The New York Times Magazine
Directory of Photography: Kathy Ryan
Photo Editor: Amy Kellner
Photo Editor: Christine Walsh
Photographer: Damon Casarez
Heidi: I know you started the project with just 3 photos, is that all you had pitched to the NYT for the story and then it developed from there?
Damon: Yes. I was marketing myself for a NYC editorial meetings trip for the following week and I had emailed Amy Kellner at the NYT about a week before going, letting her know I would be coming to town and would love to meet her and show my work. Towards the end of the email, I had one sentence telling her about the project and I attached 2 out of the 3 photos. That’s how this all started.
( 3 photos that started the project out)
Who did you address to the pitch to and what was your presentation?
The pitch was to Amy Kellner at the NYT. It was super basic, along the lines of “Here is a new project I’m working on about Boomerang kids, young adults who’ve had to move back home after college.” I got a response within the hour, asking if the photos had been published anywhere. We had a phone call shortly after that and she let me know that she would be pitching it to the editorial team and to not show anyone else the photos for now. The next day I received an email saying that it went over great with the team and they wanted me to continue it across the country as a photo essay. It was a dream come true.
Did you send it to anyone else besides the NYT?
I did, I sent it out to about 4 other news based magazines that I thought it would be a great fit for. I didn’t receive any other responses and stopped pitching it.
Was this your first big national news story?
Yes, this was my first national feature story and first cover, of course. I shoot a lot for Los Angeles Magazine, have shot a couple profiles for Bloomberg Businessweek and have had a couple of photos in Pacific Standard Magazine. I assist half time and shoot half time for my income as I’m starting out.
Were you concerned about rejection or did you have enough positive reinforcement prior to reaching out to them?
I’ve learned over the last couple of years after graduating and trying to get my name out in the photo world that rejection is a big part of marketing. You have to have thick skin when you are starting out and no one has heard of you. After making the 1st photo (Jacqueline Boubion,) I knew that the project had potential. Also, after trying to find people on craigslist, I had more responses from writers and photographers who wanted to jump on the project with me. I even got a call from some Hollywood book agent who wanted me to think about making the project into a book or sitcom, since it’s such a relevant topic. I took it down shortly after, ha.
Were you in despair when you decided to to this project, thus it was cathartic?
Yes and no. I had to move back home after having a rough summer where assisting work and shooting work was extremely slow and I had no savings because my overhead was so high with student loans, rent, insurance, etc. Moving back home was my last resort and I felt like a failure for a bit. After beginning the project and realizing how many others were out there like me, it was clear that I needed to bring this story to light and share the experience of the “Boomerang Kids,” including my own story.
What advice would you give to young photo college students?
I would tell students that you have to prepare yourself as much as you can in college. A lot of students don’t and have no idea what they will do after art school and begin trying to figure it out, and then the loans start coming. I had two amazing internships and a few mentors in college and I always tried to meet with other LA photographers, show them my work and get feedback and ask all kinds of questions. I first interned with Maren Levinson, owner of Redeye Reps photo agency, where I learned the business side and marketing side of photography. Next, I interned with Amy Feitelberg, who is photo editor at Los Angeles Magazine. I was able to see how the magazine was run and witness stories from their beginning to it being published. I’m still good friends with both Maren and Amy and constantly ask them for advice and feedback on new work, which is another reason why you should intern.
How receptive has your former school been about this body of work?
My school was extremely receptive. They were very happy to hear the news and hopefully will have me speak there soon! I learned so much on this job and have a lot of insight I could share with students.
How did you decide who you would shoot and how did you go about finding them? Did the magazine get involved?
I found most of the people through a mix of craigslist, and friends of friends. I used Facebook to have my friends reach out to their network of friends and so on. I also found one person, Jessica Meyer, on instagram, by searching hashtags. When I had a potential subject, I would have a long phone conversation with them to see if they were a good fit for the project, then we would talk about their home life so I could get a better idea how I would photograph them. From that point, I would send a brief about each person to the photo editor and we would figure out together if they were right for the story. There were a lot of factors involved for choosing the people, such as what was their major, age, if they had loans, what they were doing now and when they moved back home.