The Joy of Photography with Amy Selwyn

Amy Selwyn

Amy Selwyn is a writer and fine arts photographer, and an utterly devoted dog mom to a sassy and adorable French Bulldog. 

Amy spent over 35 years working for and with news organizations around the world, including the BBC, The New York Times, the European Broadcasting Union,  and The Associated Press. Stories and storytelling are a lifelong passion. 

Amy is currently in a 3-year MFA program at Maine Media in Rockport, Maine, studying photography. This month, Amy will have one of her works in a juried show at the South East Center For Photography in Greenville, South Carolina. 

Originally from Hartford, CT, Amy and her beloved pup are currently based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

Twitter: @amyselwyn
Instagram: @amyselwynphotographer

The Joy of Photography with Amy Selwyn

Smartphones have turned all of us into photographers. We take pictures of our friends and family, our food, pets, art, selfies, sunsets, gorgeous vistas. If we can see it, we’re taking photos of it. Smartphones changed the way we see and capture our world and experiences. 

Less than a year before the pandemic started, photographer Amy Selwyn gave herself a gift that completely and unexpectedly changed nearly every aspect of her life. A trip to Cuba not only transformed her career, but it gave her a totally new way of seeing the world and her place in it.

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. As she adjusts her life to make room for making more art, she’s downsizing her home. That inspired me to re-arrange my own home and declutter my life. Apartment Therapy is an Instagram account and website that offers fantastic ideas on how to organize and decorate a small space for it’s beautiful and functional.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– How Amy got interested in photography
– Traveling to Cuba and falling in love with street photography
– The joy of being a beginner
– Discovering and living out your passions at any age
– Mental health and the artist mindset

Links to resources:
– Amy on Instagram – @amyselwynphotographer
– Amy on Twitter – @amyselwyn
– Amy’s website –
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista 
– Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
– Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
– Christa’s website –
– Apartment Therapy –


Duration: 26:02


photography, joy, people, amy, photographer, life, thought, self portrait, photographs, departure, mfa, cuba, photos, print, christa, depression, camera, find, love, class

Christa Avampato  00:00

Hi everyone! Welcome back to the JoyProject. I’m Christa Avampato, your host. It’s hot, hot, hot in New York City. We just went through our first heat wave that was a week long. I wilt in the heat so I spent most of it inside writing and working on this podcast. Today’s episode was an absolute delight for me to record and edit. I can’t wait for you to meet our guest.

Smartphones have turned all of us into photographers. We take pictures of our friends and family, our food, pets, art, selfies, sunsets, gorgeous vistas. If we can see it, we’re taking photos of it. Smartphones changed the way we see and capture our world and experiences. 

Our guest today is Amy Selwyn, a friend I met on Twitter almost 15 year ago through the writing community. Less than a year before the pandemic started, she gave herself a gift that completely and unexpectedly changed nearly every aspect of her life. And she’s here to tell us all about it. Amy, welcome to JoyProject.

Amy Selwyn  00:59

Thank you. I’m excited. I’m excited to have this conversation.

Christa Avampato  01:02

I’m excited to have this conversation with you. Please share with us what it is that brings you joy.

Amy Selwyn  01:07

Well, I love the question. And the answer is really easy for me. What brings me joy is photography, and the practice of photography, the craft of photography, looking at photography, but really it’s making photographs. I’ve been a writer all my life. And so I always thought that I was a textual person, that words were my thing. And they are I love them.

When I turned 60, I gave myself a present of going on a photo workshop to Cuba. And I thought, well, this will be amazing because I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba. And then I get to combine it with learning something new. And I asked specifically, “Do you have to be a photographer?”

“Oh, no, no, no, no, it’s fine,” they said. “You don’t have to be expert or anything. And I got there. And there were six fabulous photographers and me. I was the beginner. huge lesson in that. I mean, just a huge lesson. And the wonderful person who was leading the workshop said to me, you’re the one I envy. And I said why? And he said, Because you’re the beginner, you get to fall in love with this all over, I just do it now, I love it. But I don’t get to fall in love. And I really have fallen in love with this idea of the visual language that you can show a story, an emotion, their story, their essence, that moment, you are making memories, you are capturing them right then and there. And that’s what just I find it joyful, I really do. I basically have left everything else behind in my life. And now photography and writing to some extent are my entire life, which is amazing.

