WKUPJ Winners, College Photographer of the Year 2019

For a complete list of this year’s winning images, visit: CPOY Winning Images


Photography – Sports Feature    |    GOLD: Morgan Hornsby

Diana Loe, Jonica Louis, and Calouna Zamor rest together in the shade between events at the Collier County Athletic Conference track and field meet at Naples High School on April 6, 2019.


Photography – International Picture Story    |    BRONZE: Gabriel Scarlett

Dr. Bob Ballard watches from the top deck as the crew of the E/V Nautilus retrieves the ROV Hercules from the waters off Nikumaroro Island on August 12, 2019. Hercules can search the slope of the island down to the sea floor several miles below.


Photography – Feature    |    AWARD OF EXCELLENCE: Kendall Warner

Karen Vela Lim cries while her father Roman plays the guitar and sings her a traditional hispanic song during the church service portion of her quinceneara in Bowling Green, Ky. on March 23, 2019.


Multimedia: Group Story or Essay – Standalone   |    GOLD: Michelle Hanks (WKU) & Deepti Asthana (Danish School of Journalism)




Multimedia: Individual Story or Essay – Standalone    |    SILVER: Michelle Hanks


Multimedia: Online Storytelling    |    BRONZE: Morgan Hornsby & Gabriel Scarlett

View here:  The Pain We Cause


WKU Alum J. Scott Applewhite Inducted into Hall of Distinguished Alumni

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winning Photojournalist J. Scott Applewhite has lived a life being in the middle of the major news stories around the world. He was recently honored as the newest inductee in the Western Kentucky University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

WKU Photojournalism is honored to call him our own, and Photojournalism is lucky to have such a kind person as an ambassador for our industry.

If you want to see more about J. Scott Applewhite you can follow a  mysterious instagram accounts that shows him behind the scenes. @scottyshots1

Video by: WKYU-PBS

Beyond Graduation: Abigail Dollins


In an October 12, 2019 email interview, Abigail Dollins, a 2019 WKUPJ graduate shares some of her experiences while attending WKU and also the path that lead her to her current job as a staff multimedia journalist for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, SD.

Abigail Dollins graduated in the spring of 2019 and three months later found herself working full-time for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, SD. This southerner will soon be learning about the warmth of Sorel boots and hand warmers.

Where were you born?

I was born and raised in Paducah, Ky.

What High School did you attend?

I graduated from Lone Oak High School in Paducah, Ky., in May 2013. I was the last graduating class, they then consolidated to make McCracken County High School.

Is there an interesting story that brought you to WKUPJ or photojournalism in general?

I have to credit my dad for this one. I started out as a nursing major because of two things: I wanted to help people and I wanted the ability to work anywhere. Long story short, becoming a nurse wasn’t for me.

I’ve always enjoyed photography and had spent most of my early years as a photographer wandering around Kentucky Lake and shooting what I saw. My dad did the research and pointed me to WKU, noting that it was one of the top schools for photojournalism. To be honest, when I started out as a freshman, I didn’t fully know what photojournalism was. I soon fell in love with it though and never turned back.

When did you start attending WKU and what year did you graduate?

I started at WKU in the fall of 2015. As a transfer student with already two years under my belt, I did not know I would be adding a few extra years of school. I graduated in the spring of 2019.

I’m sure that starting a four-year major after two years in college was a difficult choice to make. What impact did these two extra years of visual education make in defining your current career?

The two extra years of education did so much for me as a visual storyteller. Coming into the program, I was just learning the basics of what photojournalism was. I think everyone has a point in their college career that they would consider a “light bulb moment”— where everything just clicks. That moment for me happened in picture stories during my junior year. What I had learned in my previous years, about composition, light, audio, etc. came together in that class. I truly began to define who I am as a visual storyteller and took that opportunity to highlight issues that matter to me in my storytelling.

Immediately after graduation I …

I went stir crazy! I had graduated and been a finalist for several internships (even had an important email go to my junk mail) but had nothing lined up yet. I began applying to full-time positions.

Who do you currently work for?

I currently work for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, SD, part of the USA Today Network as a staff multimedia journalist.

What does “staff multimedia journalist” mean? Do you just take still photos for the print and online publications or are there other duties?

Part of my duties as a multimedia journalist include photographing daily and long-term assignments for print and online publication, putting together online galleries and producing videos. We try to be very intentional with our use of video and think about what assignments could benefit from that form of storytelling. Another fun duty that comes along with my job is sharing content to Instagram and Twitter real time. Sometimes these are photos from an assignment that day or a feature I found on my way home.

Dollins on assignment in Sioux Falls, SD.

Since graduation, tell us about some of the more interesting places or events you may have visited/photographed as part of your work being a visual storyteller?

Curiosity is one of the best traits you can have as a photojournalist. It is curiosity and wanting to know more about a person’s story that has led me to the more interesting places I’ve been as a storyteller. For example, I am currently working on a story about a person’s journey with cancer. I met them on a daily assignment for the Argus and struck up conversation. Being a fly on the wall in someone’s daily life, learning the details of their everyday, is one of the most interesting places I’ve been for visual storytelling.

