Field Guide to Alumni Photography Portfolio

For a school that doesn’t offer a major in photography, Carleton has produced many stellar photographers. We asked some of them to share a favorite image and the story behind it.


Chris Bohnhoff ’93

food still life

Some of my favorite projects have been collaborations with chefs: they’re often open to unscripted adventures, and their craftsmanship and ability to reimagine ingredients inspires me more than any other creative field. This image is from a 2014 project on foraged foods that I shot with St. Paul chef Alan Bergo. Alan and I spent a couple days in the woods hunting, cooking, and eating what we found. I produced a set of stills and a short video that we both used for our own purposes. The project expanded my appreciation for the Minnesota terroir, and was a chance to build on my body of work telling the stories of food producers.


Hai Ngo ’12

New York fashion

After graduation, I had to find a job. Luckily, Sara Rubinstein ’98 told me about freelance photo assisting, something I didn’t know existed. I spent two years in Minneapolis working as an assistant, acquiring shooting experience and learning the technical camera and lighting stuff that my photography school peers already knew. In 2015 I moved to New York, where I’m discovering and refining my aesthetic. I am learning how to use simplicity to add sophistication to an image.

This is one of seven images I made recently for a fashion story in a small magazine. When I lived in Minneapolis, I never wanted to shoot on a plain seamless paper background, because I thought it was simple and uninteresting. I failed to see it as a way to emphasize other, subtle elements of the photograph. In New York, I learned quickly that simple concepts are not necessarily easier to shoot. Because the viewers’ attention is focused on fewer things, the subject of your photograph has to be that much stronger—and all your small mistakes become big mistakes.


Jimmy Chin ’96

Mt. Everest

I often work with world-class outdoor adventure athletes in some of the most remote corners and inaccessible places on Earth. My photography has focused on amazing people doing amazing things in amazing places. I like to bring back images that show the indomitable human spirit and images that no one has ever seen before. I shot this image at around 28,500 feet on the southeast ridge of Mount Everest. Tension and consequences were high at this moment.

After two months acclimatizing to the altitude, we had finally summited and were now on our way down after skiing from the summit. Here Rob and Kit DesLauriers are preparing to rappel the Hillary Step. This vertical rock section of the ridge required a short 50-foot rappel before we could ski the knife-edge ridgeline you can see in the photo. To the right, the mountain falls away almost 7,500 feet into Nepal. To the left, the mountain falls away 9,000 feet into Tibet. I recall standing in an awkwardly leaning position with only two ski edges holding me in place as I carefully balanced myself to snap a quick image. Off in the distance, you can see Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest peak, with storm clouds moving in.


Josh Meltzer ’95


I spent a year [2008] as a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico, where I produced a multimedia project called Internal Migration. The web-based project documents the movement from rural to urban regions within Mexico of mostly indigenous Mexicans, who seek better employment, education, health care, and quality of life.

This image was made in a community of squatters just outside Guadalajara, one of Mexico’s largest cities, where more than 150 families work as brick makers. They live rent-free, but without any municipal services such as water, electricity, garbage pickup, and education. They make bricks by hand—mixing straw, mud, cow feces, and water—and sell them for about 11 cents each.

Here, Antonio Hernandez carries his sleeping daughter, Angela, home from her baptism. This photograph depicts both the family’s pride and their sacrifice. Though living in near squalor, Antonio and his family take great pride in this special day for their daughter. They saved for months to buy her dress, take a day off from work, and throw a party afterward.

It is important for me to document communities in ways that accurately depict many aspects of their lives. I have plenty of images that show how hard life can be for the families in this community, but it is just as important for me to showcase how life can be celebrated, even amid such harshness. I think visual storytellers owe our subjects this balance.


Nate Ryan ’10

Jeremy Messersmith on Letterman

Shortly after I graduated from Carleton, I went to a small coffee shop in Duluth to photograph musician Jeremy Messersmith for my job at Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current. Since then, I have photographed many local and national musicians for the Current. One of my favorite things is to build relationships over time with local artists. When Jeremy made his national TV debut on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2014, he invited me along to document the experience.

Typically, no backstage photography was allowed, but just a few hours before we flew to New York, Jeremy’s label, Glassnote, secured approval from Letterman’s executive producer. As we walked through the stage door, everyone was awestruck by the fact that we were in the Ed Sullivan Theater. On TV it looks so polished, but it’s a small theater that shows its age and history. It was a privilege to be with Jeremy for this moment in his career.


Veasey Conway ’12

Charleston unity march

This frame came from a unity march in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015. It was taken a few days after a mass shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left nine church members dead. Thousands of people crossed the largest bridge in the city from both sides and linked hands in the middle. Here, following a moment of silence, Tyeesha Aiken put her hands together in prayer, pointed her index fingers and eyes skyward, and then made fists.

Most people found out about the march only hours before it started. There were Facebook groups and hashtags, but it was also just word of mouth. It was the first weekend after the shooting; people knew something big had to take place.