Christa Avampato  02:45

It is amazing. And what drove you to do that workshop,

Amy Selwyn  02:50

I definitely wanted to go to Cuba. And as a photographer, what I assumed it would mean, and it turned out it did, was that I wouldn’t be necessarily just hitting the sort of tourist hotspots that I might get a feel for it was street photography and Cuba. So I would get an actual feel for what the streets felt like plus some tourist locations, but really it was the grit of that beautiful Cuban spirit.

Christa Avampato  03:17

Are there certain memories from that trip that are really visceral?

Amy Selwyn  03:20

Yeah. What a great question. There was one night in Havana. We went to Havana, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. So three different places. And when we were in Havana, we went to a gathering place in a pretty dicey neighborhood, a rarity in Havana. Not so many dicey neighborhoods. But this one was dicey because there’s a lot of late night activity and a lot of alcohol in this part of the city.

There’s live music and people dance. And there’s hundreds and hundreds, possibly 1000s of people who dance. It’s called Salon Tropical. And I remember thinking to myself, this country, these people have a soundtrack, they are moving through life to a rhythm that is so beautiful. And I fell in love with it, then and there, that was really kind of one of the major memories, I thought you could have all kinds of stuff in your life. But this is not a material thing. This is something that is just an essence, a way of looking at life and at the temporal quality of it. Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? So they’re dancing now. And I thought that is not how I’m living my life. And I could take some lessons from this.

When I came home, I started printing some of them. I was so struck by the looks in people’s faces. There was an acceptance of life and a pride in themselves. And I thought I need that. I need to find that for myself. Nobody can give it to me. But I’m going to find that and then lo and behold, less than a year later COVID came along. What an opportunity to just be at home and figure it out.

Christa Avampato  05:15

And what was it? What did you change about your life?

Amy Selwyn  05:17

I’ve always had an artist’s soul. And I told myself, that can be a hobby. Or you can do that when you retire. It but it’s not. It’s not a function. It’s a way of being. It’s, and I just said, just let it out, sing in the afternoon, do whatever you want to do make photographs at home, I don’t know, whatever you want to do. I started signing up for classes, I took great stuff. And I gave myself the freedom. And I think I just said, I’m not going to worry about whether or not I am winning a Guggenheim, I’m not or whether or not I’m being paid 1000s and 1000s for a print the old markers of success tied to some achievement or some financial gain, which is said the achievement is in the process. And I really meant it. Once the genie was out of the bottle, I couldn’t put her back in. You don’t have to just be in New York or LA or Chicago, to experience wonderful cultural and artistic experiences and to find communities to be involved. I mean, and hopefully give back to the community or give to the community.

Christa Avampato  06:24

We are such soul sisters in that way, because we’ve been on that same journey and parallel path.

Amy Selwyn  06:30

Absolutely. And it sounds sort of sounds like a platitude, because a lot of people say, “Oh, you know, carpe diem, seize the day” and all the stuff. But when it really hits someone we care about or someone we love dies or something changes in the world. And let’s not forget the political backdrop against which all of this happening, where our freedoms are eroding in many ways, or there’s threat there. And there’s funding issues for arts groups, and museums are closing and all that stuff is happening. We can only live in one tense—the present. And while I walk around believing that the actuaries are right, and I probably have another 25 or 30 years, who knows? I don’t know. And I do think that that lesson and example, is really pronounced in a place like Cuba. They have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen from one day to the next. So they’re living it now. And I was so struck by it.

Christa Avampato  07:29

Are there certain parts of that process that light you up more than others?

Amy Selwyn  07:38

For me, it is not the technical. I’ve learned because it helps to know how to use your camera, lots of people buy super expensive equipment, and then put it on auto, you could save a lot of money that way, you could get a less expensive camera. I taught myself and took some classes to be able to work manually.

