AAPI Heritage Month: Maya Sugarman

Sugarman headshotMaya Sugarman is a visual journalist for KPCC/Southern California Public Radio based in Pasadena, Calif. She worked previously at the Antelope Valley Press, and interned at the Los Angeles Daily News, Orange County Register, Santa Monica Daily Press, and East Bay Express. Maya is a graduate of UCLA, where she was a senior staff photographer and photo editor at the Daily Bruin, and received a degree in photography.

Maya Sugarman

How long have you been in photojournalism?

I first started taking pictures while in high school in the Bay Area. It was more street photography, throughout San Francisco and Oakland. We had a darkroom at school, and I used my dad’s Nikon FM. When I got to UCLA as a freshman in 2007, I joined our college paper, the Daily Bruin, in my first week on campus because I just had a feeling I’d really like journalism.

How and why did you decide to become a photojournalist?

I really enjoyed the act of street photography, but eventually I started to feel like my work was missing the stories behind the people I photographed. I started shooting right around the time of anti-war protests in the Bay Area, and I spent a month in Oaxaca in 2006 right when protests began there. I’ve always been a naturally curious person, so simply shooting these events without asking people why they were there felt odd and unsatisfying.

What do you love most about photography?

I love how a photograph can break down a story into a stripped-down, split-second storytelling moment, unlike any other journalistic medium. And I love the challenge and problem-solving involved in making a compelling image. Each day at work I get to learn so much about LA and the world through taking pictures.

How has being an AAPI helped/hurt your photojournalism career?

My maternal grandmother came to the California from China in her 20’s, and my dad’s side is Polish-Jewish and from New York. Being AAPI and biracial, I’m part of two different histories at once. I think that sometimes helps me better understand subjects in a more complex way. Especially in a place like LA where a lot of people here are balancing different cultures (not just in the racial sense) at once. At first glance, I look like I could be any race – in a way, I like that because I feel like I’m not boxed into a particular race when subjects first meet me.

What advice did you wish someone gave you when you were starting out?

I wish someone told me not to imitate the photographers I admire. Be inspired and influenced, but find your own eye. But to have the patience and understanding that finding your own eye takes a really, really long time. I’ve hardly even begun to figure out how I see.


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Bruins United supporters celebrate outside Kerckhoff Hall on Thursday, May 6, 2010 after Undergraduate Students Association Council election results were released at 11 p.m. (Maya Sugarman | Daily Bruin)


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Quartz Hill cheerleaders celebrate after a three-point shot by the Rebels, who eventually fell to Upland during the second round of CIF Southern Section playoffs on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012. (Maya Sugarman | Antelope Valley Press)


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The Gladiator Rock’n Run took place on May 7, 2011 at Hidden Valley Park in Irvine. The event features a five-kilometer run with 14 obstacles, including two mud pits, running through fire, hoisting bags of rice, and swinging wrecking balls. Orange County native and American Gladiators actor Dan Clark, also known as “Nitro,” founded the Gladiator Rock’n Run. (Maya Sugarman | Orange County Register)


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UCLA players celebrate with kicker Kai Forbath after scoring a 51-yard field goal with zero seconds left, to defeat Oregon State 17-4 on Nov. 6, 2010. (Maya Sugarman | ASUCLA)


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Seven-year-old Veronica Zak of Quartz Hill rides a water slide during opening day of DryTown Water Park in Palmdale on a cloudy Saturday morning, May 26, 2012 during Memorial Day Weekend. (Maya Sugarman | Antelope Valley Press)


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Tamra Skinner of Lancaster kisses goodbye her 9-year-old granddaughter, Hannah Ruth, as a bus leaves for Salvation Army summer camp in Calabasas on Thursday, July 5, 2012 at Boeing Plaza. More than 100 children were able to go to the camp for free or at low cost through donations. (Maya Sugarman | Antelope Valley Press)


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Young Cameroonian basketball players warm up before former UCLA forward Alfred Aboya’s annual summer camp at Etoudi court in Yaounde, Cameroon on Aug. 3, 2010.


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Players huddle together at the end of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s three-day basketball camp at the Yaounde Sports Complex on July 25, 2010. Five players will be selected from the camp to participate in an NBA camp. (Maya Sugarman | Daily Bruin)


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A FAR Compet fan attends the Cameroon Cup Finals at the Yaounde Sports Complex on July 18, 2010. (Maya Sugarman | Daily Bruin)


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Actor Jeff Goldblum, known for films like Jurassic Park and Independence Day, visited the KPCC studios on Thursday. (Maya Sugarman | KPCC)