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|| News Item: Posted 2011-01-05

Jordan Stead's Favorite Image of 2010
“When your tiny intern apartment is less than two hours from the U.S. and Mexico border, my international option for travel suddenly became quite clear.”

By JORDAN STEAD, Western Washington University

Editor's Note: For this issue of the Sports Shooter Newsletter I asked students that are members of or had attended one of the Academy workshops to submit their favorite photo of 2010 and write a short piece about it. This image could be from a favorite assignment, show something they had learned or is something of a personal nature. The one requirement was, the image had to have special significance to them.

Photo by Jordan Stead

Photo by Jordan Stead

Prostitutes of Zona Norte, dressed as schoolgirls, take a break from work to tell secrets and text their friends Sunday, Aug. 29, 2010, in Tijuana, Mexico.
While interning in southern California for ZUMA Press last summer, the gravity of the opportunity I was knee-deep in truly hit me. Here I was, thousands of miles from my hometown of Seattle, Washington, shooting for a worldwide wire service. The credentials around my neck granted me access nearly anywhere I wanted to go. It was time to focus less on the smaller, local assignments around me and take advantage of the fruits of my geographic location. After making pictures in Los Angeles, down to Orange County, up to Pasadena, and down again to San Diego, I decided it was time to go big or go home.

I began to travel further from the ZUMA offices in San Clemente and the surrounding areas of southern California. I went to Vegas, shooting the after-dark happenings on the strip. I worked my way into fetish porn studio to shoot a photo essay on what life behind the curtain of the sex industry is really like. Finally, it was time to go international. When your tiny intern apartment is less than two hours from the U.S. and Mexico border, my international option for travel suddenly became quite clear.

Early one morning in late August, I left my apartment with a friend who had traveled down from Los Angeles the previous day, and we headed south. Dressed in light clothing and sporting a simple setup of a Canon 5D paired with a 35mm prime, I set out to make pictures. And hour and a half later, I was walking across the border into Tijuana, Mexico. Despite warnings by family and friends concerning the escalating drug violence in the city, my friend and I wandered deeper into the streets. I shot basic street work, a glimpse into a woman’s residential life, and later began to follow a shoe shiner for a day-in-the-life piece.

At some point in the early afternoon, Tijuana police accosted my travel partner and I under the suspicion that we had come south of the border to buy drugs. We were slammed against the side of building, our pockets emptied and our bodies frisked. As one of the officers began to reach for my camera, I surprised them both by speaking to them in Spanish, explaining I was a photojournalist from the U.S., and pulled out my ZUMA credentials. It was a long shot, but it worked. The two quickly apologized and left in a hurry.

Moments later, I shot the picture that won me 1st place the features category in NPPA’s most recent national student quarterly contest: Five young women, all prostitutes, hovered outside of the door of their brothel, relaxing while on break. One whispered secrets in another’s ear as another pair texted a friend. Another girl, her face obscured, hugged yet another prostitute, her gum pinched between two fingers. The moment was so quick and fleeting, but captured the true essence of what these prostitutes really were at that moment, despite their occupation and surroundings – young women at heart.

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