Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us about yourself. Who is Leigh Vogel?
Leigh: I am someone who is concerned about justice. I am concerned about people and animals...those who don’t have a voice. I try to contribute when I can and where I can with imagery. I am a stills person, but I also do video assignments. It’s hard to define myself solely by my work, so I try to define myself by what moves me to act.
QFTD: When did you realize photography would develop into a career? When did that epiphany moment happen for you?
Leigh: I think it’s still happening. I am evolving over time. For friends of mine who are writers and photographers, it takes a while to admit, “Hey, this is it. I am a writer. This is how I am making a living. I have loved photography since I was a child. When I was applying to a master’s program at Corcoran here in DC for photojournalism, I was asked to write an essay about why photography is important to me. The answer came through this essay, and it was that photography is proof of life. I have moved so much since I was a kid that many of the images I captured are the only proof of moments I have experienced, and I used to carry them around with me. I was always interested in subtle moments, and I tried to capture them.
QFTD: You earned a Master’s Degree in corporate communications and public relations from Georgetown. You are a Hoya. How did that accomplishment help you along your journey?
Leigh: The program at Georgetown was critical for me. My undergraduate degree from Boston University was in communications. When I went through the program at Georgetown, I was committed to staying in the field, but as I was going through the program, I was working as a photographer. Toward the end of the program, I spoke with my dean and declared, “I’m kind of confused: I’m earning a masters in communications, and I’m photographing. I like them both, and I don’t want to have to choose one over the other. Please help!” So, she suggested that I do a fellowship project with the Center of Social Impact Communications at Georgetown University. The fellowship was a year long study of how nonprofits utilize imagery and communication planning. I was able combine both photography and communications. It resulted in a guild book that is now online that I still speak about at Georgetown and other venues.
QFTD: How does the aspect of communicating through imagery fit into your portfolio, and why is it important to you?
Leigh: To me it’s the most important part of what I do professionally. It took me a while to develop that side, and to incorporate it as a main part of how I want to represent my work. It’s a road map for how I handled my career. I launched my site several years ago. When I look at it today, it is more representative of who I am. Knowing that the result of an image for a nonprofit could raise more funds is important to me. A family struggle can be highlighted that can ultimately help someone else. That means a lot to me.
QFTD: You are credentialed to photograph on Capitol Hill and are a member of the White House News Photographers Association. What has that experience been like, capturing images of such significant political figures?
Leigh: First and foremost, that is because of a lot of the assignments are in DC. It’s a lot of what goes on here. It’s normal to get news second hand and third hand, but when you are there, you have your experience of how the events went down.
QFTD: Give us an example of such assignments…senate hearings? Campaigns?
Leigh: More senate hearings throughout the year on various different topics. Most recently: celebrities testifying on behalf of sex trafficking in Congo…but topics across the board.
QFTD: Ever meet President Obama?
Leigh: No, but I've been interested in taking photos of Obama because I was always saddened by the state of certain civil rights issues in this country. I was always interested in this administration specifically through the lens of race relations. That's why there is a lot of focus on these images on my site.
QFTD: What is your favorite picture?
Leigh: I think the event that was most impactful was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. And then there was an event in the White House for the families of Newtown victims. That was rough. It was clearly emotional for everyone in the room, including President Obama.
QFTD: Your lens helps us see how compassionate you are about people and animals. Outside of politics or fashion, how do you get assigned or select nonprofit subjects to photograph?
Leigh: Well, since you brought up animals – I have worked for seven and half years on raising standards of care for the largest dog sled operation in the US outside of Alaska. I have used photography as an integral part of the process. I spoke about it at Georgetown last week. It was a pretty big deal. The group is called Voice for the Sled Dogs. Although it was not an assignment, I took the project on, and seven and half years later, there has been a huge outcry and change as a result of the photographs and communications strategy that was employed
QFTD: That must feel good….
Leigh: This work actually led to pivotal moment in my life and career. I was working for a newspaper in Colorado and was getting more and more involved with the dog abuse issue. As a result of my work, the editors became concerned that I was working for the paper and making news at the same time. I was given an ultimatum: Keep photographing for us but you can't be a spokesperson anymore for the dogs. And I said, “Thank you for this opportunity, but I am going with the dogs.” To some, being compassionate can hurt your career. For me it was one for the best things I have ever done. And that very week, CNN picked up the story, and I said that I would keep working on the issue until standards for the dogs were improved.
QFTD: Lastly, what's your most memorable experience as a photographer? How did it impact you?
Leigh: My experience photographing a Mants'ase Children's Home, an orphanage in Lesotho, Africa. Lesotho is a country that is completely surrounded by South Africa. I went there in February, and I had learned of the orphanage though my work with the Connect4Climate initiative at the World Bank. I went, and it was one of the most personally moving stories I have worked on. I plan to go back this year.
QFTD: Why? What moved you?
Leigh: I abandoned all preconceptions before going. My head was spinning of what photographs I wanted to take. I let the experience reveal itself to me. It was a full sensory experience from visual, to sight, to sound…some of the children, those who could not communicate did so by touching your hand, trying to show you through navigating you through their worlds. It was the most memorable experience I have had photographing.
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