Award-winning photojournalists have a day of conversations at Smith Forum

Picture of the Year international and College Photographer of the Year gathered its winners for a weekend in Columbia, Missouri.


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Winners of this year’s Picture of the Year International and College Photographer of the Year competitions met during the weekend of April 26 and 27 in Columbia. They came from different parts of the world to receive their awards and be a part of different events with MU faculty, students and members of the community.

According to POYi’s website, the competition’s purpose since 1944, when it first began, has been “to pay tribute to those press photographers and newspapers which, despite tremendous war-time difficulties, are doing a splendid job; to provide an opportunity for photographers of the nation to meet in open competition.”

The weekend started on April 26 at Orr Street Studios, when both competitions held their awards receptions along with an exhibit of the winners’ work. On April 27, some of these winners talked about their work in depth at the Smith Forum in Reynolds Journalism Institute. One of these winners was Jessica Phelps.

“I went through all of my singles through the years, pulled out my favorites and worked on editing those down to 10 to 12 photos for my portfolio,” Phelps said about her POYi submission process. “That took a lot of time, sharing it with friends, getting their feedback and at the end of the day, trusting my own instincts.”

Alongside Phelps, five other awarded photojournalists shared their portfolios: sports photographer of the year Matt Gade, college photographer of the year Gabriel Scarlett, author of the photography book of the year Maksymilian Rigamonti, multimedia photographer of the year Emily Kassie and photographer of the year Fabio Bucciarelli.

Phelps was awarded newspaper photographer of the year. She is a staff photographer for the Newark Advocate in Newark, Ohio. It wasn’t her first time submitting photos to POYi, but this is her first POYi award.

“I was pretty much in shock,” Phelps said about winning newspaper photographer of the year. “This is a really big award and I entered just to enter, not thinking that I would actually win because I’m from such a small paper and there’s so much amazing work out there. That’s what I expected to win, so it was really crazy.”

Phelps came from Newark, but some of her fellow winners such as Rigamonti and Bucciarelli came from Poland and Italy. One of the people responsible for gathering the photographers at RJI was POYi director Lynden Steele.

“[To bring the winners to Columbia] is a dream,” Steele said. “It was great seeing them together, talking to each other. They are like old friends and they didn’t know each other beforehand.”

After spending the day at Smith Forum, the winners also had the chance to gather at the rooftop of the Heidelberg and keep the conversation going. Steele talked about what brought the photojournalists together.

“We’re all photographers, we’re all journalists,” Steele said. “And we all have the same spirit, so it’s easy to connect. Everybody is so impressed with each other and very generous with each other.”

The reception at Orr Street Studios had about 100 people and the seven-hour symposium with some of the winners counted with about 50 people. In light of these numbers, Steele also talked about POYi and its audience.

“POYi is known among photographers and if you’re not a photographer you might never know about it,” Steele said. “I think that’s a shame. I think there’s something there that can be shared.”

Edited by Janae McKenzie |

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