Festivities at a Beduin wedding (Jabelaya Tribe) in the Sinai near Saint Catherine Monastery. Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt, 2008.Festivities at a Beduin wedding (Jabelaya Tribe) in the Sinai near Saint Catherine Monastery. Saint Catherine, Sinai, Egypt, 2008. Credit: Amy Toensing

Amy Toensing ’93 uses photography to explore the intersections of culture, economics, and race. Last spring, Amy worked on a story for Rodale’s new publication, Organic Life, which examined individuals across the country who “live off the grid” in different ways. She traveled to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to capture a story about life in a food desert for Kiwanis magazine as a continuation of her work documenting food insecurity in the United States. As a photographer for National Geographic magazine, she also traveled to Bosnia this year to cover the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide for a story about widowhood.

Toensing has been working for National Geographic since 1999, publishing a total of 14 stories. However, she says that what matters most to her is not this distinction, but the emotional impacts of her work.

Photojournalist Amy Toensing ’93 is a regular contributor to National Geographic.Photojournalist Amy Toensing ’93 is a regular contributor to National Geographic.“I think every story I do changes me and affects me and teaches me. Every story is like taking a graduate level course in something, which is one of the best parts of what I do, and I’m lucky that way.”

“Personally, I value being humbled all the time by my stories,” Toensing told National Geographic in 2014. “They kick me in the butt every time…It’s kind of like the vulnerability you have when you’re trying to learn a new language. And so I have to be ready to go into a place where I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m stupid, I don’t know anything. Teach me. Show me.’ And, that’s not always an easy position to be in, but I think it’s an important one for everybody to know. Get out of your comfort zone. And that’s what photography does for me. It constantly pushes me out of my comfort zone.” 

Toensing’s photographs tell stories of hunger, drought, poverty, and urbanism in places around the world, including exotic locations such as The Kingdom of Tonga, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand. She has also examined these connections domestically, and says that this work, in her own backyard, can feel just as powerful.

“On some levels, I value some of the stories that I’ve done in the United States the most,” she says. “My first project that I ever worked on in a documentary style was in Maine, actually, in Aroostook County. It was about migrant broccoli pickers up there, and it was folks coming in from Mexico and the Philippines to a very white community. I found that interesting.”

“I’ve always been really interested in the human aspect of everything, and that’s what COA is. It’s looking at what humanity is in everything” - Amy Toensing ’93.

Toensing says that she found College of the Atlantic a good fit for who she already was when she came to the coastal Maine school, and that COA allowed her to explore multiple interests.

“I’ve always been really interested in the human aspect of everything, and that’s what COA is. It’s looking at what humanity is in everything,” she says. “It furthered me with that way of thinking, which was really wonderful. I don’t feel like a lot of places are doing that.”

Despite years of experience, thousands of images and dozens of exotic locales, Toensing says that she does not have a particularly favorite image or story. She prefers, she says, to live in the present.

“My favorite is always the one that I’m working on. There’s definitely some that were in my memory more challenging, but I really get excited about my current projects, and they all kind of inform each other.”

Along with her husband and fellow photojournalist Matt Moyer, Toensing is lately working on a project called “Our Town,” which was launched this year in their small hometown of New Paltz, NY. Two of her series are on exhibition. Shadows: Urban Refugee Children is posted as part of ARTTN’s online exhibition, Free To Be, through December 30, and her work is included in National Geographic’s Women of Vision exhibition, showing at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta through January 3. 

Toensing’s work has been exhibited throughout the world and recognized with numerous awards, included an exhibit at the 2012 Visa Pour L’image, Festival of the Photograph in Perpignan France. Her work has also appeared in Smithsonian, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time Magazine, and National Geographic Traveler. A photograph she took in the Australian outback was chosen as one of National Geographic magazine’s all time 50 Best Photos.