Sioux Falls recently experienced a historic flood followed by three destructive tornadoes and you were in your first month of working there. What was that experience like? Was there any particular moment or image that will stick with you forever?

I was taking cover in my apartment during the storm when I got a call from my editor. A woman was trapped inside her house and couldn’t get out. I hopped in my car while it was still raining sideways and started to drive to the scene. It wasn’t until I was stopped by flash flooding and downed power lines that I realized what had actually happened. Three tornadoes had hit Sioux Falls.

I spent that night and early morning driving around to businesses and homes surveying the initial damage caused by three tornadoes. Around 4 a.m., I went home and got an hour of sleep and was told to report back by 6 a.m. The sun started to rise and we got a better idea of what actually happened. (I think I was running on pure adrenaline.)

Although, I witnessed a lot of destruction during the course of covering the tornadoes, one man’s experience stuck out the most to me. Matt Ditmanson had just woken up and was running with his dog Teddy to his basement when his roof was torn off. I took a photo of him standing in what was his living room and watched him salvage family photos and other personal belongings. That moment will stay with me forever.

Sioux Falls, SD resident Matt Ditmanson surveys the damage to his home after it was hit by a tornado. Photo by Abigail Dollins

In hindsight, is there anything you learned while in a PJ class at Western that has resonated with you now?

One thing I learned as a WKUPJ that has stuck with me is pretty simple—JUST GO SHOOT. Having a camera in your hands everyday will make you better, whether you realize it or not. Oh, and along those lines, always keep a camera on you. You never know what kind of situation you may roll up on.

What has changed in your professional plans from the time you enrolled at WKU until know? Did you ever expect to be where you are today?

I came into the PJ program knowing that if I spent my first years out of college working for a daily paper, it would be a huge benefit to my career in the long run. However, I never expected to be where I am as quickly as I got here. As a student, I always assumed that you needed 10 internships before you were ready for something full-time. I’ve learned that everyone’s path looks different.

Do you have any immediate future work plans that you can disclose? What awaits you in 2020?

Wow! 2020 is really that close, huh? In 2020 I plan to stay with the Argus Leader, assuming I survive the winter. (kidding) I feel that I’ve started to discover my voice as a visual storyteller and I’m enjoying exploring it through my photos. I’m excited to see how I continue to grow and have plenty to learn from this amazing newsroom.

If you could have any “dream” freelance assignment what would that be?

As a southerner who moved out of the south, I have to say there’s so many things I miss about it. I would love to work on a broader photo essay about the American South and document the region and people who drew me into visual storytelling in the first place.

What is your favorite memory from WKUPJ?

Some of my favorite memories were made creating in the studio with my roommate Kendall Warner. Since I was the studio manager, there were some nights we would go in there late at night and just try out new lighting techniques.

Another favorite memory that sticks out is my first all-nighter I pulled for a WKUPJ class. It was finals week of my Intermediate Photojournalism class and I somehow managed to pull together a picture story in a day (I would not recommend this). A few of my classmates and I decided to stay the night in the lab and kept ourselves awake by having mini dance parties.

Provide for us a link to your current online portfolio and/or social media accounts:


Instagram: @abigaildollins

Twitter: @abigaildollins

Beyond Graduation: Thomas Simonetti


In an August 26, 2019 email interview, Thomas Simonetti, a 2009 WKUPJ graduate, took a break from his busy schedule as the sport picture editor for The Washington Post and reminisced on his past and how WKUPJ set him up for his career in the photojournalism business.

Photo editor Thomas Simonetti in the headquarters of The Washington Post. (Photo by Marlena Sloss)


Where were you born?

Well, I was  born in Long Island, N.Y., where I lived until Age 7. That’s when my family moved to sunny Tampa, Fla.


What High School did you attend?

I went to Brandon High School in a suburb of Tampa. Go Eagles.


How did you end up at WKU?

It was my last semester at The University of South Florida. I was getting a degree in mass communications, was the Sports Editor of the college newspaper, and was working as a freelance reporter for the (then) St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and MLB.com.

One of my final classes, an elective, was Intro to Photojournalism. I got hooked! With enthusiasm, I took a (terrible) collection of photos to a photojournalist on staff at the St. Pete Times named Daniel Wallace for a critique. His advice: consider more school. He suggested WKU, where he has gone, and the rest is history.


Immediately after graduation I …

I started a six-month internship at the Dubois County (Jasper) Herald. It’s a special place. The small newspaper has a decades-long tradition of running a Saturday weekly feature, ad-free, across the first several pages. The vibe in this small town is midwestern and polite and the people really appreciate the way the paper tells the community’s stories. Getting that internship should be a priority for every photojournalism student.

Later I was hired as a staff photographer at the Midland Daily News in Michigan – a small-but-talented photo staff of three.


Who do you currently work for?

I am a staff photo editor at The Washington Post. My first three years here I embedded with the financial and politics teams, working with a small team of photo editors. Now I am the lone Sports photo editor. Before The Post, I worked at the New York Times on the Metro desk for a short stint.

