Next in our series of conversations with Reportage Emerging Talent photographers, we talk to Maddie McGarvey. Maddie graduated from Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication and later worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and at the Burlington Free Press in Vermont. She is currently based in Columbus, OH, where she has built a body of work focusing on social issues.
Getty Images: Much of your work is from the industrial Midwest of the United States. What changes are you seeing in the region and what stories do you feel are important to tell?
Maddie McGarvey: I find the Midwest and the Rust Belt interesting and diverse places to shoot. I photographed a story on the revitalization of Pittsburgh after the fall of the steel industry and examined how people live there now within the changing landscape. Many blue-collar jobs have disappeared and are being replaced with high-tech industries, and a lot of young artists are flocking to the city for the reasonable cost of living and interesting environment. This is a common thread throughout the Midwest, happening prominently in cities like Cleveland and Detroit as well.
I’ve also seen family dynamics shift in the Midwest and beyond. I’ve photographed a story about grandparents raising their grandchildren for the past four years. Grandparents are stepping in to take over the role as parents again for a number of issues including drug abuse, negligence and the struggling economy.
Ohio specifically is a great place to be a photographer because it has a little bit of everything. It’s a huge swing state politically, a melting pot of diversity, and has all of the potential to do amazing work right in my own backyard.
Several of your stories focus on health care and people dealing with medical issues. What draws you to these subjects? Are there changes that you hope to see in the American health care system?
I don’t specifically set out to photograph health care, but have often found that there are so many compelling, personal, and unique stories that center around medical issues. For example, I worked on a story about two young brothers with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The younger brother is part of an experimental drug trial that has done wonders to reverse effects of the illness. The older brother, now completely wheelchair bound, doesn’t qualify for the trial and has to sit back and watch his younger brother take a drug that could easily save his own life. Their single mother goes up against the FDA on a regular basis to do anything she can to save her son and get this life saving drug. Working on this story really humanized the struggle of a David versus Goliath type fight against the FDA. Knowing that there’s an existing drug that could save your son who will only have about four more years to live if he doesn’t get it is a heartbreaking situation. I just hope to see more positive changes in the health care system. It’s hard to sit back and watch something like that happen.
What is the biggest challenge as a young photographer trying to break into the industry?
I think there are many challenges working against young photographers trying to break into this industry. As a photographer who got laid off from a newspaper after working there for a year, I think lack of opportunity alone is a very real struggle. After that, building a unique brand to stand out in such a competitive and saturated field is difficult. Having enough resources to work on personal projects and pitching them to get published can also be hard. But I think networking enough, having a solid team of people around you who support and believe in you, and keeping a strong drive and work ethic will help any photographer. Also, finding a personal project that you truly care about and can revisit time and time again is essential. It helps you grow so much as a photographer and a person.
How did you first take interest in photography?
My dad went out and bought a really nice camera and then he never saw it again. Really, I just always knew I wanted to do something on the creative side but was never good at painting or drawing. When I discovered photography, everything sort of clicked—pun intended.
Who are some of the photographers who’ve most inspired you?
There are so many photographers who have inspired me through the years. I’ve spent hours pouring over the work of legends such as Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Bill Allard, Eugene Richards, etc. There are so many close friends and acquaintances that inspire me on such a regular basis that I couldn’t even begin to name them. Pretty much anyone who has the drive to create meaningful work for the right reasons inspires me.
Do you have a new project on the horizon?
I have a couple of projects in motion– one being the epidemic of sex and human trafficking in Ohio. I never knew how prevalent it was in my own backyard so I’m exploring that issue now. I hope to shed some light on the topic and raise awareness of the problem. I’m also going to continue documenting the Castos, the family I’ve spent four years with, watching as the grandparents raise their grandchildren. I’m specifically interested in the women in the family and what paths they will take in life.