Hayden Rossignol Interview: Winning a National Geographic Award At 12

Something about nature and viewing life through the eyes of the other creatures who call earth home is both breathtaking and eye opening. But couple those powerful emotions with the perspective of someone who hasn’t even had their 13th birthday yet, and the world seems to become a better place.

As the oldest of three and a mother of two, my eyes are constantly being opened by those vastly younger than me. As we age, we often think that we have all this knowledge to impart when really, we can learn so much from the viewpoint of those half our age.

When I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with a photographer, my mind instantly took me to someone I know very well.

His name is Hayden Rossignol, he’s a National Geographic Award winner, and he’s only 12 years old.

Oh yeah, and he’s my brother.

It’s a proud big sister moment to be sure. But more than that, my curiosity was irrevocably piqued.

I had the chance to chat a bit with Hayden about his award, where it wound up, and his photography as a whole.

Hayden Rossignol Photography12

When did you first start getting interested in photography, and why?

One day my mom went outside to take pictures of a hummingbird. For some reason, at that moment, I wanted to try and so when I took some pictures of the birds.

My mom and dad really loved the pictures and how they turned out so they encouraged me to pursue it.

The reason I do photography is that I just really love taking pictures.

Your photography is heavily centered on nature (although I know you do portraits and other weddings, as well). What was it that prompted you to start in that area of photography instead of something else?

Honestly, I just love being outside and being able to get so close to the birds and animals in nature.

I can show people things that they can’t usually get to see. Spiders and bees are things that people don’t like to get close to, but they’re creatures that are really cool to me.

Being able to take a photo of these things and show them in their natural environment helps people to appreciate them. There are details that you can get with photography that we can’t get just with your eyes. It’s fun to be able to see animals and things in nature in their clearest details.

Talking with Hayden About His Nat Geo Award


Hayden’s Winning Photograph

Okay, let’s move on to the topic everyone really wants to know about: Hayden’s National Geographic winning picture.

Few people can lay claim to an award from National Geographic.

Obviously, as his sister and a fellow photographer (and a writer with the chance to interview him), I was both thrilled and curious about how this possibility even presented itself.

Many are likely familiar with the National Geographic Magazine and brand. But few may know the kids side of the worldwide acclaimed brand.

National Geographic Kids is a segment of the better-known publication that is popular among the younger age group. However, it still reflects the same level of quality when it comes to its images and its photography contests.

The website runs something called the My Shot contest.

In this contest, others from the community can submit photographs that they believe are worthy of the win. From there, users can vote on which photos they want to see win.

The prize?

Winners of the My Shot contest not only receive the My Shot VP award, they also get to have their winning photographs hung in the Vice President Biden’s (U.S.A) residence in Washington D.C.

The award and the recognition would be enough to get anyone excited about keeping up their photography. But Hayden’s photo did much more than that.

The VP’s Wife, Dr. Jill Biden, gave him a shoutout on Twitter. That then sparked the local presses and led to Hayden being interviewed by a popular news channel in Portland, Oregon U.S.A.

11846635_426996640838535_1963575077830261838_nWhen I asked Hayden about it initially, he said it was both exciting and nerve-wracking (and who could blame him with that huge camera in his face?!)

After that, we talked a bit more about his winning photo.


Where were you when you took that photo? 

I always love taking pictures while I’m at the beach so when my family and I went to Cannon Beach (a popular spot on the coast of Oregon).

We travel there often and I always go prepared with my camera in tow.

I started taking pictures of the seagulls and that’s how I got that shot.


You’re just about to turn 13, nevertheless, you’ve managed to accomplish a lot. What has photography taught you and where do you want to take things in the future?


Photography has taught me patience, which isn’t something that come naturally to — no matter their age.

With my photography, sometimes you have to gain the trust of an animal in a very short period of time. Other times, you have to be very still for a very long time to wait for the clouds or the sun to be in a specific spot and wait for your window of opportunity to create that perfect snapshot.

I’ve done baby photography, group shots, and one wedding. For my photography, I want to expand into those areas and just keep on learning.

Haydens (1)

Let’s talk about a few fun things while we’re at it. What cameras do you own? What is your favorite and why? What is your favorite setting to shoot in?

I have a Canon rebel T3i and a little Nikon point-and-shoot.

I like them both for different reasons. I like my Canon because there are a lot more options there for getting that perfect photo. I have a lot of different lenses, and love using my macro lens for close up shots.

The point-and-shoot is that you can you have a zoom and wide angle built into it without changing lenses and it’s a lot lighter.

All and all, I prefer shooting in manual mode it gives me more control.

Lessons I Think Every Aspiring Photographer Can Take To Heart


After talking with Hayden and watching him “work”, there were quite a few things that I took away.

First of all, age isn’t something that we should ever use to define skill or success. Just because someone is young doesn’t mean that they are less likely to accomplish big things when pursuing their passion in life.

Photography has of way of capturing the beauty of a moment or the awesomeness of an animal or insect. Great photos evoke great emotion, and you don’t have to be a seasoned photographer to get the photo that has “it”.