There are two things that I really, really love. One is what Dorothea Lange called the point of departure, which is your emotional state. Before you set out with your camera, whether you’re a street photographer or a landscape photographer, pet photographer, whatever your portraits, what’s your emotional point of departure? Where are you coming from? Because otherwise, you’re standing on a street corner, or whatever you’re doing, you’re working in your studio, and you try to make some photos, make something pretty. A project that I worked on for quite a while was that I was alone in my house, like a lot of other people. And I felt like I was aging in isolation. I wasn’t depressed about it. I was just sort of curious. And I thought when this all ends, what’s going to have changed here? Will I be all grey? What will how many wrinkles will I have? It was all just sort of experimental. But I was curious. My point of departure was really I’m curious. And I’m willing, I’m willing to expose myself to the camera because I didn’t have any models. It was just me, myself and I and the other part that I really love and it took me a while to understand where this came from.

I bought a printer and I taught myself how to print. I still have a lot to learn. But I absolutely love the art of printing. It took me a while to realize both my grandfather and my father were engravers of paper. So I have ink running through my veins. And I swear it’s genetic. I love printing. And I think it’s tapping into something that’s just there.

Right after I returned from Cuba, I actually became very depressed. And I went into an acute depression. I have so much empathy for people who experienced this on a long-term basis or chronic. I’ve never felt anything like this in my life ever. I tend to roll on a kind of a high note. And this was just gutting and what it was, was The Genie, making her way out of the bottle and me trying to stuff it back down.

So when I came out of that depression, I mean, that was really huge. Once it was gone, and I saw my psychiatrist a lot and took antidepressants, I was open to anything to get past this, get through it. And once I was through it, I was able to look back and say, that happened for a reason. I’m not the same person.

And whatever it was, I was so afraid of failing, disappointing, I don’t know, not being who I thought I was. It no longer mattered.

Christa Avampato
What brought you out of the depression?

Amy Selwyn

In a big way, it was photography, because I just literally shot my way through it. I would just make image after image of whatever. And I would always think about what’s your point of departure. And it wasn’t sadness, it was that there is beauty in the world. There is beauty. And I can find it.

And I started this thing. I still do it every day, although I don’t really need it anymore. But I started every day, I began my day with one tweet that said positive thought to start the day. Look, I’m not going to say I’m so lucky, I’m depressed. Yay. No, it wasn’t like that. But I could find something good in a day. I could be really grateful for my friends, for my sisters, my dog, and it helped. It really helped.

I mean, you are a real role model for someone who can talk about what’s real, and then say, and here’s what I’m doing about it. And I have faith in the people who are helping me. That was a big message that really came through with your own stories.

Christa Avampato  11:53

Oh, thanks, Amy. It’s one of the reasons I started this podcast. I’ve been thinking about JoyProject now, since a year before the pandemic. So it’s been a long time coming and making this podcast started as a film project. I couldn’t film in New York City because of COVID. And so I didn’t know if I wanted to make a podcast. And then finally, who knew that we would be in year three of the pandemic. And I thought, this is just ridiculous. And then after everything I’d been through this last year with my health, I felt like I’ve got to do something.

And one of the things that I love about the idea of joy is that it’s not the same as happiness. It’s not the same as optimism. Joy can live alongside pain, and disappointment, and depression, and anxiety. And it’s exactly what you said. These days were terrible, but I could find something to be grateful for and joyful about in a really miserable day. I think it’s how I got through cancer. Joy got me through cancer. Science did and modern medicine and my doctors and my friends and my family and so many other contributing factors. By embracing joy and embracing gratitude, it allowed the medicine and the science to work as well as it possibly could.

Amy Selwyn  13:10

Absolutely. We heal, whether that’s medical healing or mental health healing, which is also medical, but we heal faster, more effectively, more powerfully, more authentically, if we believe in it. If you’re fighting it every step of the way, it’s probably not going to go as well. And I do think that joy, as exactly as you said, it’s not an exclusive state of being. And sometimes the really hard stuff. Oftentimes the really hard stuff makes the joy kind of come out in in relief. It stands out. Or you go see a film that just leaves you in a puddle or see an art exhibit or you hear an author read his or her work and you just think that’s amazing.

