Current Issue / DU Alumni

Photojournalist Aaron Huey follows stories off the beaten path

Aaron Huey

Photo District News named Aaron Huey one of the top 30 young photographers in the world. Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Huey

Not long ago, Aaron Huey (BFA ’99) was painting houses and sleeping on people’s couches, earning just enough money to repeatedly quit and travel to obscure and sometimes dangerous spots around the world.

No reason; it just felt important.

Same with the time he decided to walk across America.

And also for the time he decided to buy some land in New Mexico on credit cards and create an artist-in-residence program.

So, when he was being shot at by the Taliban last summer, hiding under a pickup truck with a New Yorker reporter and a camera full of images documenting the opium trade, there was one thing he realized he had to do before he died: get married. A few days later, he proposed to his long-time girlfriend and married her on top of a rusting Russian tank in Afghanistan.

Huey gets an inspiration and goes with it, which may be why he’s achieved such recent acclaim as a photographer. Though he only started shooting “for hire” within the last three years, Huey was recently named by Photo District News as one of the top 30 young photographers in the world and he is this year’s recipient of DU’s Ammi Hyde Award for Recent Graduate Achievement.

Huey’s first published work chronicled his 154-day walk across America and appeared in Smithsonian magazine in 2004. Since then, his images have been published in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, National Geographic, Harper’s and many other magazines and newspapers.

For the last three years—mostly on his own dime—Huey has been visiting the Lakota people living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to create a photo journal of their lives. Harper’s Magazine will publish the story this spring.

In 2001, Huey interned under Steve McCurry, a frequent National Geographic contributor who snapped the famous “Afghan Girl” photograph. McCurry says Huey’s very nature makes him a good photographer.

“Aaron is very curious about life and the planet and people in general,” says McCurry. “He has always traveled, so he’s used to going to difficult places and doing pictures off the beaten path. All those elements combine in Aaron and point to someone who’s cut out to do something special.”

Huey says that he’s motivated to tell stories that no one else is telling. In addition to Pine Ridge, he is starting his own project to explore Sufism—Islamic mysticism—which he says is “a positive way of looking at Islam.”

“My success is not measured in money,” he says. “I have no financial security, I have no savings account. I measure my success by asking myself if I’m telling a story that the world needs to hear, if I am educating people. I also measure success by the amount of art that survives in my storytelling and by the amount of fun that I am having. Money would be nice to have, but I’ll take art over money any time.”

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