Barbara Davidson, Concordia alumni, speaks on her time at Concordia and at The Link newspaper
Barbara Davidson is a Concordia alumni, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Emmy award-winning photojournalist, and a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship. Davidson did an online panel on Wednesday, Oct. 14, where she talked about her life story, how she became a renowned photojournalist, and her time at Concordia.
Davidson was born and raised in Montreal and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and Film Studies. While she studied at Concordia, she worked at The Link newspaper as a photographer.
Since graduating from Concordia, Davidson has traveled to over 50 countries, working at newspapers like the Washington Times and the Los Angeles Times. Her most current work before COVID was traveling across the United States taking portraits of gunshot survivors.
“I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate with a university degree,” said Davidson in an interview with The Concordian. She explained that for CEGEP she went to night school, as she had to work during the day, and needed to improve her high school grades for university admission.
When asked if she saw financial standing as a barrier to photography, Davidson said that people go into photojournalism believing it to be an easy profession — similar to modeling. But the steep learning curve and the extraordinary effort that goes into it can turn people off.
“If it is something you are passionate about, you make it work,” said Davidson, who explained that during her university years she would save her money and borrow equipment so she could continue photography. “You make it happen, that is what success is all about, I had to work hard.”
Davidson said what she most enjoyed while she worked at The Link was the sense of comradery; a sense of family and purpose. She was attracted to the feeling of engagement with the community in Montreal.
Davidson said her time at The Link was “an incredibly inspiring learning time in my life.”
“There has to be a hungry curiosity, a hungry curiosity leads to all kinds of opportunity,” she said, emphasizing that curiosity can lead a person in a new direction. “Be mindful and honest with yourself, if you listen to that inner voice about what you are curious about, then that can lead you.”
Davidson said her biggest regret in university was not taking advantage of her professors’ expertise. She explained that professors are not just there to give grades, but also to help guide you on your way. She said that university is a rare time where you have access to these resources.
“There are so many [mistakes], I have fallen flat on my face more times than I care to share,” said Davidson, who continued to elaborate on a particular incident when she was working at the Missouri Photo Workshop, doing an article about two single mothers raising their kids together.
Davidson explained that she got caught up in the sensationalism of reporting on how the mothers were going to parties and living their lives, and failed to report on the good parenting the mothers were also doing.
“I did not show a well-rounded picture, and that failure has guided me my entire career moving forward after that,” Davidson said.
“As a human, as a journalist, I failed to look for the true humanity in them,” she said. “Always look for the humanity in people, regardless of the circumstances that they are currently in.”
Davidson said the best advice she can give to students is not to think of themselves alone, that there are people out there to help guide, shape, and inform students.
“You just have the bravery to reach out, and you will succeed,” said Davidson.
The panel was open to the public, but the majority who attended were Concordia students or alumni. Those reached out too said the panel was informative and inspirational.
“Even if it’s not the path [students] are interested in taking, they can get a sense of what lengths they can go to in their own dreams and with their own goals,” said Kendra Kabasele, a Concordia alumni journalist and photographer who attended Davidson’s panel.
“[Students] may even be triggered to pursue an avenue they hadn’t ever thought of before. That’s what’s important about panels like these; the awakening of what has yet to be awakened,” said Kabasele.
“It gave me hope and perspective as I began my career, hoping to work as a photographer and visual journalist,” said Matilda Cerone, a Journalism student at Concordia who also attended the panel. “I am reassured that it is okay that I am where I am and that things don’t need to happen right away for me to embark on an eventful and exciting experience.”
Cerone explained that while she enjoyed the panel, she felt that Davidson did not properly address the questions on white privilege and the white gaze in photojournalism.
“I too desire to take pictures that have a social impact, but I do not want to engage in white saviourism and I am very aware that when a white person photographs non-white people there is a toxic power dynamic,” Cerone said.
During the panel Davidson stated that she understands the privilege she has and has seen editors bypass photographers of colour. She stated that this needs to stop, as diversity creates more interesting and rich media.