Lastly, we should encourage children to express themselves. We should support them in the hectic and bustling journey that is this life.

If you’d like to see more of Hayden’s work and support him in his photography, be sure to follow him on Facebook.

All images are owned by Hayden Rossignol. 

Edgar Cardenas Interview: What Does Sustainability Look Like in the Backyard?


To show what sustainability looks like on a personal and intimate level, Edgar Cardenas, a Ph.D. student in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, began a series of photographs that would document his own land-conscious practice. He looked for the efforts made every day. Each photograph captured in one hundred little dramas was found in the backyard of his desert home.

Heavily influenced by the ideas of Aldo Leopold, the conservationist, ecologist, and “amateur” environmental philosopher, Cardenas embraced a personal narrative. There are portraits of his girlfriend basked in the red light of dusk, journal entries that poetically explain the stories behind several albumen prints, and meditations on loss. “Looking deeply at a small and personal space is actually not that common,” he notes. “I wanted to express that these [ecological] processes aren’t something that happen far away in the wilderness but in our backyards if we just pay attention.” 

I spoke to Cardenas about this project and about his ideas on photography and sustainability.

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Susana Raab Interview: Using Photography to Enter Your Past


In 2008, Susana Raab traveled to Peru, the country where she was born, to begin a six-year-long project about her lost homeland. Her family had left Peru when she was two, and she figured her photographs would take an anthropological vein—noting the land, people, and culture. But once back she soon realized how much her lost history was influencing her photography.

Cholita, both a term of endearment and an insult in Peru, became the title of her project. Originating in a colonial context, the word is used to identify children of indigenous and black parents. While traveling, Raab noticed she was being affectionately called La CholitaKnowing the history of the word, at once a signal of familiarity and foreignness, she decided to document those who, like her, lived between worlds. And in exploring their history, she began exploring her own past.

I spoke to Raab over email about Cholita and about her ideas about photography.

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John Chiara Interview: Photography in the Internet Age, Looking Back to See Ahead

John Chiara

Once exclusive to those with access and money, photography is now in the hands of anybody with a phone. To communicate today is to know how to Instagram your meal in the right light or how to picture yourself in the right pose. Literacy in the language of photography fast approaches a necessary education. Nearly everywhere you go an ever-present camera may do what it pleases with your image. Has there ever been a time when knowing how your image is viewed has mattered so much?

Yet a flood of images—from memory, from painting, from poetry—has always been with us. What hasn’t been witnessed before is an availability of image-seizing tools. The freedom to shoot is now everybody’s. Perhaps in response to this flood of picture-making, some photographers, including a stable featured this past May at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, have stepped back to older tools with a forward thrust. Labeled by the New Yorker as “photo-materialists,” they’ve taken an older language to direct contemporary eyes to what’s still possible in the frame.

Some like John Chiara have gone back to the very beginning and reclaimed the camera obscura. On the streets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Coahoma, Mississippi, he drives around with one as big as a small shed. In this retro-wormhole of a camera, a new view can be revitalized with an old physicality. Chiara’s images are objects. In his language, those objects can then become pictures of memory and space. “I feel photography has a long and complicated relationship with memory and the madness of the self-encounter,” he says. Mystery, a purposely darkened insight, is part of his process, and so is chance and intuition. But it can all be as simple as doing what has always been done, too. “People approach me all the time when I am out shooting and ask what I’m doing. I answer simply: this is a large camera and I am taking a color photograph.”

I spoke to Chiara over email about his work and his approach to photography.

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Mark Alor Powell Interview: What’s Hidden in the Darkrooms of Picture Making?

Mark Alor Powell

The interview that follows has been edited for readability. The editing has been limited to concerns of form. Mark Alor Powell’s answers and my questions have in no way been abridged. The opposite is true, in fact. Where story and metaphor required refining or expanding, story and metaphor have been refined or expanded.

The result is an honest attempt to imagine how two strangers, strangers who have never heard each other’s voice or seen each other’s face, and who live thousands of miles apart, would have spoken to each other if they had met one day. This interview may in fact be considered a true conversation. The conversation may in turn be considered a true fiction.

Mark Alor Powell lives and works in Mexico City. His newest photobook, Open at Noon, is out now.

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Andrea Margaret Interview: Does a Photograph Ever Truly Capture Who You Are?

Andrea Margaret

There are three people in the above photograph, and it would also be true to say that there are none. What starts as a familiar scene—a young beautiful woman staring into her reflection—has been complicated. Questions peek out. You begin to wonder why her unreflected body is obscured. Who exactly is she hiding? The photograph no longer looks like a self-portrait but one taken by a friend or a partner in a quiet hurry. You can imagine this friend wondering the same questions: “What is she thinking? Why is she making that face?” This friend, or lover, would stand just behind her shoulder, his or her head resting weightlessly on her floral wallpaper. He’s close enough to her, yes. He can almost hear her breathing, but his questions have no answers.

