Sometimes all it takes is persistence and entry into the world of cloistered nuns to jump-start a career.
For UR publicity photographer Shannon Tag-gart, these were some of the tools that recently caused the Photo District News Magazine to name her one of 30 emerging photographers to watch. From this group of 30 photographers, she then won the 2001 Nikon Shooting Star award.
Twenty-five-year-old Taggart, who was born in Buffalo, N.Y., graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1998 with a degree in documentary and photojournalism. While she knew she loved photography, she had little to no experience with the technical aspects of the field.
?It?s a fluky thing. When I went to RIT, I didn?t know how to process film and I didn?t even know what an F-stop was,? Taggart said.
After graduating, she won the Alexia Grant and Scholarship from Syracuse University due to her two and a half years studying and photographing patients at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. The award money gave her the opportunity to study in London under National Geographic photojournalist Ed Kashi.
It was in London that Taggart came across the Tyburn Convent. The convent was built in 1900 around the Gallows of Tyburn, a field where many Catholics were killed during the Reformation.
She was so enthralled with the site as she passed it on a tour bus that she called the convent. Armed with her F5 Nikon and the nuns? permission, Taggart began to photograph their daily lives, from worship to playtime.
?That is where I got all these pictures of nuns on swings and jumping rope and shooting snooker. They just ran outside and went nuts.?
Six months later, Taggart returned home from London, unsure of her future.
?I came back and I didn?t have a job. I had all these pictures and I thought, ?Is this it??? Taggart said. ?I graduated from college, but I had no idea how to get from point A to point B. I was working at Kinko?s and I was totally depressed.?
Taggart finally decided that it was time to be proactive. In the fall of 1999 she had her first chance.
?I sent pictures to four magazines where I would like to get published and one of them actually bit. I guess it was my big break,? she said.
Her break was Blind Spot magazine, a well-known magazine in the photo world. The magazine printed four of her nun pictures. Soon after, Random House used one of the images for the cover of the book ?Lying Awake,? a novel by Mark Salzman.
She has also received other offers for the nun pictures.
?PBS wants to follow me around [the cloister] with a video crew,? she said, although she doesn?t plan on agreeing to the offer. ?It?s just amazing that they would call.?
One company wants to use the images for amusing greeting cards.
In order to release the images, however, the nuns have to agree to their use. While Taggart says the nuns are happy for her success, they seem a bit apprehensive. ?I think they are just afraid I will misuse their images,? she said.
With all these opportunities, Taggart doesn?t plan on being a publicity photographer forever.
?Eventually I would like to be in business for myself or working for an agency,? she said. ?I want to make money off the pictures that I want to take.?
Although this would probably mean a move to New York City, Taggart explained that she feels the subjects of her work, such as nuns and mental institutions, are not readily found in big cities. By moving, she might jeopardize those aspects of her photography.
But it is not only the subject of the photograph that matters. Taking chances makes the difference.
?Entering competitions can really open doors. Alexia was the first one I ever entered and it really changed my life. You really have to condense your talent into one little piece,? she said.
While Taggart?s career seems to be taking off, it has not been an uncomplicated road.
?I have a lot of friends in a place they don?t want to be, but people won?t come to you,? she said. ?You have to market yourself. You have to have work you believe in that you know is good. If other people see you stand behind it, they will too.?