Thomas Simonetti, left, with the photo crew from The Washington Post at the 2017 White House News Photographers Association annual awards at The Ritz Carlton in Washington D.C. in 2017. WKUPJ 2014 graduate Jabin Botsford, back right, can also be seen here.

What is it like editing and working with other WKUPJ’ers?

There are three dedicated sports photographers at the Post, and two of them are WKU grads: Toni Sandys and Jonathan Newton. I’ve worked with WKU alumni in almost every job and internship I’ve done. When I worked on the politics desk, I interfaced daily with photographer Jabin Botsford. There are multiple WKU grads at the New York Times. Former Midland Daily News photo editor Nathan Morgan (2.0) hired me on the staff there. I worked with WKU grad Krista Schinagl while interning at the Jasper Herald. We are everywhere.


Since graduation, tell us about some of the more interesting places you may have visited as part of your work being a visual story teller?

For me, the most interesting places were always behind the scenes of regular people’s lives. For instance, while at Western, I spent countless hours documenting the lives of a single mother of three named Dawn and her young family. I was with them in the evenings when they ate dinner and mornings getting ready for school. Literally, hours and hours of time was spent with them. Recently the mother reached out to me on Facebook. She told me that she was glad I was doing well and wanted to inform me that she was now married and happy and that all the kids were growing up.

Doing what we do, you become a part of people’s lives, and it’s really special.


In hindsight, is there anything you learned while in a PJ class at Western that has resonated with you now?

Another story I worked on at WKU, a man had both his legs amputated and wasn’t sure how long he had left to live. The assignment was to do a semester-long story on someone who was imminently facing death. Heavy stuff. A year or so later, he passed away and his family reached out to me for photos they could display of him at his funeral. It was the least I could do.

The work we do is important in ways we don’t realize when we are thinking about exposure, cleaning up backgrounds and looking for light. That’s something I never forget.


What has changed in your professional plans from the time you enrolled at WKU until know? Did you ever expect to be where you are today?

You learn pretty quickly there is no “normal path” in photojournalism, at least anymore.

On the first day of my first class at WKU, we were asked to write down a goal on an index card. The class was taught by James Kenney. I wrote “Work for The St. Petersburg Times.” Though I would have loved to be on staff at my home town paper, I’d say I landed at a pretty nice spot.

It would be way too long of a story to explain the winding path often filled with self-doubt that led me to the New York Times and now The Washington Post. The bottom line is you have to strive to be your true self in job interviews and with relationships you cultivate in your career.

Oh, and you also have to be extremely lucky.


Do you have any immediate future work plans that you can disclose? What awaits you in 2019?

Next up for me, a season of NFL live-editing at Washington Redskins games this fall. And perhaps Washington Nationals baseball playoffs (if they can continue on pace the rest of this season).


If you could have any “dream” freelance assignment what would that be?

More than anything, I look forward to a lifetime of documenting my son Gabriel’s life. He’s 17 months old and keeps me on my toes.


What is your favorite memory from WKUPJ?

Every morning, when possible, I’d wake up and meet my best friend Daniel Johnson at the Starbucks on Campbell Ln. We alternated who bought the New York Times. We’d sit there and drink coffee and read it cover to cover.


What advice might you give for anyone considering to pursue a career in the journalism industry?

Something that’s been on my mind lately, and something I tell emerging photojournalists, is that if you want to work in news it’s important to not post online anything that could be perceived as a bias. The New York Times recently published a story detailing efforts to comb the social media accounts of working journalists in a campaign to discredit the media.

Oh, and when you get a job, put money into available retirement accounts early. I am a dad now, so I’m obligated to say that.


Collaboration and innovation – all in one week!

The Digital Storytelling Workshop at the 2018 Mountain Workshops in Mt. Sterling, Ky. created this project on the role social media plays in the lives of high schoolers in the rural Kentucky community.

Are you interested in innovative ways to tell a story and want take your skillset to a new level? Come join Western Kentucky University’s storied Mountain Workshops master’s class in Digital Storytelling this Oct. 29 – Nov. 3 in Cynthiana, Ky. for an intensive week of team collaboration with multi-disciplinary visual journalists developing and executing a documentary project making use of digital tools such as drone video and photography, 360 video and photography, photogrammetry, data visualization, cartography and digital design.

During your week of training, you will participate with a group of professionals who will work together to tell a single story, increase your project management skills and learn how to develop a multi-faceted visual story creating a range of elements that fit together as a unified experience. Work will be shared and developed in an agile atmosphere where all members of the team choose, gather and edit the content guided by some of the best practicing professionals in the country.

Seats are still available. Registration closes on Sept. 28 however, the early bird registration discount ends Aug. 31. So hurry and register today! We still have seats available in our picture editing workshop as well, check it out!