Andrea Margaret is a model and emerging photographer based in California. In this short interview, she talks to me about her recent work in photography, her modeling, and her thoughts on vulnerability.*

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Charlotte Colbert Interview: Using Timelapses to Capture Psychological Landscapes

Charlotte Colbert

The physical boundaries of a photograph are clear: without edges, a photograph would expand forever until light washed out all else. The frame bordering a photograph, the limits of its scope, both bounds and protects it. The boundaries of the mind are less clear. Where do you find imagination’s limits? Where’s the edge between dream and reality? Or, better, where and when does reality begin?

In her latest work, Charlotte Colbert draws from questions like these to explore what the inner states of the mind might look like. Using timelapses and medium-format film, as well as roughly emulsified homemade photographic paper, she materializes images of disconnect and ambiguity. Sticking to no reality other than their own, the photos in Studies and A Day at Home bring to mind our own uncharted inner depths, and point to reality’s tenuous hold.

I briefly spoke to Charlotte over email about her work.

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Andre D. Wagner Interview: New York Portraits That Give Face to Connection

Andre D. Wagner

A city can be hard to love. At times it may even seem maddeningly distant. As the sights go by, some streets will melt into others, as faces do in a crowd. Love spread too thin barely loves at all. When hoping to confront this largeness of presence, an artist often hunts for the stories and lives that form a city’s spirit, the material that shapes its core.

Andre D. Wagner, a portrait and street photographer based in New York, is one such artist. Eschewing a panoramic view of New York, one that collapses its dizzying heights into a plane of frenetic movement, Wagner instead looks for the sparks of feeling tucked within a gaze. He looks for moments that sing above the rush.

While he doesn’t consider himself creative, saying that the photographs he captures are “far more creative than I ever could be,” he has an undeniable eye for foreseeing where life will pop up. And that foresight, the anticipating of what will be before it’s there, requires him to go near and observe up close. He creates, preferably in film, his own special prints of the world, giving face to all that has moved him.

Wagner’s first solo exhibition, open to July 5th, is on view at the Papillion, Los Angeles. I spoke to Andre over email about his work.

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Guy Martin Interview: Turkey’s Popular Soap Operas Seen Through the Eyes of A Photojournalist

Guy Martin

“A prisoner exchange, outskirts of Istanbul”—reads one photo’s caption. “A man approaches a murder scene,” says another. “Murder of the mistress.” If you suspect that these captions seem inspired by the plots of a crime novel or a soap opera, you’re not mistaken. They are. Many of the photographs found in City of Dreams, Guy Martin’s Emergency Fund–awarded project, were taken on the sets of Turkish soap operas.

And although a soap opera—with its ever effusive acting, outlandish drama, and tantalizing resolutions—might seem as antithetical a visual medium to photojournalism as can be imagined, what Martin found was that in one sense the two worlds weren’t really that much different. In both worlds, when the camera’s on, life takes its stage and performs.

The late photojournalist Tim Hetherington coined the term “feedback loop” to illustrate a self-perpetuating relationship between those who fight in a conflict and those who capture images of them. He suggested that the movies, television, and photography that people ingest might influence not only their appearance but also their actions on a battlefield. “It’s the fact that there could be a revolution fought by young university students, teachers, and normal working people when they have had no training or knowledge of battlefield tactics or military planning,” says Martin about the feedback loop. “How are you supposed to dress, behave, act, or be a soldier? Where does that knowledge come from?”

Martin was with Tim Hetherington and fellow photojournalist Chris Hondros when they were hit, in Misrata, Libya, by a rocket-propelled grenade. Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed. Martin suffered a severe pelvic wound and underwent surgery at a triage center held by rebels. City of Dreams was his first project after taking a year off shooting. “I felt that there was something that I wanted to say, on a very basic level, that dealt with the way we (as western, foreign photographers) were documenting the region” he says. “I wanted to talk about notions of power and how countries exercise power . . . and as weird as it might sound—Turkish TV was one of those tools.”

I spoke to Guy Martin over email about his thoughts on photography and City of Dreams.

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Karen Miranda Rivadeneira Interview: Does Photography Preserve the Past or Give It Form?

Karen Miranda Rivadeneira

How much of your life has already been forgotten? Which moments would you have remembered instead? Questions of this sort, ones about memory, sparked the Ecuadorian photographer Karen Miranda Rivadeneira to start Other Stories, a project that pulls together her attempts at recreating memories of her childhood, ones that she considers “inaccessible” to her conscious mind or ones already ransacked by the years of time.

Each photograph has a line of words written into its bottom edge. These words give hints of the memory, or invention of one, that has been ciphered within. There’s a pliancy in memory. And Rivadeneira, questioning what it means to remember, stages and directs her family to help her recreate events that might have happened, if only because they’ve happened before (to her family, to others), but may have not actually happened, or happened only theoretically. “Other Stories is, if anything, the antithesis of childhood memories,” she says. Unadorned and softened in natural light, the photos exercise a mental juggling of her past. What’s remembered may only be a clever summary—and a photograph, the dress rehearsal of that remembering.

I spoke to Rivadeneira over email about Other Stories and her ideas on photography.

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