Ep 307: The art of storytelling with guest documentary photographer Penny Stephens

When you’re a photojournalist like Penny Stephens, you need to be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, be able to capture the emotion and reality of the situation – and tell a story in a single image. Penny reveals her insights from her award-winning career including 22 years working for the respected newspaper, The Age. Penny discusses: how she prepares for a shoot to ensure she is ready to run out the door to capture a breaking story at a moment’s notice; her thought process for capturing images that tell a story; the transition from staff to freelance photographer; her experience being embedded with the Australian Defence Forces in Afghanistan; balancing work and family life and the importance of self care; the importance of personal projects; and much more.

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Show Notes

Shout out to: Brian Becnel

Brian says: “Pre-visualizing the shot, asking for Gina and the Goldies advice on settings, and working with a completely non-model-model, helped me create an image I am tremendously proud of this week.”

Image by Brian Becnel

The art of storytelling with guest documentary photographer Penny Stephens

Above: Penny Stephens

“Photography long ago became my way of understanding the world around me. It lets me see the human condition up close and hopefully helps others understand lives that are unlike their own. With my work I want to give back. I want to live a creatively fulfilling life.”

Penny Stephens is a Melbourne photojournalist. She worked for The Age for 22 years, until 2017. Penny now does a mixture of media and corporate work and is getting her own projects off the ground. Penny was a finalist in the Moran Photographic Portrait prize in 2015 with an image of Melbourne family life and, with The Age, was embedded with the Australian Defence Forces in Afghanistan. She has also won a United Nations media award for work in the Solomon Islands about climate change. She now does a mix of media and corporate work – and believes great photojournalism is more vital than ever.

“I grew up in rural Victoria surrounded by paddocks and sheep,” she says, “and my way of exploring the world was to head off into the bush on my pony. Then one day I found a book on 1950’s press photography on the shelf and it showed me a world of heightened emotions, the human condition, high adrenaline, drama and adventure. I wanted in, although it wasn’t until much later that I discovered how this seed had been planted. All I wanted was to work for The Age and I feel so grateful that I worked there as a staff photographer.

“Photography long ago became my way of understanding the world around me. It lets me see the human condition up close and hopefully helps others understand lives that are unlike their own. With my work I want to give back. I want to live a creatively fulfilling life.”

We chat about:

  • How Penny prepares for a shoot to ensure she is ready to run out the door to capture a breaking story at a moment’s notice
  • Her thought process for capturing images that tell a story
  • The transition from staff to freelance photographer
  • Her experience being embedded with the Australian Defence Forces in Afghanistan
  • Balancing work and family life and the importance of self care
  • The importance of personal projects

Social Media links

Website: https://www.bypennystephens.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bypennystephens/?hl=en
twitter: https://twitter.com/bypennystephens
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/byPennyStephens

WORKSHOPS
Penny was part of Clique photo Club at The Age and SMH where members had to access to photo walks, talks and weekend workshops with staff photographers

CV.. which includes exhibitions

AWARDS

2015 – United Nations Media Award with Fairfax Media for Climate Change story in the Solomon Islands
2018 – winner OSPO Best Single Photograph (Older People Speak Out)
2015 – Finalist in the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize
2018 – highly commended APA awards

Work has been published in
Reflections, 150 years of History, The Age. 2004
Shooting the Picture, Press photography in Australia. 2016
Photography of The Age, Kathleen Whelan. 2014

National Library of Australia, Interviewed by Nikki Hennigham in the History of Press Photography in Australia Oral History Project.
Group exhibitions
Shooting the Picture, Press Photography in Australia, Media House, Melbourne, 2016
Royal Women’s Hospital, “The Women behind the Womens’. 2017 https://www.thewomens.org.au/news/celebrating-international-womens-day1

Moran Photographic Portrait Prize, 2015. Juniper Hall Paddington + tour of Regional Australia.
https://www.moranprizes.com.au/competition/2015-moran-contemporary-photographic-prize/finalists

Masters of Australian Photojournalism, Focal Point Darkroom and Gallery, Gellong, 2019

UPCOMING exhibition and book : Paper Tigers , Group exhibition at the Head On photo festival in Sydney, Paddington Town Hall. May 2020 ( plans in place for it to go ahead online due to the CoronaVirus pandemic )

Image by Penny Stephens

Grieving friends of the murdered mother of four Suzi Oghia , Noble Park, Melbourne. 2013

Suzi was a victim of family violence by her ex-partner. Although hard to look at this picture for me shows how much Suzi was loved, how she was part of a community. Domestic and family violence is a real and menacing problem in Melbourne.

Image by Penny Stephens

ICU nurse Michelle Spiteri and anaesthetist and intensive care physician Dr Forbes McGain attend to a Covid-19 patient under the Covid Hood in the ICU ward of Western Health’s Footscray Hospital, Melbourne. 2020

McGain and Melbourne University have developed the hood which protects both staff and patients. Working at Western Health at this time covering their preparation for and response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been an absolute privilege.

Image by Penny Stephens

Helena Mackay. 2011.

“When Victor Forster tried to burgle her she counselled him and told him to get a job”. The Journo Steve Butcher and I got her address and did journalism the old school way by knocking on her door and having a chat. What a tiny feisty lady she was. This was where she sat when she told us her story in her tiny one bedroom flat. The only lighting needed was that lovely lamp. I positioned the journo so when she spoke her face was lit by that lamp.

Image by Penny Stephens

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews in his daily press conference updating Victorians on the Covid-19 pandemic, Melbourne. 2020

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