Coaches and facilitators include:

(Subject to change)

Jonathon Berlin
Jonathon Berlin is the leader of the data visualization team at the Chicago Tribune. He is an adjunct at Northwestern and Columbia College where he’s taught infographics, data visualization and human-centered web design. Jonathon was president of the Society for News Design (SND) in 2012. His infographics work has been honored by SND, AIGA and Print. Before coming to Chicago in 2007, he worked at the San Jose Mercury News, the Rocky Mountain News and The Times of Northwest Indiana. He was a Page One designer during The Rocky’s Pulitzer Prize winning work covering wildfires in 2003. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois’ journalism school.

Sam Wolson
Sam Wolson is an immersive film director and photographer with editorial partners including National Geographic and The New York Times. He grew up on a flower farm in the suburbs of Detroit Michigan and is currently based out of Berlin, Germany. He was co-director of the VR film “We Who Remain” which is the first character-driven VR film shot in an active war zone. It premiered at SXSW, won best VR film at SIFF and was a co-production between The New York Times, AJ+ and ARTE. In 2018 he worked on a four-part VR series for National Geographic on the Okavango Delta called the Okavango Experience. Currently, he is working on an immersive exhibition about the Daiichi Nuclear disaster in Fukushima and a field deployable volumetric capture system supported by a 2018 Journalism 360˚ challenge Knight Foundation grant.

Ken Harper
Ken Harper is an award-winning designer, professor, photojournalist and media educator. He has worked as a multimedia designer and producer for The Rocky Mountain News, MSNBC.com, New York Life, Bausch & Lomb and various non-profit organizations including the United Nations, the Bahá’í Faith, The Electronic Intifada and Aidchild. Currently, Ken is an Associate Professor and the first director of the Newhouse Center for Global Engagement at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Jonathan Woods
Since joining TIME in 2012, Executive Producer Jonathan Woods has played a key role in developing exclusive, groundbreaking multimedia packages. Most recently, Woods produced Emmy Award-winning A Year in Space, a 12-episode video series focusing on Scott Kelly’s yearlong mission to the International Space Station. Woods also produced these as two one-hour specials for PBS. In 2013, Woods photographed the only 360-degree panorama from the top of 1 World Trade Center, the tallest building in the western hemisphere.

David Kofahl
David Kofahl is an interactive designer and developer. His recent projects include huge award-winning hits such as:
Time 100, 2018
The Opioid Diaries
Finding Home, Heln’s First Year
Time Person of The Year, 2017

Tim Klimowicz
Fortunate enough to work alongside some very talented people, Tim’s work has been recognized with nearly a dozen awards, including an Emmy and four Emmy nominations, two POYi awards, a Webby, and awards from World Press Photo, The Society of News Design, and Online Journalism Awards. He lives and works out of a tiny studio bungalow in Rockaway Beach, NY, and enjoys design, programming, getting around by bicycle, photography, hiking, video games, drums, and exploring the world around him.

Sam Shapiro
Sam is currently doing Research & Development for adtech company TripleLift in NYC. Current projects include a branded content intelligence platform that regularly analyzes hundreds of thousands of campaigns between top publishers and brands, and creating technology and marketplace to insert user-targeted computer-vision based ads into long-form video content. Other past work includes development of a narrative VR-short film that was featured in Cannes, director of a short film that was featured in the Big Apple Film Festival, as well as several other technology, film and advertising projects for various clients, including Google, Facebook, GOOD Magazine, NIO (autonomous vehicle startup) and Sperry.

Maxx Berkowitz
Maxx Berkowitz is a Brooklyn based experiential creative director and freelance art director with a strong foundation in graphic design, motion and emerging technology. Maxx works to create intuitive products that solve problems and rethink how people interact with the world around them. Maxx has worked with some of the worlds top advertising agencies including SapientRazorfish, JWT, BBDO and Y&R, on high profile brands ranging from Mercedes and Coca Cola to Google, HP and Time Inc.

2019 Capstone Senior Projects

Here at WKUPJ, we are excited to present a collection of the 2019 PJ436 Projects course final thesis. Students complete their photojournalism curriculum by enrolling in a semester-long instructional “workshop” that provides individual guidance and hands-on practical experience in producing a story that covers a topic of their choosing.


Life After Death

How grief forever changes a life


Death is the one certainty everyone will one day have to face. However, when facing the death of a person you love, the grief can change your life forever. This documentary explores three stories of loss and chronicles the difficulties and years of heartache that come with the death of a loved one.




For The Love of Jude

After a tragic accident, Katii Bishop searches for a new normal


Katii Bishop, a mother of four, copes with loss after the tragic death of her daughter from a car accident on December 28, 2018. The accident has left Katii searching for what life looks like without her daughter, Jude. Katii realizes, though, that although time moves on, the grief doesn’t necessarily get easier.




High Hopes

Two stories of people in Kentucky who devote their lives to help those struggling from addiction in a state hit hard by the opioid crisis


This project brings together two sides of the opioid crisis in Kentucky. A personal story and a story about the epidemic on the frontlines accompanied with data on the epidemic in the state of Kentucky and resources for addicts and their families. The personal story is about Nikki Arnold-Strunck who lives in Richmond, Kentucky. Nikki lost her son, Brendan Strunck, to a heroin overdose when he was 24-years old. Now she travels around Kentucky to places like recovery centers and jails sharing their story and how his overdose effected her in hopes that she can change peoples lives. The story shares how she continues to cope with the loss of her son three years later and uses her story as part of that. The story on the front lines is through the eyes of members of the Louisville Fire Department about the multiple overdose calls they run on a daily basis, in a State hit hard by the opioid crisis.




