Alumni Award Profile: Maura Friedman

Alumni Award Profile: Maura Friedman

April 25, 2023

The following is one installment of a series recognizing alumni and friends who will be honored at the 2023 Grady Salutes celebration on April 28, 2023. For more details, please see our posts about our Fellowship honorees, Alumni Award recipients and Dean’s Medalist.

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Congratulations to Maura Friedman (ABJ ‘13), recipient of the John E. Drewry Young Alumni Award.

Friedman is a senior photo editor at National Geographic where she curates and commissions photography on stories across print, digital and social media.

Before starting at National Geographic, Friedman worked at the Urban Institute, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and as a freelance visual journalist producing stories across the Southeast United States.

Friedman takes a photo in a cemetery.

She has produced work for many well-known organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Whole Foods and YouTube. Friedman has also served on juries and portfolio reviews for organizations such as American Photography 39, Visa Pour L’Image and the International Center of Photography.

Friedman has been recognized with several awards for her work as an editor as well as for her work in the field. Her own visual work has won Tennessee Associated Press awards, a Dart Award and it has been part of a Pulitzer finalist special project.

During her time at UGA, Friedman received her Bachelor’s in Magazine Journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism. She also completed the New Media Certificate. She decided to pursue a career in photojournalism because she truly enjoys it.

“I was trying to figure out what to do when I was graduating and I thought to myself, ‘What has felt like the least amount of work?’ And that was photojournalism,” Friedman said.

The path to photojournalism

Friedman has been interested in photography since she was little. Because of her mom’s background in art history, she grew up going to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. During these visits, she would take pictures of the artwork, and she even remembers saving up her babysitting money to buy her first DSLR camera: a Canon Rebel.

When Friedman arrived at UGA, she knew that she was interested in studying magazine journalism. However, it wasn’t until she immersed herself in organizations like Ampersand Magazine that her passion for photojournalism began to take root.

“I was becoming the managing editor at Ampersand, and I was like, ‘I need to have some context for leading the photo editor and these teams of photographers.’” Friedman said. “So I dove a lot more into [photojournalism] and decided to apply to the emphasis and I ended up loving it.”

Friedman said that her time at Grady College and her involvement in different organizations on campus prepared her well for life after UGA.

Friedman poses with other students in her photojournalism class at UGA.

“The way that we conducted ourselves at The Red & Black and Ampersand, along with the expectations from all of my professors, and especially Mark Johnson, has made such an impact on me,” she said.

After graduation, Friedman decided to pursue a career in photojournalism. With the help of Grady funding, she attended a northern short course workshop through the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). There she met a leader in NPPA who was also a friend of Professor Johnson’s, and she asked him to look over her portfolio.

“He looked at my photos and he was like, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ And I was like, ‘Yes,’” Friedman said. “And he essentially said, ‘Okay, well, you’re not very good, so you should just take a lot more photos and I would suggest that you apply to one of the six month newspaper internships around the country because you’ll get a lot of experience and be taking photos every day.’”

Friedman took his advice to heart and created a spreadsheet of all of the newspaper internships and then applied to every single one. She diligently followed up with each of them and ended up getting a position at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Friedman said that the Times Free Press had had a great experience with UGA interns before, but that her persistence also probably helped her secure the internship.

“I think they were a little eager to go back to UGA interns and also, I was told later that I was given a phone interview so I would stop calling the newsroom,” she said.

Persistence is key

As she has moved forward in her career, Friedman has noticed that new doors continue to open as a result of seeking out overlaps between her interests and gaps in the interests of others.

“When I was at the Times Free Press, it was a pretty seasoned team of photo journalists and so they weren’t very eager about video,” Friedman said. “So I worked a lot on video and was able to kind of pitch myself into a multimedia reporter position.”

Friedman smiles with her camera during her internship at Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Friedman also took the time to invest in new skills that didn’t necessarily fall directly within the responsibilities of her role at the time. She turned to the larger photojournalism community, attending workshops and getting connected with people in order to continue learning and pursuing her interests.

“I learned about how editors work with stories and curation… and people were always like, ‘Oh, if you need someone to look through an assignment, Maura can do it,’” Friedman said. “The Week also used to have a photo column that I wrote for them for free with the caveat that the editor, when she inevitably rearranged my whole photo edit, would tell me why she did that and kind of walk me through the process.”

All of this learning and searching for overlaps led Friedman to her jobs at the Urban Institute and National Geographic.

“A lot of opportunities or things that ended up helping me stand out or advance just came from looking at issues with curiosity,” Friedman said.

National Geographic

During her time as a senior photo editor, Friedman has been able to build long-lasting relationships with the photographers who she works with. Additionally, National Geographic still has a filing system which does not allow you to delete any images, so the editors look at every single picture taken by the photographers.

Friedman edits the Appian Way story at the National Geographic office.

“When I’m going through someone’s entire take, it feels like I can tell what they’re feeling and what they’re thinking,” Friedman said. “And it makes for really productive conversations.”

She added that advancing the work of these photographers is one of the most rewarding parts of her job as a senior photo editor.

“For me, it’s most rewarding when I talk to photographers and our collaboration has, in some way, advanced their body of work, whether it’s that the assignment that we did has been meaningful and has contributed to the archive that they’re building, or that they were on assignment for someone else and heard me in their head,” Friedman said.

One of her favorite pieces that she has worked on so far is a story on the Appian Way, one of the first and most famous ancient roads. Friedman really enjoyed being able to work with photographer Andrea Frazzetta on this project.

“He and I gelled really well,” Friedman said. “We’re both pretty esoteric thinkers, so a lot of our brainstorming was exchanging heroes’ epics and being like, ‘We want to photograph it like the Italian academic period.’”

Working with Frazzetta was also a full-circle moment for Friedman. She sat in on a meeting with him and another photo editor at the start of her time at National Geographic and she said that he was one of the first photographers to really talk to her and look her in the eye in those meetings.

Friedman poses for a picture with photographer Andrea Frazzetta on the Appian Way.

“Andrea is a great guy and was one of the first people to be really nice to me when I showed up at National Geographic and no one knew me. You definitely get treated differently everywhere you go as a woman,” Friedman said. “It feels great to now be working with him in this professional capacity.”

Advice for Grady students

When asked what she would tell herself at 20 years old, Friedman said that she would tell herself that everything works out and to stop being so hard on herself. She would also tell herself to look at more photography.

“I think I was really focused on productivity and making stories and checking things off versus really exploring documentary photography and all sorts of inspiring spaces and getting to know my taste,” Friedman said.

She added that it took her a long time to develop her own taste in photography and that she sees that same gap in lots of other young photographers.

“I think that’s important, not so that you can have an answer for me when I ask about it, but so that you have your own kind of North Star,” Friedman said.

Some of the photographers that Friedman looks up to are Sally Mann, Larry Sultan, Jonas Bendiksen and Alessandra Sanguinetti.

Friedman also shared some of the best advice that she has ever received, which has helped her in her career.

“There are three important things, and you only have to pick two: you can be really good, you can be really nice, or you can be on time,” Friedman said. “I really think that everyone who has a long career fits into those spaces.”

Something else that Friedman has learned throughout her career is the importance of trusting your own creative vision and of finding people whose work you admire and whose input you value.

“I think it is important to decide whose voices matter to you and who you trust,” Friedman said. “You’re always right in your vision.”