We sifted through over 500 résumés looking for reporters who can tell visual stories about subcultures that flourish online and within their communities. We were looking for people who could write, take photographs, capture videos, post to Instagram, find stories on Reddit and more. We knew we were asking for a lot. As the editor on the project, I also wanted people with diverse backgrounds and storytelling techniques. Meet the three Surfacing residents who will travel the world to find interesting stories of hidden communities.
Name: Malin Fezehai
Hometown: Stockholm. Malin grew up in a suburb called Husby in a community of mostly immigrants. “It was my first entry to learning about the world through my friends because a lot of them were children of refugees, everybody I knew was coming from another place,” she said of the multicultural community where she grew up, with people from Iran, Kurdistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Gambia.
How she got started: In 2003, Malin attended the International Center of Photography. “I started photography by just shooting my friends,” she said. She was also drawn to current events and wanted to combine both of her interests. Photojournalism seemed like the perfect fit, she says. After I.C.P., she lived in Ethiopia for eight months volunteering and working on a project about child workers. “I familiarized myself with East Africa, and knew I wanted to continue working there in some capacity,” she said. In 2006, she received a grant from I.C.P. and Global Fund for Children photographing grass-roots organizations that were assisting marginalized children in Peru.
What she has done: Malin knew she wanted to work internationally, and she has done it. She went to war-torn Sri Lanka, to the Republic of Kiribati for a story about people being displaced because of rising sea levels and to Senegal for a story about surfing. She worked on a project about African refugees in Israel for two years that was ultimately published both in Time and The New York Times. She has been going back to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia documenting Christmas celebrations. In 2015, she went to Selma, Ala., to photograph the people who witnessed the events on March 7, 1965, when the police attacked protesters that marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. “It was amazing to meet the generation that were there during the Civil Rights movement and hear their experiences and reflections,” she said. She also has accompanied Malala on her annual birthday trip for three years in a row, where she travels to a place to highlight issues on female education. One year they went to Lebanon to bring attention to the Syrian refugee crises, one year to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya to focus on girls’ education. Last year they visited the refugee camps outside Mosul, Iraq. The latest project she did was for the United Nations documenting survivors of violent extremism across five countries in Africa, which she published in a book and showcased in three different exhibitions. Also, one of her images was the first iPhone picture to ever get a World Press Photo Award.
What she plans to cover: Malin wants to explore stories about people who go against the grain and is also interested in documenting indigenous and traditional cultures that are fading because of modernization. “I want to do stories that are all different from each other.”
Off the clock: Malin does yoga at least four times a week. She also always makes time for her friends, who are a constant source of inspiration for her, “I feel that in New York, that is something we don’t do enough.”
Name: Walter Thompson-Hernández
Hometown: Los Angeles
How he got started: In 2014, Walter received his master’s degree in Latin American Studies from Stanford University, knowing that he wanted to pursue journalism. After graduate school, he started pitching freelance work to Buzzfeed, Fusion and NPR. “I started to write, take photos and work on stories around the world.” In 2017, he started working as a multimedia journalist on race and identity for The Root. He also was a journalist at We Are Mitu, a digital media company with a Latino point of view.
What he has done: Walter created the popular Instagram account “Blaxicans of L.A.” in 2013, before enrolling in the master’s program. “I was interested in thinking about my experience in Los Angeles being the child of a black father and Mexican mother,” he said. “What it means to be both at a time when the communities were at odds with race riots.” He used photos, videos and photo captions that explored multiracial identity in America through Instagram portraits. From 2015 to 2016, Walter embarked on a yearlong series for Fusion about Latinos who converted to Islam. “It drew awareness to a population that had very little voice in the media before that.” In 2016, he spent four months in Cuba reporting for Fusion. His stories focused on race, Afro-Cuban hip-hop, and how the modernization of Cuba is changing the religious landscape of Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion with origins in the Caribbean. This past year, on assignment for The Root in Madagascar, he did a piece about child sex trafficking in the capital city.
What he plans to cover: Walter wants to explore the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, music and popular culture. “I’m interested in what it means to belong and not belong to society, to a culture,” he said.
Off the clock: For three years, Walter taught and mentored inmates with the Prison Education Project. He also loves music including Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Erykah Badu and says the best concert he ever went to was Nas and Lauryn Hill.
Name: Stephen Hiltner
Hometown: Hudson, Ohio
How he got started: Stephen went to the University of Virginia and double majored in biochemistry and English literature in hopes of eventually going to medical school. After college, he decided to follow his passion for English literature instead and earned a master’s degree at Oxford. His first job in writing was for The Paris Review, where he worked for six years as an editor of literary stories. Toward the end of his tenure there, he started writing his own stories and shooting photographs, a lifelong love since his dad and sister had outfit the basement of his childhood home with a studio to develop and print their own photographs. He realized that taking photos has been in the family when he discovered a trove of photographs by his grandfather, who captured his life as a child growing up on a farm in Ohio and his time stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. “It’s just an incredible collection of photographic history, and I thought about it a lot,” he said. In 2016, he joined The New York Times as an editor on the Insider desk.
What he has done: Stephen has a knack for finding an eccentric. Like this piece he did on Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times whose apartment is completely littered in crossword paraphernalia. “He’s like the Willy Wonka of puzzles,” he said. Or this one on Willa Kim, the theatrical costume designer behind Mikhail Baryshnikov’s looks and more, whose apartment he described as, “an artistic menagerie.” The idea for one of his first pieces for The New York Times came when he took a cross-country road trip on his motorcycle. As he was somewhere in Missouri on U.S. Route 36, he noticed that most of the roadside signs were of Trump support and there were little to no for Hillary Clinton. “I pulled over and sent an email to Carolyn Ryan [the editor who was in charge of presidential campaign coverage for The New York Times],” he said.
What he plans to cover: Stephen is interested in exploring the world of competitive sports and athletic endeavors; creative individuals who have mastered a craft and beyond.
Off the clock: Stephen is a vintage motorcycle enthusiast and has two that he stores at his parents’ home in Ohio: a 1968 Honda and a 1973 BMW. He hopes to pursue more stories that allow him to ride them.
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