Spokes in the Wheel

Finding a balance between being competitive and having fun is something John and Jenny Lachowicz strive for as they raise their three sons Sam, Jacob, and Van, through BMX


In Clarksville, TN., the Lachowicz family are finding their roots and planting a plentiful garden. While juggling homeschooling, racing, and social interaction, bicycles bring this family closer in ways that cannot be explained but only witnessed. A wheel cannot spin without each spoke, much like a family cannot function smoothly without each member. Each individual, pulling and pushing at times, but always together in the end. The rambunctious family of 5, hold each other accountable and look at every day as a new day to make it a great one. This journey is far from over and they do not plan on stopping anytime soon.




Revolving Doors

How a jail in rural Kentucky is working to break the cycle of addiction and recidivism


In a state with the second highest incarceration growth rate in the country, Butler County Jail is seeing the direct effects of incarceration for addiction. In an effort to break the cycle of recidivism, the local jail is focusing on rehabilitation, offering many programs for inmates who want to start their road to recovery while serving time.




A Mother’s Choice

Women across Kentucky fight for the legal rights of midwives


In the state of Kentucky, midwives are not legally allowed to attend a home birth due to laws that have not been updated since 1975. Practicing midwives are put into a system that does not recognize the work that they are and have been doing for years. On March 13, 2019 senate bill 84 an act relating to Certified Professional Midwives, passed through the House and the Senate.




Leaving a Mark

Accepting the spots that make them unique


Spreading awareness about vitiligo in hopes that if someone sees another person who has it and looks different, they will be accepted instead of treated differently. Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the loss of pigment in blotches. It can affect the skin on any part of the body regardless of age, race, or gender.




Bound By Love

Defining the word family may be a hard task for some, but for Ashley Purcell, family is defined by one thing; love


After having two children of her own and living a comfortable life with her small, but content, family, Ashley felt that something was missing. After talking with Scott and her two children, John and Ava, Ashley and her family collectively decided that what they were missing was an opportunity to share the wonderful life they had built for themselves. After being made aware of the foster care system in their community through their church, the Purcells decided the best way to share their lives with those in need was to become foster parents.




To Be Like You

International students work to find their place in an American Society


Students at Geo International High School work to become more than just seen as an international, but to be someone like you. They seek to be successful in life, language, and learning to develop who they are in this diverse world.




Just a Regular Joe

It’s not easy being a man. It’s especially not easy being a transgender man active duty in the US Army


Follow Nic Maloney’s journey through finding himself and finding love. Stepping off the ledge, past the point of no return, transgender people, once certain steps are taken, there is no going back. Maybe he sometimes wishes he was born a man, but he wouldn’t be who he is today, and with who he is today. He has no regrets, and wouldn’t change a thing. “Even though it sucked.” It is not a cookie cutter life, or love. He met his wife when he was a woman. His wife identifies as a lesbian, after spending most of her life believing she was straight. To everyone on the outside, they appear as a straight couple. For her, she struggles with Nic’s identity taking the front, but feels she needs to protect him, so they don’t always tell new people the whole story.




Within Our Border

The Southern Border creates conflict between two countries, a president, and migrants seeking asylum


The Southern Border has been a hot button issue in American society in recent years. The project is a news piece which focuses on how the southern border affects society in recent years. The project does not focus solely on an individual, but is more of the bigger picture of how society functions between the United States and Mexico. The idea of the southern border between the 2006 Border fence Act and President Trump saying “Build that wall” in front of thousands of supporters shows the growth of the southern border fence; and how many asylum seekers every year wait for their claim. Within our borders, our society creates a conflict between two countries within the same continent.



Our 2019 Senior Single Photo Exhibition

At the end of the semester, we ask our capstone PJ436 students to select one photo that means the most to them from their time here at WKUPJ and to tell us something about the image. Obviously, it is a powerful thing to graduate from our program – we could not be more proud of this year’s seniors.



Paducah, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Political Science minor


  • The Paducah Sun [Kentucky]
  • The Chautauquan Daily [New York]

Katii and Kyle Bishop inform their daughter Hannah that her younger sister, Jude, had died a few days after a tragic car accident they were in. The three sisters, Hannnah, 9, Norah, 7, and Jude, 5, were in a December 28, 2018 car accident. The tragedy resulted in them being transported to multiple area trauma centers and treated for life threatening injuries. Taking her health into consideration, Katii and Kyle decided it would be best to wait until Hannah made enough progression before telling her the news on Feb. 7, 2019, at the Frazier Rehab Institute.


