Hearst Journalism Awards: Angelina Katsanis: 2022 First Place Photojournalism Winner
This week we are celebrating photographers who have received a 2022 Hearst National Championship Award. Today we focus on National Photojournalism Championship First Place Winner, Angelina Katsanis, from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who received a $10,000 award for her project, A Mother’s Reclamation.
The Hearst Championships are the culmination of the 2021 – 2022 Journalism Awards Program, which were held in 103 member universities of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication with accredited undergraduate journalism programs. From May 20 – 25, 2022, 29 finalists – winners from the 14 monthly competitions – participated in the 62nd annual Hearst Championships in San Francisco where they demonstrated their writing, photography, audio, television and multimedia skills in spot assignments. The assignments were chosen by media professionals who judged the finalists’ work throughout the year and at the Championships.
Originally from Durham, North Carolina, Angelina Katsanis is a visual journalism student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, double majoring in Journalism and Social and Economic Justice with a Studio Art minor. Her fine art background plays an important role in her journalism and works with her curious and extroverted side to tell visual stories of the people she meets and places she goes.
Follow Angelina Katsanis on Instagram: @akatsmedia
A Mother’s Reclamation
A perpetual optimist, Siobhán Gibson is a mother of four sons who has been through a great deal during her life—from an abusive ex-husband to family deaths to traumatic pregnancies. She works for an oncology clinic where she counsels hundreds of patients with cancer. But every day, she comes to work with a smile on her face and an open heart, and then comes home to spread the same warmth to her rambunctious boys and husband.
“Every day I tell people that they’re dying, so I want to be that breath of sunshine. But being that perky breath of sunshine is exhausting.”
Her one respite from her selfless life? Pole dancing. Though she didn’t expect her path to lead to it, she has been dancing at a studio in Novato, California for three and a half years and her love for it grows every day. Pole dancing pushes her to be active, express herself and to do something that is just for her. “It’s good for my body. It’s good for my soul,” she said.
Judy Walgren: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up and and what brought you to photography?
Angelina Katsanis: Yeah! I grew up and spent my younger years in Baltimore, Maryland, but mostly I’m from Durham, North Carolina. As far as photography, I first picked up a little pink Canon point-and-shoot when I was about eight years old and would take it on family vacations—shooting nonstop. My parents would be like, “Oh, that’s so cute! She’s bringing her little camera!” And then they saw that the pictures weren’t bad for an eight-year-old, old so they encouraged me to keep pursuing photography. And I did.
However, most of my life, I have pursued science and wanted to be a neuroscientist. All through high school, I got more and more into dark room photography. I did a lot of analog work and experimental printing processes in the dark room. I kept up my passion for photography as a fine art while I was pursuing science in high school.
It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I had this personal crisis around what I wanted to do. I had joined the newspaper at UNC, the Daily Tar Heel, and I was shooting for the yearbook. I was also taking photo classes and realizing that I really loved the photography that I was doing way more than I’ve ever loved the science that I did.
So, I made the leap—which was hard—but I told myself that it’s got to be all or nothing. I’m going to put everything I’ve got into photojournalism.
I love photography, but I’m more attracted to the photojournalism side than the fine art side for the same reason that I like neuroscience. It’s about understanding humans and explaining society and what makes us who we are.
Judy: Yeah. Same for me. I was approaching years into a pre-med degree, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Angelina: Yeah, it was. It was hard—especially because both my parents are both scientists. Since the beginning of high school, I was doing independent research, but I just couldn’t see myself sitting in a lab for the rest of my life.
Judy: Yeah, organic chemistry was the class that killed it for me. But I loved the aspects of research and helping people. Do you believe it was the way that you were raised that created your attraction to photojournalism?
Angelina: I’m a people person. I love talking and learning about people. And I was raised by scientists and raised to be a curious person—to always question everything. So, maybe that’s what made me want to be a photojournalist. I am also an artist and I want to tell stories in unique ways so that people feel encouraged to learn more about them and to be curious, themselves.
Judy: I really like what you just said about being an artist, because when I was growing up and growing into photojournalism, calling yourself an artist was considered a bad word. A lot of my work now as an instructor has been around dismantling the negative connotation that the word “artist” has in the photojournalism world and vice versa – the negative connotation that “photojournalist” has in the art world. The ethical considerations for both areas are super important. You can be both an artist and a non-fiction visual storyteller.
