On March 16, a shooter walked into a spa in Atlanta, Georgia with a 9mm gun he purchased earlier that day. He shot and killed eight people, including six Asian women. The crime occurred as incidents of anti-Asian racism have been on the rise in the U.S., inspiring protest rallies across the country.
Shuran Huang G’18, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance photojournalist and graduate of Newhouse’s multimedia, photography and design program, covered a rally and a vigil in Washington’s Chinatown for The New York Times, and has also covered the rallies for The Washington Post and Bloomberg. But before she went to her assignment, Huang—who was born in mainland China and grew up in Hong Kong and eight other countries—took a drive.
“It was really hard,” she says. “I felt like my sisters or mother were killed. It was a really emotional time.”
Huang’s passion for her work carried her through the assignment, allowing her to capture an important moment in history while giving her community a medium through which their anguish could be seen and documented.
“I feel like it’s very important for any photojournalist to be a human before being a photographer,” she says, but concedes that protecting that humanity is a conscious process. “I definitely feel very, very vulnerable and I need to take a lot of time off, outside of my assignment time, to heal and recover and reflect.”
Huang says it was very important to her to capture the rally and vigil in the most genuine way possible. To do so, she took time to speak to those around her before she took out her camera.
“Before taking a picture, I need to talk to my subject first. [It’s] the way for you to actually understand what is going on and why they are feeling the way that they do,” she says.
Huang says she was nervous on the way to the rally, but once she got there, she was greeted by a group of organizers who remembered her from her past assignments. She spoke to them for a while and heard their stories. Then she was ready to get to work.
“I can’t be emotional at all times, especially at assignments. I need to be a really good listener. I need to talk to people, connect with people and understand and share their vulnerabilities through visual storytelling,” she says.
Covering cultural stories requires deep empathy, Huang says. Her work has often focused on different communities from cultures other than her own, such as her Strands of Love project documenting a four-generation Black family-owned barbershop in Syracuse, and their impact on the community over 50 years. Huang says she puts herself in the shoes of those she’s documenting to try to convey exactly how they’re feeling in the moment she snaps the picture.
“If I photograph a family, I photograph them like they’re my brothers and sisters,” she says.“Be a human that [feels] the emotions at the event and also understand why you are there.”
Huang’s work is already getting her attention; last year, she was selected as one of 24 early-career photographers to be paired with industry leaders for Women Photographer’s mentorship program.
Huang’s advice for student journalists is to practice their craft every day.
“Photojournalism is a craft that we work on refining everyday,” Huang says. “It doesn’t stop when you receive your degree, get your first job or assignment. You will work on it for the rest of your career. Also, if you are not curious about people, the community or world we live in, you will limit your success.”
Adrianne Morales is a senior in the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.