This feature highlights visual journalists in small markets who are often doing it all on their own with little support and few eyes on their work. This will include staff, independent photographers and videographers.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH:
This frame is from my favorite story so far at The Columbian. It started as a question posed by our social services reporter, “How hard is it to take care of a child with special needs in the foster system?”
We got lucky with Kaine Edward Lusk. He was a good kid who’d been in the system for years; he suffered from PTSD and ADHD — by-products from his early years in a home with physical abuse and drug use. Importantly, Kaine was about to be adopted; that meant we could photograph him while he was still in foster care — as long as the story ran after his adoption date.
Our story focused on the specific medical and therapeutic needs of a child like Kaine. Kaine is one of the lucky ones. After a few years in the foster home of Crystal and Roddy Bauer, the couple officially adopted him.
We spent two months with Kaine and the Bauers, but it was what Crystal told me on my last day with them that I think sums up their relationship with Kaine the most.
“If we didn't adopt, he was going to leave our home. The state had to make plans for him, for his sake, so he could start bonding in a new home. It was that moment when I knew I couldn’t let him go.”
How long in the business?
I graduated in 2015 and got my first post-college staff job about a year after that, so by that measure about 3½ years. In college, I worked part time for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Idaho and also as the editor-in-chief of the student paper, The Daily Evergreen, so by that count closer to 4½ years.
Size of photo staff?
Two photographers, plus an editor.
Washington State University; graduated in 2015
Success can look differently per most situations. What was a big success for you in this position and why?
That’s such a difficult question to answer. Because to me, big successes are rarely as important as the sum of the little ones. In my time at The Columbian, there have been awards, but I’m honestly more proud of my cumulative growth. I can look back at images from a year ago and know that, if sent to cover the same assignment today, I’d make it better. To me that’s success.
As a staff photographer running to three or four assignments a day, it can be so easy to let yourself stagnate, to start settling for the photo that’s good enough. If I said I never did that, I’d be lying — but I’m happy the trend has bent toward critical self-improvement. I hope I never stop learning from the photographers I’m lucky enough to work with and the people I’m lucky enough to photograph.
That said, it was also pretty fun when our staff won almost every SPJ photo award for our category last year.
Why do you love photojournalism?
Photojournalism has an amazing ability to humanize the abstract. If I’m doing my job right, a statistic can become a face, a real story with real human consequences that can elicit empathy and change.
When I think about why I love this job, I’m often brought back to the people I’ve met while documenting their lives, the beautiful moments I’ve been lucky enough to capture and the tragedies I’ve witnessed. I think about the people who will see my images, who I hope will feel the emotions I did in the second I pressed my shutter. The ability to take that moment, bottle it in a photograph and pass it on to another person is a pretty magical thing. ■
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