Junfu Han, a Detroit Free Press staff photographer and University of New Mexico graduate, credits his humble beginnings at the Daily Lobo and the support of his mentors with his success in the increasingly exclusive field of photojournalism.
Han came to the U.S. in August 2008 as an international student after becoming dissatisfied with his studies in computer science in China. Once he began at UNM, Han delved into the photography program, not knowing that this choice would shape the rest of his life.
When Han started his education at UNM, he began applying for a multitude of jobs on campus in order to fulfill the conditions of his international visa. This eventually led to his employments as photo editor, multimedia editor and web editor at the Daily Lobo in 2012.
"The time you spend with each other, the encouragement you give each other, the inspiration you give each other — those are the things I cherish the most,” Han said.
Currently, Han works as a full-time professional photographer. While enjoyable, Han said the work can be demanding.
"(The) challenge is always trying to beat out your competition and send the pictures out as fast as you can, with (the) caption, using any technology you can find," Han said.
Han said a lot of photojournalists today are freelancers because companies rarely offer staff positions anymore.
"The new business of being a photojournalist is being a freelancer," Han said.
Roberto E. Rosales, a professional photographer and professor at UNM, helped lead Han through his college years, and educated him on how to succeed in the world of photography.
"He's been one of my very important mentors throughout the college years. He's always given me advice,” Han said. “We'd go on trips just to shadow him on the job, learn about the profession. He was a big influence.”
Rosales said, in his opinion, Han is so successful because of his ability to adapt no matter the situation.
"This is one photographer I don't worry about, because he's always going to land on his feet," Rosales said.
Rosales said that, during his time with Han as mentor and mentee, Han had "raw talent," so his focus was just to elevate the skills that were already there.
"You're successful as a professional photojournalist because you did (it) your way and you gave yourself a chance,” Rosales said, imagining he was talking to Han. “Even when times looked miserable, hard, everything was against you, he stuck to his guns.”
Chris Quintana, a national education reporter for USA Today, said Han and himself weren’t just co-workers at the Daily Lobo, but also roommates and friends.
Quintana said Han would always push himself to get a great photo and become better at his passion.
"I remember one time, he and I drove out to Oklahoma City ... he actually climbed up on one of those 20-foot diving boards to take pictures of his then girlfriend, now wife, diving," Quintana said.
Quintana said Han had a special drive when working at the Daily Lobo, and stood out among his peers.
"It could be challenging working for him because you knew that your photos really had to be at the top of their game otherwise he wouldn't be happy with them, but that was good because he pushed you hard and he was also a good teacher," Quintana said.
Han said he had a lot of people help him along the way, but highlighted how Jim Fisher, former director of student publications, helped him during his time at the Daily Lobo. His internships also helped him cover a wide array of events, from NCAA tournament games to election coverage.
Han also talked specifically about the unique nature of being a photographer last year, capturing Black Lives Matter protests and “stop the steal” rallies in Detroit during the past presidential election.
“Last year was pretty interesting, covering protests throughout all summer, getting to be on the front lines of this really historical time,” Han said. “Covering everything last year was very significant.”
Han offered some advice for aspiring photojournalists from his vantage point as a successful photographer who broke into a competitive field.
"Keep posting your work and keep reaching out to people if you want to get some advice or anything,” Han said. “Don't be afraid."
Jesus Mata is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @JesusMataJr99