ROANOKE, VA – Photojournalist Josh Meltzer is taking a leap of faith this summer.
The 2006 NPPA Photojournalist of the Year (Smaller Markets) has won a Fulbright Grant and he plans to leave The Roanoke Times in August. Meltzer, who joined NPPA in 1992, said that he and his wife of 3 years, Missy Warp, are using the grant to move to Mexico for about a year to document the in-country migration of indigenous Mexican families from rural areas to Mexico's cities, and to also conduct a class teaching photography to Mexican children.
"We've been looking for a way to live abroad for a little while, and we were looking around at our options when we stumbled on the Fulbright Grants as our best chance. Last fall I applied for it, and wrote the proposal, and last March I went to Mexico. I convinced the paper to let me go to Guadalajara to see a woman from Roanoke who started a non-profit to help kids who are working on the streets with their parents as vendors, and she's trying to get them into schools to break this cycle of missing an education, because as children they are working. I got interested in this story, and there's a lot of work left to do there. So in addition to my proposal I want to work on this and other stories too."
Meltzer said he applied for the grant before The Roanoke Times and other newspapers owned by Landmark Communications went up for sale. "Now with the paper for sale they can't guarantee me anything, which means basically I'm leaving the paper to do this. It's been bittersweet, but maybe it's the kind of thing I needed to push me in a new direction. It would be nice to have had a job assured for when we come back, but who knows for sure ... maybe there will be, maybe not."
The photojournalist said his grant proposal centered around documenting, in still photographs and video, indigenous Mexican families who have no work, no money, no education, and who are leaving rural areas to find work in Mexican cities. Many of these families do not have the money to try to make the trip to America, or they have small children, or for other reasons they choose to look for their future in large urban Mexican settings rather than try to cross to the States. "They may end up doing that later anyway," Meltzer said, "but for right now this is easier for them, it's legal, and it's less dangerous."
Meltzer says that winning the Fulbright has encouraged him to think about doing "lots of other things, and not just this one project." He plans on publishing some of his stories throughout the year as they wrap up, not waiting until the end to publish everything at one time.
"Documentary photography is one of the greatest tools for cross-culture communication, as it needs no translation," Meltzer wrote in the conclusion of his Fulbright Grant proposal. "This project will examine an issue that is not widely known or understood outside of Mexico, and will tell personal stories on the experiential level to as wide an audience as possible. I have the support of colleagues, researchers, subjects and family advocates to help me along the way ... If my images and stories can help relate this universal desire for families to seek better quality of life, I feel that the goals of Fulbright will be met."