Young Guns 21: Suzanne Saroff

By Alixandra Rutnik and Brett McKenzie on Nov 01, 2023

Get to know the phenomenal class of Young Guns 21

After 85 incredible finalists and intense deliberation, the Young Guns jury has narrowed it down to the 29 winners that make up the class of Young Guns 21. An astounding collection of animators, illustrators, film directors, typographers (a few Ascenders 2023 winners as well!), graphic designers, and photographers make up YG21.

Every year we interview the Young Guns winners to get to know them better as artists and people. And as always, we are welcoming another class of outstanding individuals into the highly coveted Young Guns community.

Now that you know the YG21 winners better, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating them in person at NYC’s Sony Hall on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, at 6:30 PM. See you in two weeks and get ready to party!

Suzanne Saroff
Photographer & Director


Brooklyn, New York


Missoula, Montana


When did you first learn about Young Guns?

I was taking a portrait of Amber Vittoria (YG15) shortly after she had won, and she told me about it. Young Guns has been on my mind for years, and I am so glad I decided to finally submit my portfolio this year. Super excited to be part of this incredible community!

How did you end up in the creative field anyways?

I have always been an artist. From an early age, I was obsessed with painting. I grew up surrounded by nature, and I loved playing with it - doing things like balancing rocks on top of each other and building fairy houses in trees. I got a point-and-shoot camera when I was around six, and I became obsessed with it.

Reviewing my early work from this time, I have found similarities to my current work - photos of shadows, my friends' eyes, flowers, and stones. As I grew up, my cameras and process grew up with me. I decided to go to college in California for biology, which solidified the fact that my brain works better in pictures. I graduated with a media studies degree.

After graduating, I moved to NYC, where I found a full-time job at a branding agency. And each night, I would come home and work on my own photos until the early morning - often canceling all social plans to do this. The rush of making a good photo calmed me. And in the energy of the city, I felt at ease.

Starting out at the branding agency, I learned to work as a photo art director and was on set with many amazing photographers. Those experiences taught me about the industry. Then, I went freelance as a photographer. My first big job after leaving the branding agency was a Smirnoff campaign. I was terrified but so grateful I won that bid because it gave me the confidence that I could do it. Seeing my work on billboards for the first time was thrilling. I still always get excited when I see my work out in the world.

Since my early twenties, I have been working as a commercial photographer alongside working on my own art. This requires balancing. I love shooting for my clients, and I pour myself into the work. I look back through my portfolios, and I see how I have learned and grown from the balance between my commercial and personal work. So I always feel grateful, and honestly still in disbelief, that my passion has become my career.

Congrats on the W! Why did you decide to enter this year?

I turned 30 this year and realized this was my last chance! This was my first time entering (actually, my first time entering any portfolio competition), and I am so glad I did.

You only get to submit six projects that embody you and your talent. The best of the very best. So, how did you decide which pieces were good enough to make the cut?

It was so difficult to choose! My body of personal work is quite large - I spent my twenties obsessively making new series of personal work and have shot many commercial projects that I love. I always pour my heart into my work, and I wanted to make sure that showed. I wanted to show a range of work that represented the story of my career.

What was your reaction when you discovered that you won?

It was a surreal moment! I was on my couch, because it was raining hard and my shoot for the day had just been postponed because of the floods in NYC, and I was feeling a little melancholy. Then, I got the news - I was so happy. I spent the rest of the day feeling a rush of excitement and a motivation to create new work. I have felt that energy ever since. The validation of this win has given me a fresh feeling of confidence.

In what ways does your hometown inspire your creativity as an artist? What about your current city?

Growing up in Missoula, Montana, I was surrounded by nature and the artistic, unique souls living there. Only recently have I gained the perspective to realize how much that funky hometown in the mountains informed me and my artistic approach. It gave me a solid foundation for how I view and experience the world. I spent a lot of time outside as a child - playing in the garden, making patterns with rocks and pebbles, studying trees and mountains, falling way behind on long hikes with my dad and brother because I was looking at the insects and wildflowers. I liked the feeling of being lost in nature.

Living in New York City, I am so inspired by everything around me: the energy, the art being created, the jobs I do, the people I work with, the feeling of walking into my studio, the odd flower that pushes through concrete. I also love the calm that washes over me when I leave the city for a few days to get into nature, but then I feel a huge relief coming back to the city. The inspiration feels endless, so after almost nine years of living here, I know that New York City is home.

"I also love the calm that washes over me when I leave the city for a few days to get into nature, but then I feel a huge relief coming back to the city. The inspiration feels endless, so after almost nine years of living here, I know that New York City is home."

Now that you’re a part of the Young Guns community, are there any past winners you look up to and admire?

Amber Vittoria (YG15) was the first person I met who encouraged me to enter. I have looked up to her since meeting her. But the entire group of past winners and all of this year's finalists are stellar.

Name a creative and professional dream project that you have yet to fulfill — maybe Young Guns will propel you in that direction!

One of my big dreams is to have a solo show at MoMA or The Whitney with lots of big pieces. I also would love to shoot campaigns for Prada or Gucci - I have worked with both brands before - but I have a dream where my new work with models and still life becomes iconic.

This is YG21, but what do you imagine you’ll be up to when YG31 rolls around in 2033?

I hope to be doing something similar to what I am doing now– working on exciting projects that I push to new levels. I hope to have a big garden. I hope to be happy.

Will we see you at the YG21 party in NYC in November?

Yes! See you soon!



Come party with us and celebrate all the Young Guns 21 winners on Wednesday, November 15 at Sony Hall! See you at 6:30 PM in NYC!

Get tickets! It's party time!

The class of Young Guns 21



Fire + Fragility: Zuzanna Rogatty's YG21 Cube Design
Young Guns 21: Max Amato
Young Guns 21: Justin Au
Young Guns 21: Tess Ayano







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