Nowadays, we expect mass shootings to occur; we rank them in order of importance and modulate our responses accordingly. There’s an emotional gap between the people who are directly affected by the shootings and people farther away, and specificity in photography—capturing individual faces, people’s eyes—can be the bridge that connects the two groups.


Theo Stroomer ’05

prison boot camp

This image was taken in 2008 when I worked at a small newspaper in Colorado. It was the first day of a boot camp program for prison inmates, and emotions were already running high. When I took this frame, I remember the sudden sensation, like a spark, that this mattered. This was finally the caliber and type of work I aspired to do. It had taken a while: it was three years after I graduated from Carleton.

Time has passed. The camp closed down, but my struggles with the story and my intellectual growth from the work have stayed with me. So did the spark. When that feeling comes, I recognize that I’m experiencing something worth digging into, getting to the bottom of, and sharing. I cherish these moments.


Sebastian Meyer ’02

drugs in London

I took this photograph in 2008 while I was living in London. Bored with the daily newspaper work I was doing—standing outside 10 Downing Street, shooting portraits of CEOs, chasing celebrities around town—I decided to shoot a story in my neighborhood about addiction. For three months, I photographed people who were struggling with all kinds of addiction: to drugs, to alcohol, and even to other people.

In this photo, a young man helps his girlfriend smoke crack cocaine out of a small glass vodka bottle while they watch a VHS tape of Friends. On the television are a statue of the Buddha and a framed photo of the man’s daughter (by another woman).

I chose this image because of its emotional complexity. There’s the love and tenderness between the man and the woman. There’s the tragedy of drug addiction. And then there’s the humor of Joey’s and Rachel’s expressions on the television.

To me, that last element is vital. Too much of photojournalism just shows human existence as tragedy and misery, but I’ve always found that to be a two-dimensional view. Photojournalists have a responsibility to show the true complexity of life: the pain, the joy, and the ridiculousness.


Sara Rubinstein-Case ’98

Lake Superior

This image represents a transitional phase for me as a human and an artist. When I created it in summer 2015, I had been working as a commercial photographer for more than 16 years. I was struggling with finding the balance between a demanding career and family life. Searching to reconnect with my work as a photographer, I picked up a manual Leica rangefinder and began to take more photographs outside of the commercial workspace. The process slowed me down and opened an internal creative space for me. This image of my son on a foggy morning along the shores of Lake Superior embodies much about my life and vision. Client work is rewarding in many ways, yet the simple act of photographing my son reminds me how much I love the art of photography. The more personal work I create, the more I can channel my vision into my commercial body of work, thus making that world more balanced and interesting. But in the end, I create these personal images not for clients or awards or to drive business, but because I love making pictures, and because I have a hard time putting down my cameras.


Seng Chen ’96

Occupy Oakland

I live a short walk from Frank Ogawa Plaza, where the Occupy Oakland camp stood. I stopped by a number of times, often running into friends who, like me, were looking for ways to participate. Aside from being part of a global movement, Occupy was my introduction to the neighborhood.

On November 2, 2011, thousands of citizens of all ages, ethnicities, genders, and faiths marched nonviolently on the Port of Oakland, where this photo was taken. The march is the most uplifting and inspiring shared political moment I’ve been part of. Unfortunately, as the evening wore on, the temperament of both the demonstrators and the police shifted toward destructive, and it became all too easy to collect the standard images of police in riot armor, young protesters goading them, and mayhem in the streets.

Understanding that the world was watching what was happening in my neighborhood made me very conscious of how I wanted to represent my new home and a movement I believed in. This image was not the most difficult, most lucrative, nor even most beautiful photo I’ve captured, but it is my desktop image because it reminds me to always consider the purpose of what I create.


Nick Shepard ’07

Occident/Orient (Tea Time)

I made this picture [Occident/Orient (Tea Time), 2014] in my family’s house on the Oregon coast. The house has been in the family since the 1940s, when my great-grandparents bought it, so I have a strong personal connection to the place. I like how the landscape in the background and the still life in the foreground work together to create a rich scene. For me, there’s also a little linguistic trick. This tea set is inspired by the east, but of course, the fastest way there is to just go west. I also like the sense of mystery from the hand reaching in from outside the frame. What’s going on there? Whose hand is it? By including unanswered questions in my photos, I hope to provoke the viewer to look again.


Diane Farris ’66

Volumes: An Exploration of Book Forms

My current series, Volumes: An Exploration of Book Forms, explores my interest in books at a time when print is challenged by pixels. Our homes host rich book habitats. Meetings with family and friends are graced with books quoted, considered, discussed, noted, recommended, and gifted. Volumes celebrates the contents, textures, colors, designs, dimensions, typefaces, papers, sounds, and scents of books—and their heft in the hand.

Many of my photographs start with a sketch, and most take several days. Writing this, I’m surrounded by books (including the abandoned encyclopedia that fell open to the Teilhard de Chardin entry), bookplates, bookends, stones, fabric, paper—the makings of a little world for a time.


  • April 18 2016 at 9:10 am
    Patricia Mitchell

    You forgot Torsten! Class of 1984

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