It’s easy to forget the real people behind stories like the Dakota Access Pipeline protest; or the crime, poverty, and violence on Chicago’s West Side. For Chicago-based photojournalist Alyssa Schukar, however, context is the most important aspect of a photograph. Schukar approaches her assignments—for publications like The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, Chicago Magazine, and Newsweek, among others—with the intention of capturing more than a moment.
“I have to approach everyone with empathy and respect and try to portray them in a dignified way,” Schukar tells The Creators Project. “I'm not really much of a news photographer, because I don't just want to take images; I want to make them as a collaborative effort with the person I'm photographing.” She achieves this by shooting traditional portraits, found portraits—candids that read as portraiture—and through in-depth immersions with people on the scene. “There's a relationship built and a rapport there before I start snapping pictures,” she says.
When Schukar was assigned to the #NoDAPL protests in North Dakota for The New York Times, she was originally there to shoot Green Party candidate Jill Stein's visit, but knew the story was bigger than that. “Particularly with the Dakota Access Pipeline, I wanted to be able to put [the protestors’] words with the images, because it was a very political situation,” Schukar says. “It was a very complicated world to walk into, as well.”
Rather than shooting away and then gathering names and information, Schukar spent time with the protestors, learning about them and why they were there. The information informed her photos, becoming images of people rather than Pipeline construction and protests. “I'm much more interested in people than I am in photography,” she says.
Schukar credits her first staff job, at the Omaha World-Herald in her native Nebraska, with exposing her to a wide range of people and situations. As the state's paper of record, the gig required her to talk to urban dwellers one day and rural ranchers the next. Since going freelance two years ago, she has focused primarily on how the environment—both literally and figuratively—shapes humanity.
A series on Marktown, a community originally built as housing for steel mill workers’ families in East Chicago, Indiana, shows images of a town being slowly killed by pollution and economic erosion caused by the very industry that built it. Similarly, her work chronicling the life of Jerryon Stevens for Chicago Magazine reflects the indelible effect Chicago's West Side can have on the lives of those who grow up there. “The work that I really like to do […] I can spend time with people and be immersed in their world,” Schukar says.
See more of Alyssa Schukar’s work below:
Click here to see more of Alyssa Schukar's work.