National Geographic photographer Maggie Steber talked her way into a first job by pounding the streets of Galveston with a camera in her hand.
The Texas native was fresh out of college, lobbying The Daily News’ managing editor for a job earmarked for male applicants because of the late hours.
“I went out and found a story by talking to people at the cafes, around town, in stores — talked to lots of people and asked what was going on there,” Steber recalled in an email interview as she prepared for an assignment in Haiti.
“I’d never even been in Galveston before.”
She worked through the night to produce photos and a story about an old wooden surgical theater under threat of demolition. The editor hired her on the spot.
Steber and her camera have been compassionately chasing stories ever since. National Geographic has published her essays on Miami, the African slave trade, the Cherokee Nation, sleep, soldiers’ letters, Dubai and a story on the science of memory that included a sidebar on her mother’s struggle with dementia.
When National Geographic started work on a new exhibit and book on female photographers, Steber was one of the 11.
“Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment” focuses on the work of veteran photographers as well as younger ones.
Some of the projects in the exhibit required dedicated immersion. Steber, now based in Miami, has photographed in Haiti since the 1980s.
“Basically, the way to become a photographer in a market where there are too many and not enough work, you have to work very hard, be persistent and patient, kind, work on a project over time,” she said. “Spending time with people or on a subject is when you make your best photos.
“I covered a lot of things from eruptions in Haiti to fashion. I’ve worked in 64 countries — a life I never expected to have.”
Steber grew up in a small Texas town near the Oklahoma border. She studied photography at the University of Texas before heading to Galveston for her first job.
She would stay on the island almost a year, writing feature stories, covering school board meetings, writing the police report.
“It’s a great thing to work on a smaller paper because you got to do everything, and I learned so much,” she said. “It gave me a chance to grow as a photographer in a daily news sense where you have to be creative on demand several times daily.”
Steber would go on to cover assignments around the world for Life, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, People, Newsweek, Time and Sports Illustrated, as well as National Geographic. Her honors include the Leica Medal of Excellence and the Medal of Honor for Distinguished Service to Journalism from the University of Missouri.
As in that first job at The Daily News, Steber’s camera skills and patient compassion often open doors reserved for men. She hopes this new book and exhibit tell a similar story.
“It seems we women are less threatening and get into places that are tough to get into,” she said. “I want readers to see that women can have these grand adventures, tell these stories, and more than that, I hope we are role models for other young women no matter what they want to do.”
At a glance
WHAT: “Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment,” a book and exhibition profiling the work of 11 women in 99 images.
WHERE: The next stop for the exhibit is at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., starting Sept. 14. The exhibit then heads for the Palm Beach Photographic Centre from Jan. 17 through March 22.