The church bells ringing across the street from this Marriott hotel in D.C’s Chinatown is a not-so-subtle reminder that my checkout is looming. Noon will be here soon enough. And, eventually, my 6:50pm flight back to St. Louis.
Instead of packing—as I should be doing—or working on my masters project proposal—as I’d intended on doing, I decided to sit down and put fingers to keyboard (that will never sound as eloquent as “pen to paper”…) and reflect on my time with POYi.
First, I have to say that I find it highly unlikely that I will ever get to work with someone like Rick Shaw again. There will hopefully be plenty more wonderful bosses in my future, but I doubt I will find one like him. He allowed me the privilege to be a POYi coordinator twice. Because of this, he had a major impact on my education during the last two years of grad school. Rick served as a boss, teacher and friend, and I will always be grateful for what he’s done for me.
When I was a volunteer at the Missouri Photo Workshop in September, I’d approached David Rees after the final presentation of work to thank him for, well, everything. I walked up to him, opened my mouth to say something and instead, I cried. I was so moved by the work and so inspired, that I just stood there, trying to muster out a thank you between the hiccup of tears. I don’t know if it was Luke’s Lobster that I’d just had for lunch or the same feelings of genuine inspiration stirring somewhere deep down, but listening to Barbara Davidson’s presentation two days ago at the Newseum brought that same rush of emotions. Barbara was named this year’s Newspaper Photographer of the Year and was part of an amazing lineup of greats in the industry speaking for the Newseum’s Photo Day (that I’ll touch on in just a moment). I’d had the pleasure of meeting Barbara last year while she was a POYi judge, but I’d never actually heard her talk about her work or her relationship to photojournalism. As compelling as Barbara’s work is, her passion—and compassion—moved me.
Before her, I got to listen to Patrick Smith—this year’s Sports Photographer of the Year—humbly talk about how he’s never shot a Super Bowl or World Series while his photographs flashed across the screen, images that showed a range of unexpected moments and graphic beauty that is sometimes taken for granted in the sports world.
I had the insane honor of introducing the Women Photojournalists of Washington, which included MaryAnne Golan as the moderator and a panel with Mary F. Calvert, Ami Vitali and Annie Griffiths. The first goal was to not throw up while on stage. The second was to try and somehow fit a SparkNotes version of these women’s accomplishments and contributions to the field. They discussed underreported issues affecting women and girls worldwide, but also the outstanding work being done by Ripple Effect Images (Annie is the executive director and Ami is part of the collective of journalists working for REI).
After Barbara came Tyler Hicks talking about his experience while making the remarkable images (which also got him a Pulitzer recently) to come from the tragic Kenyan mall shooting. Similar to Barbara, I was more in awe of his dedication to storytelling that went beyond covering the horrors of that day, but also following up with the aftermath. I felt dignity and respect in the quieter photos of loved ones mourning and burying their dead.
Finally, there was Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, this year’s College Photographer of the Year (FYI, I want to grow up to be Rita Reed, CPOY’s director and one of the most beloved teachers I’ve ever had. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how amazing this woman is). I met her about a year ago in NYC, so it was great to see her again, this time receiving one of many honors for her coverage of Shane and Maggie (a story she’d been working on that took a turn into domestic violence). I’d recently talked to a friend and talented photographer in my program about how I want my peers to have outstanding work that gets me to push myself. This may sound selfish of me, but it’s the truth—there’s something more rewarding about being among folks who help inspire you. Thanks to all of the photographers and editors I met this weekend who do that for me. And thanks to Sara for setting the bar as a peer.
There’s so much more that can be said about my time with POYi. The challenges and rewards played a pivotal role in my educational and personal development over the course of my masters program. And, sitting here reflecting on not only the last two years, but also the past few days, I think the struggles were worth it. Of the three or so of you out there reading this, and if you know me, you know what I mean. POYi was the stage for a few twists in the dark comedy that is my life. But it was also what helped me bounce back. I made dear friends through POYi. And through some of those friends, I also found a little place in the south Bronx called the Bronx Documentary Center, which gave me a reason to get out of bed every morning last summer when I struggled with my own personal heartbreak and demons. And incidentally, at the risk of sounding cliché, I began to truly find myself with the help of my POYi.