an idea of how I am supposed to do this kind of work.” After four years of work on the project, he published a book. “I look for grants for money, but the grants are not enough. Eventually you get an assignment or photograph a wedding. Those kinds of work can be painful for some people. It’s not what I usually do.”

Nevertheless, he continues to supplement grant money with other types of photography jobs. He still occasionally photographs weddings.

“If I get a wedding, that’s really good money for me. I can do a wedding on one weekend and then spend months working on an exhibition or working on a book. I try to earn money with whatever I can so I can work on my personal projects. That’s what I care about the most.”

Palos also has been dabbling in commercial work recently, though an attempt to get advertising work while living in Mexico City a couple years ago didn’t go well. He’s recently been hired by local architects to photograph their projects. With these clients, he tries to take a storytelling approach like in his personal projects. “How can I convince them to develop a documentary project to show what they do. I try to sell them projects or portfolios [of the work I do].”

“I don’t really get too many assignments today, as in the previous years,” Palos said. He’s represented by Getty and does some assignment work, always with an eye toward international publications.

“When I manage to sell a story to an American publication, it’s triple what a Mexican publication would pay….A lot of Mexican publications take advantage of local photographers. It’s very common that they want them to sign contracts taking away their rights. For a week-long story, [the pay is] maybe $400…It’s really hard to make a living as an editorial photographer in Mexico. That’s why I end up doing weddings.”

Palos has been working to develop the community around photography. “I do a mix of things. Tomorrow I have an assignment to cover a politician. Next week I will teach a workshop.” He has partnered with a local university to teach photography workshops. The people at the workshops are a mix; there are visual arts students, but there are also law and accounting students just trying to fill their credits. He’s also helped put on workshops in different places around Mexico, including with the Boreal Collective, but those don’t really make money. Being in the collective has been particularly helpful, though it’s more of an artistic partnership than a business arrangement. “It’s a place where everyone can bring ideas and try to create something bigger for the things we care about.”

When asked about his hopes for the future, Palos said, “I’m starting to think I need to create something besides photography for my future. I hope my health and my energy continue forever, but I know I may need to reduce my time in the field…I’m starting to develop a new personal life with my family.” Palos’ family owns a ranch and he’s been helping out there. He’s also starting a cultural center at the ranch as an extension of his work trying to bring more artistic and cultural education to rural areas. There’s even a workshop for kids that resulted in a play presented in April.

He sees photography as a major part of his life far into the future.

“I’m motivated. I know I’m going to do this my whole life. It’s not a matter of if I earn money or if I don’t. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be photographing for the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter what the state of the industry is. I don’t base my motivation and hopes on the industry.”

Connect with Mauricio on Blink.

An image showing the Grenfell Tower apartment block being engulfed by flames has been chosen as one of the most powerful news photographs of the past year.

The image shows the 24-floor building coated in bright flames. It is one of 55 images appearing in Assignments 2017, an exhibition by the British Press Photographers Association.

Chunks of cladding material, since revealed to have fallen dangerously short of fire safety standards, burn and spark as they fall from the main structure.

The picture was taken by Guilhem Baker, a freelance photographer who is widely published in the British press.

In an interview with Business Insider, Baker described how he took the photograph while dodging chunks of burning debris. He said:

"You heard screaming and cries for help from a great distance actually on the approach, and then the screaming stopped.

It became immediately clear when talking to residents that the cause of the rapid spread was linked to the cladding. Although I saw a lot of things that night I did not take photos of — it was unpublishable, awful — the thing I decided to focus on was the material itself.

I found myself unexpectedly close, just outside (and at times inside) an adjoining building that had been evacuated. I could feel the heat. I was trying to get a sense of the intensity and the fact that it was the cladding that was igniting.

This was one photo that stood out. This was the smoking gun with the material. There were pieces landing behind me, I was having to move. I was keeping magnetically-locking access doors open for the fire brigade, who were trying to find new ways of running hoses through."

The image was widely used, and appeared the next day on the front page of The Times:

Grenfell Tower is a dominant theme in the BPPA exhibiton, with several of the photographs showing the fire or its aftermath.

Another shot, by Nigel Howard, shows a crowd of people huddled together near the burning tower as a policeman tapes off the area.

A second, by Rick Findler, shows former Grenfell resident Georgina Aguirre standing on the balcony of a nearby building with her old home smouldering in the background.

A final image from Adam Gerrard shows investigators picking their way through the scorched upper floors of the tower.

Assignments 2017 is being held at the Old Truman Brewery in east London, and is open to the public from October 13 to October 16.

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