Athens, GA — Since the inaugural Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award was given by the National Press Photographers Association in 1949, the organization has continued to recognize individuals for their special contributions to the NPPA and the wider field of visual journalism.
These awards represent NPPA’s efforts to honor those whose efforts make our profession stronger, build our communities and expand the reach of NPPA in its mission to promote visual journalism and journalists. They recognize individuals who contribute to the profession in a myriad of ways. They honor people who elevate photojournalism, photojournalists who have reached outstanding technical achievements, leaders who advance NPPA goals, people who fight for First Amendment freedoms, and educators who inspire.
NPPA’s immediate past president, Melissa Lyttle, served as the chair of the Honors & Recognition Committee, the group that puts out an annual call for nominations and determines each year’s honorees.
The NPPA has awarded its highest honor, the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, to Maggie Steber and Karen Mullarkey for their commitment to the craft of visual journalism and to education that advances the profession. The Sprague Awards, along with NPPA’s other top honors, will be presented during a ceremony at the NPPA’s Northern Short Course in Fairfax, Virginia, on March 7.
Maggie Steber is a Guggenheim Grant Fellow and documentary photographer who has worked in 70 countries photographing stories concerning the human condition. She is affiliated with VII Photo Agency and a contributing photographer to National Geographic magazine. Her honors include Pulitzer Prize Finalist 2019, the Lucie Award for Photojournalism 2019, Leica Medal of Excellence, World Press Photo Foundation, Pictures of the Year, Medal of Honor for Distinguished Service to Journalism from the University of Missouri, the Alicia Patterson Grant, a Knight Foundation Grant and the Ernst Haas Grant.
Steber started as a photographer-reporter at the Galveston (Texas) Daily News after graduating from the University of Texas in 1972. A short while later, she went on to become a picture editor for The Associated Press and eventually director of photography at the Miami Herald, all the while continuing to be a contributing photographer to almost every major magazine. Steber has also continually been drawn back to Haiti hundreds of times over the past three decades, for assignments and personal projects, including her monograph “Dancing on Fire: Photographs From Haiti.”
“I’m thrilled that I have been able to do so many things, and I think it’s kept me in photography,” Steber once told Jimmy Colton in an interview for the NPPA. “I’m so glad I got to be a picture editor. I know it made me a better photographer and a better businesswoman. [But photographing] makes me feel alive, and I’ve been hugely privileged that people let me come into their lives, and I can see where they live and learn what they think and photograph it.”
For her amazing body of work that spans over 40 years, as well as for the constant inspiration, education and mentorship she provides, Steber exemplifies qualities found in Sprague Award winners.
Karen Mullarkey was looking for a job after graduating from college in 1964. “Back in those days, they asked, ‘How many words do you type, how fast is your dictation and do you make good coffee?’ I only had one of those skills, and that’s that I make pretty good coffee.” She landed a job as the second secretary to Richard Pollard, the director of photography at Life magazine. At her urging, Pollard taught her how to edit photos, work with contact sheets and shadow the greats like Gordon Parks and Carl Mydans. She went on to become the DOP of Rolling Stone magazine, New York Magazine, Newsweek and Sports illustrated.
“I’m one of those people who about every five years gets itchy; it’s all those things about staying curious and reinventing yourself,” Mullarkey said. She also prides herself on something that she and Rick Smolan used to say to each other while working on the “24 Hours in Cyberspace” and “One Digital Day” projects together: “We’ll take this on and build a parachute on the way down.” She went on to work on books, films, internet and digital startups before taking on her newest role as a photojournalism coach and mentor to the students at the Newmark J-School at CUNY.
“She represents so much history of our field and continues to instill in new visual journalists the passion that motivated her,” said Andy Mendelson, associate dean at the Newmark J-School at CUNY. Mullarkey’s trailblazing ways are seen best in her adaptability and leadership, and those, coupled with her passion and mentorship, are amazing qualities worthy of the Sprague Award.
