Alumni named ‘photographers to watch’

Columbia alumni Clarissa Bonet (left) and Ryan Lowry (right) are featured as two of the “30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch” for 2015 in Photo District News.

By Sadie Miller

Photo District News, a New York-based photography magazine, publishes a list titled “30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch” every year, and this year’s list features two Columbia alumni.

Ryan Lowry, a 2011 photography graduate, and Clarissa Bonet, a 2012 photography grad, were both named on PDN’s 2015 list. According to Conor Risch, senior editor at PDN, the process started with more than 300 nominations from prominent members of the photography industry, with the only qualification being that nominees have less than five years of experience in the field. The nominees were then asked to submit a body of work for consideration.

“The thing first and foremost is that we’re just drawn aesthetically to the photographs,” Risch said. “We look at consistency in the aesthetic.”

Risch said the magazine looks at many other aspects besides aesthetic, and some depend on the type of photography submitted. PDN’s list covers many disciplines of photography, including artistic, commercial, fashion and documentary photography as well as photojournalism, he said. Several of the qualities Risch said PDN looks for are a unique voice, presentation and perspective. He said the magazine also looks for artists that vary in nationality, gender and race.

“We really do try and make it as representative as possible of the spectrum of photography,” Risch said. “Obviously it’s a huge, international industry.”

Bonet said she knows right where she fits within the industry for the time being: photographing the city of Chicago.

“I like urbanity,” Bonet said. “There’s a lot of aspects of it that are really interesting … dealing with these ideas of the city as this kind of mysterious place, dealing with anonymity [and] curiosity of the other end.”

Bonet is currently working on two bodies of work, one titled “City Space” and the other tentatively titled “Dark City,” both of which helped her earn a spot on PDN’s list, she said.

Lowry said he has already seen a change in the attention his photography is getting from the public since being named. 

“I’ve been noticing a lot more traffic on my website, so that’s good,” Lowry said. “I’m sure people that haven’t seen my work before will check it out, and then hopefully good things will come from that.”

The focus of Lowry’s photography rotates between portraits and the inner workings of factories, he said, adding that he thinks the subject matter and his perspective cemented his spot on PDN’s list.

Both photographers cite the same hopeful 10-year plan: to continue being a working artist, just with bigger and better clients. They are both optimistic that being featured on PDN’s list will help them get there and agree that their Columbia education has helped them find success.

Bonet did not name a specific class that taught her something invaluable, but instead she said she learned how to think like an artist, produce work and to trust herself and her own ideas.

“It’s kind of like a ‘make what you want out of it’ situation,” Lowry said. “You’re given the facilities and the resources to do whatever you want, and you kind of decide what you want to do on your own. I was into that aspect of it.”

However, Lowry said becoming a successful working artist is not easy and it is a lot of work.

“It was definitely a challenge,” Bonet said. “But in the end, nothing worth anything in life is easy. Columbia really did challenge me, and I needed that.”