On Feb. 7, 2019, I drove to the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in Louisville, Ky., to meet Hannah for the first time. As Katii paced anxiously and then laid down on the hospital bed, I knew what was about to happen. Katii had discussed with me earlier in the day that it was time to tell Hannah about Jude. The hospital room was quiet and sterile as Katii carefully began to ask Hannah questions like “Do you know about heaven and angels?” I stood there looking through my viewfinder with tears rolling down my cheeks. In that moment, I had to find the balance between knowing I had a story to tell and feeling the pain of what was happening in front of me.

I made this image not long after I began my journey with the Bishop family. It never ceases to amaze me when someone allows me the opportunity to document the most intimate moments of their life. This is the most difficult and meaningful image I have ever made. I have laughed with this family; I have grieved with this family. Over the course of my time spent with the Bishops, I have realized that sometimes being a photojournalist means picking up the camera to document a situation that’s unfolding in front of you, and other times it means sitting with people and being an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. I will forever be grateful for what the Bishop family taught me about storytelling as well as what they taught me about myself.




Gainesville, Florida | Photojournalism major; Criminology minor


  • Gainesville Sun [Florida]
  • Lexington Herald-Leader [Kentucky]
  • Indianapolis Star [Indiana]

Lashay Brooks, 24, of Louisville, Ky, wears her African head wrap on April 22, 2018. “That wrap is an escape from not having to do my hair or my wig. I can dress it up, put make up on and still be confident without my hair being done. I can be me, a black woman,” she said.


This picture means a lot to me, it was taken in my advanced lighting class which helped me come to the decision to own my own portrait studio. Through the process of taking this image, it taught me how to blend background colors in order to highlight different skin types. Taking this photo helped me get out of my comfort zone by experiencing a different aspect of photography, fashion photography. It taught me the ability to be able to tell a story about an object instead of a person. With learning that, there are many more doors and opportunities that could be opened just by knowing a little more.




Nashville, Tennessee | Photojournalism major; Entrepreneurship minor


  • West Brentwood Living [Tennessee]
  • St. Louis Review [Missouri]
  • The Post and Courier [South Carolina]
  • The Flint Journal [Michigan]

Jimmy Gayton stands and applauds as Zandrina finishes singing “Rise Up” during the Emanuel 9 Rally for Unity on Saturday, June 23, 2018 in Marion Square. Gayton’s sister-in-law was Myra Thompson, one of the nine victims in the Emanuel AME shooting in 2015.


On an extremely hot Charleston, S.C. day I went to this assignment while interning at The Post and Courier. I was sitting in front of the stage making images of the people in the crowd as one of the singers preformed the song “Rise Up.” The entire rally was filled with so much emotion and by the time she started singing I was tearing up while trying to keep taking pictures.

One of my favorite things to capture in images is raw emotion. Whether that is extreme joy or sadness, I always strive to capture those in a picture. One person in particular caught my eye that day, a man standing up front was pouring his heart out while singing along. As he sang, it almost looked like he was screaming to the sky while tears ran down his face.

Sometimes it is hard for me to make these images because it feels like I am intruding on a private moment, but after making this image and talking with the man I found out his sister-in-law was one of the people who died in the Emanuel AME shooting in 2015 and he was more than happy to talk to me about it and give me his name. He even thanked me as I left. After this I realized that while some images might be hard to take, the people in them sometimes just desperately want to tell their story and have people understand what they are feeling. I think that’s why I love this image so much, because I realized I am capable of being the photojournalist I want to be and produce work that can connect people.




Elizabethtown, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Entrepreneurship minor

Martha Emmons, 63, of Paducah lies back on her bed to put on her shoes while getting ready for work with her husband, Hutch Smith, 67. Martha and Hutch own BikeWorld, a bike shop, which they opened together in Paducah in May 1987. With the shop’s 30th anniversary approaching this coming May, Martha says, “It wasn’t until we were about to have our 20th year that we thought ‘Huh, I think we’re going to be pretty successful in this.'”


As photojournalists, there is absolutely nothing like cultivating a meaningful relationship with the subjects that allow you into their lives. Personally, I feel like I have succeeded as a photographer when the relationship with my subjects progresses to the point where I am allowed to be a part of quiet, intimate moments in their lives. In this image, I feel like I achieved that special kind of relationship with the Emmons’. In this moment it was like I wasn’t even there. We were so comfortable with one another that it was nothing for me to be in their bedroom while they got ready in the morning. That is special. Although I might not remember the images that I made during this story, I will always remember the time spent getting to know Martha and Hutch and the connection I made with them. This is why I do what I do, because ultimately it isn’t the images you walk away with, it’s the relationships.




Santa Rosa, California | Photojournalism major; Journalism major; Military Science minor


  • US Army; Fort Knox [Kentucky]
  • 101 Airborne 2 Battalion Combat Team; Fort Campbell [Kentucky]
  • Deb Dawson Equine Photography [California]
  • Discoveries West [California]

WKU Army ROTC Cadet Tom Pelkey, from Rochester, Minnesota, prepares to open the contents of his MRE (meals ready to eat) while taking shelter with his battalion-mates at Training Area 14 on April 14, 2018 in Fort Knox, Ky. A lightning storm descended over the area while Cadets conducted a platoon sized ambush lane. Luckily the Army had tents setup within range of retrograde movement. The tents would house close to 10,000 Cadets as they move through TA14 in the upcoming summer training. WKU Cadets, once a semester, travel to the base Army Cadet Summer Training Advance Camp is taught in Fort Knox, and conduct FTX (field training exercise). All Cadets under contract to be commissioned in the Army as 2nd Lieutenants must first pass Army Advanced Camp, often attended in the summer between junior and senior year.


