Like many photographers, Donn Young has built an assignment-driven professional career balanced with projects of personal interest done for no other client than himself and the general public.
Tike many professional photographers, Donn Young has built an assignment-driven career balanced with projects of personal interest done for no other client than himself and the general public. Since 1973, these projects, removed from the climate of corporate and editorial photography that Young practices, engage with cultural or social themes that resonate with his worldview. Young has lived in North Carolina since 2007, but up until that time he spent the bulk of his career in New Orleans.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 6, 1950, Young attended the University of Baltimore from 1969 to 1971, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst from 1972 to 1973, where he majored in photography, journalism, and communications. Young was a photographer for the Valley Advocate newspaper in Amherst from 1973 until 1980, the year he came to New Orleans to work as a photographer for the alternative newsweekly Figaro. From 1982 until 1984, while still practicing a mostly photojournalistic type of photography, Young established the New Orleans Consortium, a freelance bureau that provided photographic services to print and broadcast outlets, including Time, USA Today, The Boston Globe,The Dallas Morning News, and National Public Radio. From 1982 to 1998, Young served as a staff photographer for the weekly New Orleans newspaper City Business, and he spent another decade, 1998 to 2008, as an assignment photographer for Gambit, another New Orleans newsweekly. Overlapping these employments was a role as photojournalist for the Port of New Orleans from 1996 to 2008. Additional assignments were commissioned by clients as varied as Billboard and Mother Jones, Garden and Gun, and Der Spiegel.
Throughout his career, Young’s work has been recognized for its excellence. In 1978, the New England Press Club named him Photographer of the Year. In 1986, the New Orleans Press Club gave him that same award. In 2006, he received the Gold Award from the League of American Communication Professionals. In 2011, Young received a Special Merit award from Duke University, and the Grand Award for feature writing from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
Flooding from Hurricane Katrina swamped Young’s home and studio in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans with some ten feet of water, decimating his archive of film and digital images. The Association of Records Managers and Administrators viewed his life’s work as historically significant, and worked with Young and the Hill Memorial Library at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where it is currently preserved, to salvage a remnant of the archive. The Louisiana State Archives also holds a selection of Young’s images, as do the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Louisiana State Museum, the Goldring Family Foundation, the Lamar Family Foundation, and the Thomas Coleman Family Foundation. Since 1976, Young’s photographs have been exhibited at galleries and museums, including the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in Paris, France, in 2007; the Hill Memorial Library at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 2008; and the Center for the Study of the American House at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010.
Young has organized a number of exhibitions, including one commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association at the Port of New Orleans in 2007. The effects of Hurricane Katrina prompted Young to organize artists of all disciplines in mounting an exhibition in 2008 at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge titled 40 Days and 40 Nights: The Resiliency of Louisiana Artists. He also organized The Essence of New Orleans, which was installed in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans in 2007.
Young’s self-assignments are steeped in cultural and social concerns and have resulted in extended series of photographs. His Louisiana-based series include Legends of Jazz (begun in 1980; )40 Days and 40 Nights (2005–2008); and State Street (begun in 1975) meant to accompany a poem by Katie Bowler.
In North Carolina, Young is currently working on projects involving hunger in that state: A Portrait of Hunger (begun 2009) and The American Indian Healthy Eating Project (2008). He is also one of 16 artists participating in Behind the Seen: Encounters with the Contemporary Family, which will result in an exhibition in 2013. At present, Young is an adjunct professor of photography at Rockingham Community College in North Carolina, and an assignment photographer for Endeavors, a magazine of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also staff photographer for Artsee magazine. In August 2011, he traveled to Saudi Arabia, where under the auspices of the Saudi Aramco Cultural Program he conducted three workshops on telling stories through photographic essays.