Laura Mueller

My journey to photojournalism was unconventional. First inspired by National Geographic, I had a camera in hand from the age of ten after spending my birthday money on a Kodak Instamatic at our local drugstore. By the time I graduated from high school my parents had taken me camping across America and back, twice, in a VW camper, ferried me all over Europe, and arranged for me to spend the summer with a Dutch family in the Netherlands. Through it all my dad, who loved documenting our experiences on film, inspired me to follow his example.

I found my passion early but did not make the commitment until grad school. It was in the MFA program at Rochester Institute of Technology that I enrolled in a workshop with Mary Ellen Mark. I found my hero. I moved to New York City’s lower east side in 1985 and assisted Peter B. Kaplan while he was documenting the Statue of Liberty renovation and bicentennial. He specialized in heights. I climbed the cables to the top of the Williamsburg Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge. We spent almost every day for one year photographing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. 

My first newspaper assignments were with the New York Post. I covered the Mayor Koch years, Imelda Marcos, and so many festivals. The Post sent me on my first travel story - to Jamaica - because when asked ‘can you write?’, I said ‘Yes'.

My first and only staff position came next with The Charlotte Observer (NC) in 1989. I stayed for twenty-one years. These were the golden years - human interest stories, photo essays, travel budgets, and long-term projects. We covered the state and any news story that involved NC in the world. I was NC Photographer of the Year 1992. The paper sent me to Somalia in 1993 and to Honduras in 1998 to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. I spent 1994 in Australia on a fully funded Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship working on a Master's Degree at the University of Canberra. The Observer paid the difference between my award and my salary and required that I sign a contract to work for the paper for one full year when I returned. Those were the days! I worked with the best and the paper hired the best. I was most challenged and did some of my most memorable work under the guidance of Director of  Photography Susan Gilbert and Visual Editor Thé Pham, followed by Director of Photography Bert Fox. They were incredible leaders, establishing energy and spirit at the helm of an institution that’s purpose was to share the stories of the community.

What I continue to love most is community photojournalism, documenting the everyday, and finding the stories that connect us. I joined the faculty of an independent school in NC as a photographer and photography teacher in 2012. This is where I continue to practice photojournalism and hope to inspire students to find their own heroes in photojournalism.