Lloyd Mitchell, ’14, spends his days chasing panic and tragedy in Brooklyn, New York.
As a freelance photojournalist, Mitchell works to document first responders, like the New York Police Department and New York Fire Department, springing into life-saving action at a moment’s notice.
“Police officers, fire fighters, EMTs,” said Mitchell. “These people are showing up at your worst possible times. It’s their job, and I have to be there, too. My role is to show people how hard police officers and fire fighters care for their community, and to capture members of public safety saving lives.”
Mitchell’s dedication to demonstrating the heroism of these dedicated public servants brought him a unique opportunity: to appear on Unsung Heroes, a mini show produced by the Oxygen Network.
“The Oxygen network actually approached me with the opportunity,” said Mitchell. “They saw my work on Instagram and Google and really wanted me to be a part of the show. They told me the back-story idea of the show was around three people: a New York Police Department crime scene technician, a courtroom sketch artist and a news photographer.
Appearing on the show, which began airing in March 2018, took a lot of preparation. “I was asked about 10 questions in an office environment,” said Mitchell. “I was also interviewed in a studio setting where I spoke about my job as a photojournalist. We had to coordinate a day for the film crews and staff to hang out with me, and we ended up working two house fires in Brooklyn.”
Although arduous, Mitchell says the whole experience was incredible. “It was interesting having a bunch of people following me around as I showed them how I work, from the initial call, to getting to the scene, to editing the photographs,” he said. “We were getting ready to do an interview and I had to stop them because of a house fire with reported people trapped in a section of Brooklyn. As we arrived on the scene, a firefighter broke the second floor window of the dwelling and the glass exploded. The director said to me ‘I can’t believe this stuff really happens. You have the coolest job.’”
Mitchell, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, had recently returned to his hometown after graduating from Buffalo’s Villa Maria College with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Literature.
“I started off majoring in photography at Villa,” he said. “But I had a difficult time with the drawing curriculum. Even so, I continued to take photos and was always around the scenes that involved the Buffalo Police Department and Buffalo Fire Department. I wrote about these experiences for my creative writing classes. I never showed my photos to anyone because the content was really heavy.”
Even as a creative writing major, Mitchell feels Villa Maria College helped him prepare for his career as a photojournalist. “My creative writing classes helped develop my critical thinking skills,” he said. “And I learned how to speak to the public for interviews and how to speak with cops to gain access to a scene. One of my creative writing professors, Dr. Ann Rivera told her students to always have a plan. Photojournalists always need to have a plan. I literally can go from plan A to plan G in a matter of minutes. I’ve always remembered this and some other tips from my professors.”
After graduation, Mitchell moved back to Brooklyn and began to establish himself as a photojournalist. “I broke in to the industry in 2014 with help from Todd Maisel of the New York Daily News,” he said. “I met him at a fire in East New York. He ended up running into a building, and he told me to follow him. We ended up taking all these different types of photographs of people being rescued, and of firefighters as they were fighting back the flames. He kind of just said, ‘stick with me, and I’ll get you where you gotta go from here on out.’”
Although it was a scary experience to follow a stranger into a burning building, the bravery and spontaneity has paid off. “Since that day, my photographs have been featured in the New York Post, New York Daily News, Fire Engineering Magazine, and Fire Rescue Magazine,” said Mitchell.
One photograph even made it to the New York Times. “It was a full-on fire on DeKalb Avenue. I remember e-mailing it to Andrew Hinderaker, and he said, ‘yeah, we’re gonna take this and use it in print.’” Mitchell recalled. “I thought he was kidding, but I opened up the New York Times the next day and, boom, my photograph is [there]. I never thought that would happen.”
Mitchell, who now covers 17 different areas in the Borough of Brooklyn, choose this career path because he believes that people need to see first responders on a day-to-day basis. “I want people to see the bravery that it takes to be a police officer, firefighter and EMT,” he said. “First responders try really hard to make people’s lives better doing their worst possible time. I want that to be seen during a fire, shooting or car crash. I want people to witness to their tragedy and heroism.”
In addition to freelancing at the Canarsie Courier, Mitchell works as a freelance photojournalist for Reuters. “I’d never thought I would get hired at Reuters, especially being so young,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what assignments I get there, and seeing how I grow from working with such talented news editors and news photographers.”
In the future, Mitchell hopes to continue working on the streets of Brooklyn, and wants to keep telling compelling stories. He would like to work on a few projects that are not news related, and would love to shoot some international news stories.