Stephen Yang ’03 does not work a typical nine-to-five job. As a photojournalist, his work ranges from covering local and international news, working on political campaigns and managing various projects from day to day. At Hampshire College, Stephen thought he would be a writer, and he studied literature there. Stephen says, “When I think about Friends, I think about intellectual curiosity. I had a lot of teachers and experiences that promoted inquisitiveness and creativity.” One teacher in particular, Maria Fahey, had a big influence on Stephen’s love of writing. “My time at Friends taught me to think about the world through different lenses which was key to being a responsible citizen instead of buying into dogma. Friends did a good job of balancing different ideas and points of view.” While a career as a journalist seemed to be a logical next step after college graduation, Stephen always maintained a passion for photography.
In 2007 he moved to China, where he lived for three years. Stephen’s family is half Chinese and half Korean, so the move allowed him to learn more about his family and enjoy the adventure. While in China, Stephen began to take photography more seriously.
Now well into his career as a photojournalist, Stephen appreciates that he doesn’t have to go into an office, and he gets to see current events and breaking stories first-hand. His work allows him to engage with a variety of people, see different ways of life, some of which he agrees with, some he doesn’t. “One of the main challenges of journalism is to see how things are, not what others want you to think it is.”
Quaker values helped to shape Stephen’s sense of fairness, and the community’s non-hierarchical, moral structure was important to him. “Friends balanced beliefs without it being structured or dogmatic.” Stephen enjoyed Meeting for Worship, in which anyone could speak. In his work, Stephen witnesses people using religion to further their personal or financial goals, “Friends maintained Quaker values without having to make them overly religious.” Stephen sees this as a model for “bringing about a world that ought to be.” He remembers studying the Bible in Christina Moustakis’s class and is appreciative that Friends allowed students to feel heard. “The faculty did an extraordinary job of trying to listen to students.”
Although Stephen does not view journalism as “some kind of savior of humanity,” he is concerned that so much misinformation is being spread in the world. Stephen says, “Institutions should strive to promote the truth instead of opinion. I do my best to be as fair as possible in my personal and professional life.” It can be challenging to work on a story that focuses on a group of people who do not share the same beliefs or who have a very different ideology. He finds it difficult to do his job when the subject matter is abhorrent, but Stephen sees journalism as “a striving for objectivity, not a solid state. One must constantly seek it, but can never fully achieve it.”
Stephen hopes to continue this work for reputable outlets willing to hire honest journalists and support them. Stephen has begun to work outside of news, producing photographic portraits for lifestyle and feature stories. In the future, he would like to open a photography studio and pursue teaching photography. Stephen remains in touch with his core group of friends from upper school.
Working during the pandemic was worrisome, with the 2020 election, the capitol insurrection and the state of the nation at the time. “It was not easy but I made it out without contracting Covid-19.” Stephen welcomes the opportunity to speak to current Friends students about journalism.
Some of Stephen’s work can be found below including photos from the George Floyd protests, a political rally in Washington D.C. and a feature of the cast from Netflix’s Grand Army. We have enjoyed having Stephen do freelance work for Friends over the years.
View Stephen's work at www.stephenyangphoto.com.