Established in 1949, the Sprague Award is NPPA's most prestigious honor. It recognizes individuals who advance and elevate photojournalism by their conduct, initiative, leadership and skill, or for unusual service or achievement beneficial to photojournalism and technological advances. It honors Joseph A. Sprague, a press technical representative for the Graflex Corp. who is credited with designing the Big Bertha, Magic Eye and Combat Camera for the company as well as dozens of improvements and refinements to the original Graflex Speed Graphic 4x5 camera, which was once the press industry standard.
Yunghi Kim is the winner of the Joseph Costa Award. Kim is an independent photojournalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her creation of the Yunghi Grant and the Trailblazers of Light website highlighting women in photojournalism illustrates the ways she has committed herself to supporting and giving back to the photo community. She is also an outspoken proponent of ethics and copyright, she leads by example, and she continues to make amazing, powerful images. The Joseph Costa Award is named after the NPPA’s founder and is given for outstanding initiative, leadership and service in advancing the goals of NPPA in Costa’s tradition.
Ross Taylor is the winner of the Clifton Edom Award. He is known for giving back to the photojournalism community and infusing others with the power of connection. Taylor leads by example with the work he creates and the skills he shares to help educate the next generation of storytellers. A workshop he runs called The Image, Deconstructed has been so instrumental to so many photojournalists to go deeper in their thinking of story, character and development. His passion and spirit for the craft are simply bonuses. The Edom Award recognizes an individual in the tradition of University of Missouri photojournalism professor Cliff Edom to inspire and motivate members of the photojournalism community to reach new heights.
John H. White is the winner of the Burt Williams Award, which is given to a news photographer who has completed at least 40 years of service to the industry. The former Chicago newspaper photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982 became an educator and has led by example. He has inspired us all with his commitment to the community he has covered so beautifully as well as the community of photojournalists he has fostered and helped raise up around him. White’s work embodies heart, soul, spirit and humanity. Thank you, John H. White, for setting the standard we should all strive for: to be not only a great photographer but also an incredible human being. White has said that he lives by three words: faith, focus, flight. “Keep in Flight,” my friend.
Detroit Free Press visuals director Kathy Kieliszewski has won the Jim Gordon Editor of the Year Award. Her tireless work at the Detroit Free Press along with the creation and curation of the Freep Film Festival has helped elevate voices and great visuals. And her hard work has not gone unnoticed. Her knack for photo editing and seeking out the strengths of the photographer, being the gatekeeper and fighting for the time for her staff to do things right, and her commitment to having a staff reflect the community it covers are all exemplary leadership skills worthy of the Jim Gordon Editor of the Year Award.
Josh Meltzer, an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has won the Robin F. Garland Educator Award for his dedication to his students, as evident by dozens of nominations we received in support of him. Those who know Meltzer spoke of his dedication to his students, the breadth of his insight and wisdom, amazing technical skills, deep-seated ethics and an unwavering commitment to community as demonstrated through his own personal work as well as the work he did locally bringing together RIT students and the Special Olympics. We want to recognize Meltzer for shaping a new generation of visual communicators and photojournalists with lessons that are as much about life as they are about photojournalism.
The John Long Ethics Award is awarded to Kainaz Amaria, an outstanding photojournalist turned editor, first on NPR’s Visual Team before becoming the visuals editor at Vox. This award recognizes an individual who has, through her efforts, upheld, shaped and promoted ethical behavior in all forms of visual journalism. Amaria’s career as a photographer speaks for itself, having held her own work to the highest ethical standards. And now she pays it forward by being a leading voice in the industry and framing the conversations of visual journalism through the lens of representation, always advocating for people to do more and do better, and calling out those who don’t.
