Six photojournalists win national excellence awards

Curators include Mac images in online gallery documenting interplay between work, family


The curators of the wrk x fmly project, a national project involving nearly 1,000 student photographers who submitted more than 2,000 images, have named six McCallum students as Award of Excellence winners for photos they captured while they were 2017-2018 photojournalism students.

The McCallum winners are Catherine Nalle, Kirsten Pacotti, Wyeth Purkiss, Bella Russo, Sarah Slaten and Cole Tilson.

All of the images depicted the interplay between work and family in the lives of the student photographers and their families. Each student winning an Award of Excellence received an award certificate and a $50 honorarium, plus selected images of the awardees were featured on the project website.  It’s the second year that Mac photojournalism students have participated in this project. 

Kirsten Pacotti, Harvesting, 2018
My family lives on an urban farm, so in addition to the jobs we all have, we also have to tend the garden every other evening. In this picture, my dad crouches down on the ground after scolding me for stepping on a mound, which is where seeds grow. He searches intently for any vegetables. I point out THREE times that there is a fairly large zucchini RIGHT THERE. He expresses his excitement when he finally finds it. “Oooh! Look at that,” he chuckles as he cuts off the zucchini.

“Participating in this project made me a lot more conscious of how much of our time at home is spent on work and the time that we spend not socializing as a family because of that,” Nalle said. “The major takeaway for me was ‘How can I help improve the amount of work we are doing at home and how can I bring more of my family into my work?’”

Classmate and fellow Award of Excellence winner Cole Tilson, who had two images identified as winners, agreed.

“I learned just how much work and family intertwine in everyday life,” Tilson said. “It just wasn’t something I thought about much until this project. We often get so caught up in real life that we don’t take a moment to stop and take a look at something like this. … It turns out that pretty much each time work or family can be mentioned, the other can be intertwined or applied as well.”

The McCallum students produced the images as a photojournalism assignment facilitated by professional photojournalist Brandon Thibodeaux, whose portrait work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and many other publications.

Cole Tilson, Trapped in a Prison, 2018
My mom was bucked by a horse and had a concussion. She couldn’t watch TV or listen to music or podcasts. In the picture, she is using my laptop to listen to white noise to keep her head from hurting. The whole experience was horrible, as you can tell from the expression on her face.

“One of my favorite parts of the wrk x fmly project was talking to Brandon and getting to learn about his career as a professional photojournalist,” Russo said. “His work documenting refugees crossing the border was really interesting, and he gave lots of advice about the project when critiquing our photos.”

Because he was often on assignment during as the class completed the project, Thibodeaux communicated with the students via video conference using the web application, Zoom. While the students were taking their images for the project, for example, Thibodeaux was on assignment taking pictures of Oklahoma teachers striking for higher wages for The New York Times.

Thibodeaux said he was impressed with the students’ photographs and the captions they wrote to provide the larger context in which the images were situated.

“[The McCallum] students had exceptional work this year,” said Thibodeaux, who added that he hopes to return to Mac as a photo facilitator with the project next year.

Associate Director for Program Development and Partnerships Barbara Filion shared Thibideaux’s assessment of the photojournalism classes’ work.

Sarah Slaten, Far Fetched, 2018
In January, we got my dog, River. She has become the fourth most important member of our family. We all contribute to taking care of her and a lot of our family time is spent with her.

“Your classes produced amazing work,” Filion wrote in an email to photojurnalism teacher Dave Winter. Filion also said that every participating photojournalism student at Mac produced at least one image that was incorporated into the wrk + fmly project archive.

While the six award winners were pleased to have won, they also said that the real award came from the process of doing the project.

“My favorite part of the project was getting to spend extra time with my family and really examining and thinking about our time together,” said Slaten, the only Mac student who had three images chosen for the gallery.

Nalle agree that the photography assignment wasn’t just a way to document work and family. It was a way to bring the two together for her and her family.

Wyeth Purkiss, Feeling the Power on the Water, 2018
Feeling the power on the water. The whole family — my brother (Mason), dad (Chris), mom (Sarah), and I — took a boat ride around the Rockland, Maine, harbor. This was the first and only time that Mason would ever ride on a boat. On the water, Mason was so peaceful; he didn’t have any seizures during the trip. He was there — present and enjoying the wind. He loved nature and enjoyed looking at the trees. “The harbormaster was taking people out for tours around the harbor and to the lighthouse, and he was totally chill about taking Mason out,” his parents said. This was a treasured moment for the family.

“My favorite part of working on this project was the actual photographing process,” Nalle said. “I sort of made it a whole event for my family. I had studied when and where certain events in our daily routine would be available to photograph, and I made a schedule of when to shoot each photo based on when the best natural lighting would be and when it would look the most realistic to what we usually do.”

The students learned about their families to be sure but they also learned a lot about photography.

“I think the most important thing I took away from the project was how different the intersections between work and family could be represented visually,” Russo said. “I learned that there are many different ways to get your point across in photography, and that sometimes the little things that you may overlook every day have the potential to tell a story.”

For Tilson, the photography assignment provided a creative outlet and an opportunity for inquiry.

Katie Nalle, Two Screens, 2018
My mom is working in front of the TV at night. Even though she works a nine to five job and does overtime, she still has to work very late at home sometimes as well.

“My favorite part was probably taking the pictures themselves,” Tilson said. “I don’t take pictures often in my own time, so this was somewhat refreshing for me, and as I have a relatively creative personality, it was a welcome change. The planning stage wasn’t that bad either as it allowed me to actually think through the implications of both work and family in my life.”

Purkiss, another Award of Excellence winner, said he enjoyed the process of taking the photos but also the process of describing the images after he had captured them.

My favorite part of the work and family project was the actual process of taking the pictures and thinking how to make the photos best,” Purkiss said. “I learned to shoot and capture the environment and details to enrich the photo. I also really enjoyed the writing of the captions and thinking of details that help tell the story of the photograph. What I learned and took away from the experience is that in order for a photo to tell a story you have to write with rich details.

Fellow winner Kirsten Pacotti, who joined Purkiss and Tilson in having two images selected as winners, also said she most enjoyed explaining the context behind her images. 

My favorite part of work and family was writing the captions. I think I learned how to write captions better. I feel like I gained experience with writing with this project. [Plus,] It was fun to write about our daily lives in a comedic manner. I liked being able to spend time with my family for a school project.”

In other words she liked being able to work and spend time with her family at the same time, rather than having to choose one over the other, which is what the whole project is all about.

Bella Russo, Magnets, Memories and Milestones, 2018
A menagerie of family vacation photos is pinned in commemoration on our fridge, next to an email congratulating my father on 17 (17!) years at his company. My parents work a lot, but they strike me as very “vacation motivated” people. Many of our most cherished family memories are the ones we make when my parents are many miles or oceans away from their jobs. When we return home, my dad goes back to planning our next adventure, taking lunch breaks to research flights and look at travel guides.

We have reached out to the wrk+fmly curators to find out which Mac photoj images were chosen for the the 2018 project archive. Once we know, we will include a gallery of those images here.