Christa Avampato  14:07

Joy is active, right? We’re seeking out joy we’re making joy, we’re providing joy for other people. It’s a verb, as much as it is a noun. I love that idea of that. And I think that in so many ways, that’s what your photography is, right? It’s what you saw at Salon Tropical. It was joy. It was joy in those people. If they can dance, if they can sing, if they can play music, if they can, then we can find a way. And I love how you say that you shot your way out with photography. It’s very similar to what writers do. We write our way out. We write our way out of the sadness, out of the anxiety. It doesn’t mean that it totally goes away. But it gives you some place to put it.

Amy Selwyn  15:24

That’s exactly right. Yeah. And it also helps identify for you what it is, what am I really thinking. I often can’t figure out how I feel about something until I’ve either written about it, or now more recently made photographs about it.

And then I’ll look at the photograph and think I had no idea that’s what I wanted to do. But I want to do that. I’ll give you an example. I was taking a self portraiture class, and I took it against every fiber in my being saying, “you sure you want to?”

I was like, “Yeah, I think I should.” I want to try it. We’ve made some self portraits and it was all online. And every week we’d meet and then finally, the class was over. It hadn’t been a big triumph for me. I didn’t feel like “Oh, I did some really interesting work.” It was okay.

And one day, I thought, “I want to make a self portrait involving this whole concept of fertility facing the fact that I will not have children.” Do I feel less feminine, or the same? Or am I a woman if I have no children, the same issue that many, many people explore, and I don’t know what made me do it.

But I have this bird’s nest. It’s not a real one. I bought it on eBay, I think or Etsy. I bought it on Etsy. And then I took these quail eggs, and I broke that. And I just had broken shells in the nest and I put it on my pelvis and I shot I was holding the camera up by my face and I shot downwards. I was lying in bed, really what you were seeing was primarily my hips, my pelvis, and my thighs. And I thought that’s my self portrait. That is a self portrait. It was one of the most revealing and yet honest photos. I thought, well, wow, that’s certainly not a selfie. It’s full of intention and meaning and lyricism. And it felt wonderful after I did it, because I thought I have really learned there is a joy in just taking my camera, and making it part of myself, documenting myself, my feelings, my emotional state. I loved doing it.

Christa Avampato  17:39

And that’s really when you talked about your emotional point of departure. I mean, talk about an emotional point of departure. Right? Like you are saying something, someone’s going to look at that photograph and look twice and look three times and look four times you’re like, “What is she trying yet saying?” And that it’s so raw, honest, was it also healing for you?

Amy Selwyn  18:02

Very much. I like to use some text alongside it. And I found it was so positive, it was so positive, that the text that went along with it was really about acceptance. Being a woman, that being whoever you are, identity, being whatever you are, is not necessarily contingent upon whether you have done what society tells you, you should have done. And then that opened me up to a number of amazing photographers working out there today who are dealing with identity and showing respect for identity. People say you go down rabbit holes, but it’s more like it goes from one fabulous experience to the next. It’s just a wonderful place to be.

Christa Avampato  19:07

Amy, I love that. I also love that it freed you. Every photograph feels like it’s freeing you a little bit more to be more of who you are, whether it’s a self portrait, whether it’s a picture that you’re taking. What is next for you on your photography journey. What’s happening?

Amy Selwyn  19:31

I get to talk about this part, which is so exciting. So I begin my MFA in photography, my Masters of Fine Arts in photography at Maine Media. It’s a low residency program so I won’t be moving into a college dorm anytime soon.

So I will spend the next three years exploring my work and doing new work of course learning all about photography. It’s not to a highly technical program. It’s not so much around the technical aspects of photography. You have to know how to use your camera. And we’ll learn a lot more, I’m sure. But it’s really around the emotions and the use of photography as a fine art. And I could not be more excited.

