I recently had the honor of judging the Arizona Press Club’s yearly contest. I can’t thank them enough. It was inspiring to look through such talented work. What I noticed:
Quality trumped Quantity. Instead of the usual 100+ entries you’d find in popular categories like Feature Photo or Sports Action, the Arizona shooters had submitted around 15 entries in each category and most of those were amazing photographs. Normally a judge can eliminate a high percentage of images before getting to the finalists. Here the entries were so good that I was only able to eliminate a few photos before things got tough.
The Photo Essay is Alive. So many great photo essays to look through. The beauty of a long-term photo essay is that the photographer is able to spend time getting inside the lives of his/her subjects, earning trust and witnessing personal moments. The Arizona photographers submitted entered powerful and moving photo essays with descriptions like these:
Twelve-year-old Alex Lopez is ready to die on the operating table…He has a 10% chance of surviving the risky surgery. He…may not wake up. But Alex opted for the open heart surgery to repair his heart so that he can be a normal boy. Without it, he has…two years to live.
Dennis Winters suffers from severe depression, agoraphobia, multiple personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, among others. Winters who rarely leaves his apartment says he is struggling to get the mental health care he needs from Magellan Health Services, a for-profit company that received a three-year, $1.5 billion contract from Maricopa County to provide direct services to the mentally ill.
Each day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants are deported to Mexico by the U.S government Many have trekked through the desert for days. Most have no money or possessions other than the clothes on their backs. They must decide whether to hire smugglers for another try at the border, or return to families in their homeland.
Juan Israel Fernandez Lara, 2, was severely burned on 90 percent of his body when the ABC daycare center caught fire and trapped children inside with only one exit. The death toll would eventually rise to at least 47 toddlers under the age of 3, including Juan.
This list serves as a wake-up call to any photojournalist. Do you keep shooting day after day of the routine assignments handed to you or do you go out and find a project that moves not only to you but the entire human family? Your choice.
I’m going to end this post with a photo from Arizona Republic photographer Cheryl Evans’ essay on Stephanie Nielson, that reporter Jamiee Rose described like this:
For the past 16 months, I’ve been following Stephanie Nielson, whose courageous story of survival and recovery after a fiery plane crash has touched so many. Stephanie and I have spent hundreds of hours talking, getting every detail right.
She allowed me to tag along while she went to doctors’ appointments, to dinner, to church. Photographer Cheryl Evans and I invaded her Utah home for days. Her family members answered my questions for months. I traveled to the scene of the crash in St. Johns, interviewed the witnesses and kind people who helped her. Her doctors and surgeons patiently shared the details of her care.
Wait, Smokey, this is serious. I want to end this post with one of Cheryl’s photos and the heartbreaking line that went with it…
“It took her daughter, Jane, several months to look at her mom again.”
(Click the photo to see the package on Stephanie Nielson at the Arizona Republic’s site.)