This was my fourth of a final six FTX’s I was privileged enough to be allowed on while earning my degrees at Western. I was in the Navy when bellbottoms were still issued, and originally had no idea I was going to be a journalist when I went back to school in 2013. One of the three people who set me on the path to become a full package journalist, Thomas De Alba, died 29 days short of his 28 birthday this past week.

What started as just a class in photography, has turned into three collegiate degrees. Everything I have seen and done has prepared me to be a journalist. Because of Thomas, the other co-editor in chief, Nadav Soroker, and Anne Belden our professor, I came to WKU to pursue a degree in photojournalism. When I got to WKU I was told my photo work was “not even good enough to get the job done.” Thanks to WKU PJ, I have improved and hope to be able to cover troops as an embed journalist for a national news source. I would prefer to work as a civilian for a civilian company to better protect my sources, the troops, instead of being a PAO or otherwise government employee.




Woodbridge, Virginia | Photojournalism major; political science minor


  • Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department [Virginia]
  • Victoria Advocate [Texas]

Ellen Estill plays with the youngest cat she has in her home at the time who she calls Wild Man. He was found sick and injured in the road. Ellen took him in, got him veterinarian care, nursed him back to health, and has found a new home for the eight-week-old kitten. “They’re part of my family, I love every one of them,” says Ellen. 


This photo is from my second time participating in the photojournalism portion of the Mountain Workshops in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky in October of 2018. I was ecstatic when I drew a slip of paper with the keyword “kitty” on it out of the hat and the description said 35 cats. I met Ellen that day and immediately bonded with her over our mutual love for cats, coffee, chocolate, and what she was doing for these cats who may have gone without a home otherwise.

Ellen runs Kitty Lodge Inc., a retirement home for elderly cats. She takes in cats whose owners have passed away or have become too old to care for them. She even sometimes takes in younger cats because she of course would not turn one away.

“It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Ellen said. “I feel like God put on my heart that it was a service that needed to be done.”

Ellen is 71-years-old and returned to work as a veterinary assistant solely to provide for the cats. Recently Ellen was awarded a grant from the Doris Day Animal Foundation to help with the cost and care of providing for her cats. As part of the application for the grant, my photo story on Ellen was submitted alongside and helped secure the grant for her. While I was in town for the workshops, Ellen and I started off every morning together by sipping coffee and eating Honey Bunches of Oats. I was even in town for her birthday and we had a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant. Stopping to see Ellen on my way back home from school is always the highlight of my journey and I am always sad to say goodbye. Ellen and this story will forever hold a special place in my heart. Ellen and I are very similar in many ways which can be encompassed by this quote, “When I die,” Ellen says, “I want to come back as some crazy nuts cat just like me.”




Nashville, Tennessee | Photojournalism major; Creative Writing minor


  • Philmont Scout Ranch [New Mexico]
  • The (Owensboro) Messenger Inquirer [Kentucky]
  • WKU Football Videographer [Kentucky]
  • Kertis Creative [Kentucky]

Jockey Jose L. Ortiz rides the number 9 horse Yoshida as he beats out Beach Patrol (10)ridden by Joel Rosario during the 2018 Old Forrester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.


The Kentucky Derby has always meant something to my family so when I was asked if I wanted to go and shoot the illustrious event I could not pass up the opportunity. Working for Dan Dry, a derby veteran, was nothing short of unforgettable. The freedom he granted myself and the other classmates that were on the team let me stretch my eye and try new things with my camera. The motion blur that you see in this picture was one of about 40 takes between multiple races.

I enjoy looking at life like I am traveling at light speed and that I am always moving forward. Some days it is not always like that but as long as I have this image, my life keeps moving and changing. In order to grow, I believe you need to take chances and always know that moving forward is the best direction. I have been told I like to take chances with my photography and this is a prime example of when taking a chance, timing, and position, all come together and a frame is filled with something exciting.




Louisville, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Digital Advertising minor


  • Waterstep [Kentucky]

Mary Duke, mother of two, comforts her youngest child while cleaning her home in Alvaton, Ky. Duke is a co-president of the Kentucky Home Birth Coalition, which is a social media platform that provides space for women to get involved in the midwife community. Duke owns My Sunshine Birth Services, which helps women in Bowling Green and surrounding areas with multiple services including pre and postpartum visits, lactation consults and labor.