Angelina: I’m a double major in journalism and studio art, and I have faced that push back like you said, both from the journalism side towards the artist and the artists towards the journalists. Really the best work is going to be the combination of both storytelling and artistic vision. I think my fine art background and my dark room photography have shaped the way I see the world and my perspective on images as art forms, as opposed to pure documentation. It’s really a balance between documentation and art and creativity.
Ethically, we can still take any setting, any truth, and make it beautiful without twisting the narrative, and that’s part of our job as photojournalists to document what is happening and show it in the best way we can.
Judy: Okay, so this notion of objectivity versus seeking the truth—where do you see yourself operating between the spaces of objectivity and truth/fairness?
Angelina: As journalists, do pursue the truth. But you know, as I’m entering my last year of university, I’ve learned in journalism that truth is not objective, and each person will have their own truth. We have to figure out, as best we can, what our subject’s truth is, and document that—not our version of what the truth is.
Take my Hearst story, which is about someone with a complex and layered life that I could only fit into 12 to 15 images. So, I cannot tell her whole completely, but it was my job to use what she provided to me—what she offered to me—to try and craft one piece of her truth. As journalists, all we really want is for our stories to be read by our subjects and for them to feel that, “This is me.” I hope that I did a good job of that with Siobhán’s story, even though I couldn’t show every single aspect of her life.
Judy: So moving to your Hearst story on Siobhán, how did you come up with it and then find someone to follow?
Angelina: The story prompt was self-expression and the California Dream, and I’ve always been interested in motherhood stories. So, for some reason, one of my ideas I had was to find a mother who is a pole dancer. So, I reached out to a bunch of different pole studios in and around San Francisco saying I would like to work on a story about people who are pregnant that pole dance if you have if any students who might be interested? And then Siobhán emailed me saying she was a mom who enjoyed pole dancing. And then her story ended up being so much more.
Judy: Where did the idea for pole dancing come from?
Angelina: Honestly, I have no idea! I was thinking about self-expression, and then thought about pole dancing and how we make assumptions about it. Siobhán says she has a pole in her bedroom, and everyone asks, “Oh, so do you pole dance for your husband? And she’s like, “No i’ve never actually ever performed for him. It’s truly just for myself.” I feel like everyone gets into pole dancing for their own individual reasons and that hits the bill for individual expression.
Judy: So, in terms of the experience in San Francisco, what was like the main takeaway?
Angelina: it was an amazing experience. All the photo finalists became super close. We clicked pretty much instantly and helped each other with our stories. It didn’t feel like a competition. It felt like we were all doing what we loved to do and doing it together.
Judy: Can you share the names of any photographers whose work has influenced you?
Angelina: Henri Cartier Bresson is my favorite. I actually have a tattoo from one of his photographs because he’s one of the first photojournalist/artist, you know. He comes from both backgrounds, and he paved the way for photojournalism as an art form. I’m in love with his concept of the decisive moment—when time and space align to compel the photographer to press the shutter button. I also follow Gabriela Lurie’s work from the (San Francisco) Chronicle and Lindsay Addario’s work for The New York Times. And I love Matt McClain’s work from the Washington Post. I’ve been keeping up with his work as I’ve grown as a photojournalist and like how he uses light, shapes and layers.
Judy: Do you have any thoughts about where you’re headed, or are you still trying to figure that out?
Angelina: Yeah, I think in an ideal world, I would love to land a staff job. I like the buzz of the daily newsroom and I like working with writers and news teams. I’m currently at the News and Observer as an intern and that’s been an awesome experience being able to have a different assignment every day and go out and do what I love. I also want to move abroad, possibly. I have family in Europe, and I’ve spent a lot of time there. But who knows?
MSU J-School Associate Director and Professor of Practice Judy Walgren is an award-winning photographic artist, teacher, photo editor, curator and writer. received her MFA in Visual Art from the Vermont College of Fine Art in January 2016 where she began her exploration into the disruption of historic visual archives. From 2010 to 2015, she was the Director of Photography at the San Francisco Chronicle, where she managed a staff of visual content producers, photo editors and pre-press imagers for print and digital platforms. During her tenure at the Chronicle, her team won multiple Emmy Awards for their multimedia pieces and they earned Photo Editing Team of the Year from Best of Photojournalism. She has also worked for the Denver Post, The Rocky Mountain News and the Dallas Morning News. Walgren received a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting with a team from the Morning New for their series dealing with violent human rights against women. She lives in San Francisco.
Follow Judy Walgren on Instagram: @judywalgren
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