Kirsten Luce is a photojournalist living in New York City. A regular contributor to the New York Times, Kirsten has also had her work commissioned by and published in some of the country’s top news publications including The Washington Post, LA Times, Newsday, National Geographic and more. She was recently invited by Nike to take part in their project THE CHANCE, and snapped some photographs of the competition finalists. We caught up with Kirsten for a chat about her work.
Where did your interest in photography spring from?
I won a small pocket camera as a prize in elementary school. I started by taking photos of my family, the woods behind my house, a trip to the aquarium, whatever i was doing. In high school they opened up an old darkroom and offered an intro level black and white class, after that the teacher noticed my enthusiasm and gave me access to the darkroom whenever I wanted. It was then when I started documenting the people and places around me and never stopped.
How long have you been in the game?
I’ve been a photojournalist for 7 years now, I started with a half-year internship with the Birmingham News in Alabama. It’s a lot easier to learn the fundamentals of a craft when you surrounded by big-hearted people who are patient enough to help you when you’re having trouble.
Before THE CHANCE – did you have an interest in sports? play any sports as a child etc?
When I was younger I was into gymnastics. I had a lot of energy, I spent my childhood doing cartwheels and tumbling in the backyard. I even had a trapeze hanging from the rafters in my room. These days I love to run in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The circumference is just the right distance for me and there is plenty of people-watching opportunities along the way. I’d much rather run outside than at the gym especially on a sunny, windy day.
Soccer inparticular – what was your experience in the game – if none, what were your views?
I’ve really never played but I’ve always enjoyed the agility and athleticism of the players. Soccer is clearly gaining steam here in the US but it’s when I’m outside of the country that I am impressed by watching young kids skillfully kick around a soccer ball the way most Americans grow up shooting baskets.
Throughout your career you have shot some amazing moments in time – are there particular assignments which have had a big impact on the way you think and the way you work?
For me I am regularly impacted by assignments I shoot. It’s an evolving process and I hope that never stops. The last great story I worked on was about a student protest movement in Mexico and the impact it had on the presidential elections Violence and the drug war are dominating the headlines we see from Mexico and I think it is easy to forget about the millions of residents leading interesting lives and working for positive change in their country. It’s not a place to be dismissed or ignored; they are our neighbors.
What has the experience been like with THE CHANCE?
The Chance was a great experience, we were in Flushing, Queens for two days as the coaches and scouts tried to determine who was the single most promising athlete. It was hard to see the disappointment when some kids’ faces when they didn’t make the cut but it was equally inspiring to see Erick recognized as a truly incredible player. The most interesting part of the project was spending the day with Erick and his family. I met them at their apartment in the Bronx and the whole family traveled to two games together. They didn’t have a car so we got rides with teammates or took the bus to get around. It was a long day but everyone was in it together.
Has your documentation of the young soccer players changed your view on the sport at all?
I was surprised to see how serious and focused the high school students were. I assumed they would be joking around, being sarcastic and acting like typical teenagers. I couldn’t have been more wrong–these kids were intensely focused on the game and I think they all recognized what a huge opportunity The Chance could be for them and their soccer career.
Can you tell us of any moments within THE CHANCE that stand out?
Watching Erick at home with his family, I saw that his soccer career relied on support from his family and friends. His father would help him stretch, his little brother would help him wrap his ankle before a match, his mother would be the first to greet him with a hug on the field. He reacted with warmth and appreciation and you could tell how proud they were to have a top-notch soccer player in their family.
During the Chance, I noticed his parents, two brothers and a cousin in the stands. Most families dropped off their sons to compete but his family spent two days there with him cheering him along. Erick’s father, who had just moved to the US from Venezuela one week earlier, cried and hugged him when he was announced the winner. It was a touching moment.
Have you got any new projects lined up for the near future?
I shoot several assignments a week for the New York Times in the five boroughs and I have an ongoing project in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, which is not quite Texas and not quite Mexico. I’m interested in stories about daily life in the US and Mexico, stories that involve people that don’t typically make the news.
I also help organize the Foundry Photojournalism Workshops, a non-profit photo workshop in a different developing country each year. The idea is to give support and a sense of community to young photographers who might not have access to this education otherwise. (www.foundryphotoworkshop.org) Even the best soccer players rely on their team; you can’t do it all alone.