TiKa Wallace: New York Times photographer

Sequoia Wyckoff, Editor-in-Chief

TiKa Wallace stands against a colored wall.
TiKa Wallace poses against a wall at a summer photography program at SCAD. (Photo courtesy of TiKa Wallace)

TiKa Wallace didn’t go to Homecoming this year – she was out of town.

“When I came back to school, I said I was up in New York visiting family,” she said. “I wasn’t telling [anyone] that I got this job for the New York Times.”

Wallace, a senior at Mason, worked for the New York Times for their project This Is 18, which featured the stories of 22 young women around the world, through the eyes of 22 young female photographers.

“This girl DMed me saying the New York Times was looking for LGBT people of color to model or (be photographers),” Wallace said.

Three weeks later, after working with NYT editors through an arduous search for models, she got on a train to New York with a couple bags and her camera.

“I got Grace’s info around first period Mustang Block, Monday of Homecoming week, we texted, called her at 11:30, and we set up details, and then by 12:00 I’m buying a train ticket, and that Tuesday morning I was in New York.”

Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino, Wallace’s subject, currently attends Bard College and grew up in the DC area.

“She’s a big deal, she’s done all this activism… she’s done BLM stuff, trans rights advocacy stuff. She’s a really high profile person.”

Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino looks down.
College student Sage Grace Dolan-Sandrino, TiKa Wallace’s subject for This is 18. Wallace and Dolan-Sandrino met for the first time through this project. (Photo courtesy of TiKa Wallace for the New York Times)

Wallace spent two days photographing and learning about Dolan-Sandrino.

“I stayed at a hotel, but other than that I was there for like ten hours [a day]. I was the photographer and the interviewer; I asked her questions about her life; it was us building that connection.”

From there, Wallace sent her photographs to her editors. The project was released online on the New York Times website on October 11, 2018.

“When it came out, it was a Thursday. Nothing important happens on a Thursday. I was like ‘this isn’t real, right?’ and then I look at it and it says ‘Photo by TiKa Wallace for the New York Times.’ So, I put it on every social media I had,” Wallace said.

TiKa Wallace holding newspaper, with text.
TiKa Wallace posts on Instagram after seeing her byline in the magazine for the first time. “I have finally seen it” and “my byline.” This is 18 was released on October 11 of this year.

The project has since been shared by Hillary Clinton, Alicia Keys, and more. The New York Times also published a story about the photographers – the first line? “TiKa Wallace is not your typical New York Times photographer.”

“Its success has been really validating,” Wallace said. “All the photographers, we didn’t even know how inexperienced all of us were. The girl from Mississippi, her photographs are in a lot of the promos and the front of articles, she took all of those on her phone. The girl from Bangladesh just borrowed a friend’s camera. For us as a collective, it’s been really special.”

Employing young and professionally inexperienced photographers isn’t commonplace for media companies like the New York Times. Wallace explained the importance of such projects from her perspective.

“As 18 year olds we see little things that other people don’t, the little stressed out eye rolls or the importance of chilling out with your friends for a couple hours. We see that as really important, and we’re able to show the world through our photographs.”