I’ve wanted to do study for an MFA for 33 years, and I got in 33 years ago for writing, not for photography. And I turned it down. Because my father whom I adored, said to me, this is a terrible idea. You have a great career ahead of you. I was working for The New York Times. And this is terrible. And you can be like Wallace Stevens, he was a poet on the side, but he worked in insurance. And you know what, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right at the time. And who knew that the MFA would be in photography and visual arts? I had no idea. So everything happens at the right time for a reason. So that is what is next.

Christa Avampato  21:03

I’m so excited for you. And it’s it is that full lesson of trusting the timing of your life. What we seek is also seeking us. We’ll get to where we need to get to. As a huge fan of you and your photography, I cannot wait to see where this MFA takes you. And I just think that program is so lucky to have your spirit and that your fellow students are so lucky to get to have you in their in their orbit, the way that I’m so lucky to have you in my life.

Amy Selwyn  21:39

Thank you. I feel incredibly lucky. I do I pinch myself all the time. And think, Wait a minute. I’m really doing I’m really doing this. Yeah. It’s, it’s so exciting.

Christa Avampato  21:54

You’re doing it!

Amy Selwyn  21:56

Yep, I’m doing it. That’s the joy.

Christa Avampato  21:58

Amy, if somebody wanted to find out more about your photography, or what you do, what is the best way for someone to either get in touch with you or to learn more about work or see your work?

Amy Selwyn  22:09

Two ways: one is on Instagram where I am @Amyselwyn. I have links in my bio so that you can go to my website or the website itself, which is I have a selection of work on there. Many, many, many more photographs on Instagram. I sell my prints. I’m hoping to put together a book. I have put together a zine. That’s for sale. But more than anything else, it’s not about the commerce, I would love someone to just look. And if something strikes them, just tell me or ask me a question or get in touch. That’s what I really would love.

Christa Avampato  22:52

Amy, thank you so much for coming to join project. I hope that you will come back and chat with us and let us know how the MFA is going, how your photography is going. This has been super inspiring for me, and I’m just so grateful that you chose to spend some time with us.

Amy Selwyn  23:08

Thank you so much. I’ll come back anytime.

Christa Avampato  23:12

I’m going to be thinking about the question, “What’s my point of departure?” every time I do anything. What a lovely way to be in the world. Now that the heat wave’s broken, Amy’s inspired me to run out into the world and take more photos and to be mindful of why I’m visually capturing certain moments.

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. As Amy begins her MFA in photography, she’s adjusting her budget to afford her classes. She’s downsizing to a smaller space so she has more time and more money for her art.

I live in a small space and Amy’s downsizing inspired me to re-arrange my apartment and clean out some clutter to change up the energy and give me a new perspective. I’m not the greatest homemaker or decorator but lately I’ve found myself wanting to learn more about interior design.

Apartment Therapy is a website and Instagram account I love because they feature a lot of small spaces and show how to make them functional and beautiful. One recent post featured graphic designer Sophie Elinor. She now lives in her grandmother’s cottage in New South Wales Australia. She said the home already had a lot of love in it. As she was decorating it, her goal was to bring joy to the surface.

I love that idea. It’s what I try to do with each episode of this podcast. Bringing joy to the surface means it’s always there. It’s just a matter of shining a light on it. I especially love the idea of a joyful home. So as I re-arranged my apartment, I kept joy in mind. When I thought about what to keep, what to donate, and what to add, I focused on the joy factor of each placement. I’m not quite done yet but I posted some before and after photos on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. I’ll keep posting them as I do my best to bring joy to the surface in my home, and in my life.

Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with me. A big thank you to Amy for sharing her joy of photography with us.

You can find her on Twitter at @amyselwyn, on Instagram at @amyselwynphotographer, and at her website

You can find me on Twitter at @christanyc, on Instagram at @christarosenyc, and through the website for this podcast where you can also find links to everything we talk about on the podcast as well as show transcripts for each episode.

I’ll be back in two weeks on Tuesday, August 9th with another episode of JoyProject. Until then, take care of yourself and take care of each other. Have a joy-filled week and I’ll chat with you soon.