Joe Little and Steve Northup have been awarded the John Durniak Mentor Award for serving as outstanding photojournalism mentors. Little has taught and inspired students for years at the News Video Workshop, where nominees spoke of attendees hanging on his every word during critiques because they know that he lives the things he teaches. Northup has dedicated his life and energy to helping the next generation of photographers grow and prosper, and he has been selfless with his time, energy, wisdom and contacts. Both have given back to countless others and given so much of their time and wisdom.
Matt Pearl is awarded the J. Winton Lemen Award. This award is given in recognition of outstanding technical achievement supporting and advancing the best interests of the visual journalism community. Not only has Pearl written a book that guides multimedia journalists to success, but he’s also got a podcast that teaches important lessons of the business and provides a platform to a diverse group of journalists a chance to discuss the industry. He is constantly teaching and educating others on how to be more effective storytellers.
Jerry Lara, a staff photographer at the San Antonio Express-News, is the winner of the Morris Berman Citation. This honor is given to individuals or organizations for special contributions that have advanced the interests of photojournalism. Lara was nominated for his excellent character, bravery and love of the craft, but what speaks volumes is the level of empathy he demonstrates both in his own work toward the people he photographs and among his fellow journalists.
Russian-born, Ukraine-based Reuters staff photographer Gleb Garanich has won this year’s NPPA Humanitarian Award. We want to honor Garanich’s commitment to a career spent covering injustices and human conflict. But even more so, we want to commend him for putting the camera down long enough to step in and save a young man from being brutally attacked by an anti-LGBT mob. His bravery no doubt saved someone from serious injury, and his actions further reminded us all that we all need to be human beings first and photographers second.
Attorneys Joel Kurtzberg and Merriam Mikhail have been named the recipients of this year’s Alicia Calzada First Amendment Award. This award recognizes those who have worked to promote and advance the First Amendment, especially as it relates to visual journalists. We really appreciate their tireless work on the pro bono case of Nicholas v. Bratton. This award is named after NPPA past President Alicia Wagner Calzada, the founder and longtime chair of NPPA’s Advocacy Committee who is now an attorney specializing in media law.
The Kenneth P. McLaughlin Award of Merit has been given to Dr. Charles Davis, the dean of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication. This award is given to those who have rendered ongoing and outstanding service in the interests of news photography. We want to thank Dr. Davis for his continued support for the missions of education and advocacy that are at the core of the NPPA. The time and resources he and UGA’s Grady College have poured into fostering visual journalism have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. The organization would not be where we are without his backing.
The Outstanding Student Chapter Award goes to the Ohio University Student NPPA Chapter — for the second year in a row and the fifth time since the inception of the award. OU has set the bar for what our student chapters should be doing, by way of bringing in a diverse selection of top-notch speakers, encouraging the attendance of workshops, creating shared online resources for their fellow students and constantly pushing one another to do more and be better. Congratulations on photo book nights, print swaps, contest wins, volunteering together and fostering an incredible college photo community. Their dedication to consistency and excellence further proves the strength of the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University.
NPPA Special Citations have been awarded to Susan Greene and Avi Adelman. Greene is being honored for her commitment to journalism and the First Amendment by having the courage to fight for change at the Denver Police Department. Her actions will no doubt protect fellow journalists in the future and help set standards for law enforcement when dealing with the media. And we want to recognize Adelman’s successful fight for his constitutional rights as well. His actions will hopefully help educate and set the standards for local agencies when dealing with the media.
And last but not least, NPPA President Michael P. King has given the President’s Award to his wife, Becky King. “I met my wife the very same month I was elected to NPPA’s board. I have never been president — or vice president or secretary or a board member — all alone. Becky has always been there, deriving all of the inconveniences and none of the satisfaction that I get from my volunteerism. She has sacrificed countless times for me to be able to do this: vacations interrupted so that I could handle urgent matters, family dinners cut short so that I could participate in monthly conference calls, and weekends alone with the kids so I could fly away for board meetings and conferences. This award is one way I can shout from a mountaintop that I love her."