I feel like everything I had learned in the program brought me to this moment inside Mary Dukes home. I woke up the morning of March 3, 2019 and headed out to the home of a woman I had been longing to meet for 6 months. I had spent countless hours and interviews talking to women in the community, where I was always asked the same question “Have you talked to Mary Duke?” Mary Duke is one of the leaders of the midwife and doula community in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Imagine my frustration, I was working on a project where I had not had contact with the main character of my story. As a freshman, I learned how to find your story. As a sophomore I learned the importance of character, as a junior I learned patience. All of these lessons brought me to Mary Dukes’ door. I was welcomed inside and instantly felt like I had known her and her family for years. This photo of her comforting her child in her kitchen, a small detail of her life, reminds me of my journey through this program, something I will never forget.




Louisville, Kentucky  | Photojournalism major; Film major; African-American Studies minor


  • The Center for Gifted Studies [Kentucky]
  • Las Vegas Review Journal [Nevada]

Patrick McGee Jr. holds his younger brother Arqueil Clark and Mother Aretha McGee as they made a makeshift memorial with a teddy bear and balloons tied to a liquor bottle, and spend the night in tears, remembering the highlights of LeeAndrew’s life before being murdered at the age of 26 at the Dino’s Gas Station in the Westend of Louisville. This day, they commemorate the one-year anniversary since his murder on March 28th, 2017. As nightfall brightens up the gas station lights, the McGee family place a teddy bear and balloons in LeeAndrew’s memory, of someone they lost way to soon. “I don’t even like going by Dino’s anymore. They killed Breezy. Watch the teddy bear we put down in the front of Dino’s be gone by tomorrow,” Patrick McGee Jr. said.


This picture means the world to me. During my time as a photojournalism student at WKU I have not seen a photo that showed black pain in the inner city like my photo has. That’s what I wanted to accomplish when I started my ‘broken branches’ project. I wanted a person in a different state to see the struggle my hometown of Louisville is going through. The photo almost didn’t happen. I didn’t have a car at the time so I had to catch a Greyhound bus back and forth from Bowling Green to Louisville as I worked on the project. I was originally taking photos of a balloon sendoff commemorating the one-year anniversary of LeeAndrew McGee’s passing at a local park in the Westend of Louisville but my bus was delayed so I had some extra time with the family.

My project up to that point was conversations and portraits. But this was the first time I was actually seeing first-hand the pain a black family in Louisville was going through. There was real pain there.

Upon arriving at the gas station, the family put down a teddy bear and a bunch of balloons tied to a liquor bottle were LeeAndrew was murdered. Two friends smashed two liquor bottles and screamed in anger over his passing. The moment happened so quickly. By the time I decided to take a close up of Patrick McGee Jr., his tears were almost gone and the hugging moment became more somber. Within five seconds of the image being made the mother said “let’s go.” In these five minutes, I experienced more pain and suffering than I have ever seen from any other photo I took before. I went home that night thinking I can’t believe that happened, I can’t believe I experienced that. The photo received an award of excellence in COPY but I was just happy a black student’s photo from his hometown could show black pain in Louisville. I love my black people and I love Louisville and that moment is dedicated to anyone lost by gun violence in the city.




Louisville, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Sociology minor


  • Interlochen Center for the Arts [Michigan]
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Wisconsin]
  • Philadelphia Inquirer [Pennsylvania]

Officer Charles Irvine Jr., 23, lies in the hearse as he is escorted by the Milwaukee police department and saluted by the Milwaukee fire department as he passes beneath the American flag over N. 9th St. on Fri. June 8, 2018. It has been 22 years since an officer died in the line of duty in Milwaukee, Wis. On June 7, 2018, Officer Charles Irvine Jr., died in a car accident while in pursuit of a reckless driver. His partner lost control which caused the squad car to flip 20 times before landing on its roof.


It was a Thursday night when I received a phone call from the director of photography, Berford Gammon, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, telling me about a death of a police officer. He needed me and fellow WKU student Chris Kohley, to go down to the medical examiner’s office to capture photos and videos. We showed up and the whole street was filled with police officers waiting to hear of any news. After that night, I was sent to cover a press conference with the Chief of Police.

I was told that the image I’m capturing would be running center A1. It was a nerve-racking feeling, but I felt confident in my ability to create a strong image. I showed up early to scout an area I wanted to set up to capture the image. I knew I needed to get the hearse driving underneath the flag, so I got down onto my stomach and pointed the camera up hoping for the best to get everything in frame. If it weren’t for WKU Photojournalism I wouldn’t have known to show up early, stay late, or how to compose a photo, get close, step back and try new angles. This image is a constant reminder of how far I have come in this program.




Bloomfield, Kentucky | Photojournalism major; Criminology minor


  • Philmont Scout Ranch [New Mexico]
  • Chesapeake Bay Program [Maryland]
  • The Denver Post [Colorado]
  • The Los Angeles Times [California]

A portrait of my grandfather, Bennie Goff—or Pop to us grandkids—on our family farm in Bloomfield, Kentucky.


I was born and raised on my family’s farm in rural Kentucky, where I was fortunate enough to experience all that a kid can on farm—space to run and ride horses, a love of nature, and the type of motivation that can only come from being surrounded by the hard labor it took from my family to keep a farm running. Of course, I took all of that for granted for most of my childhood, until my aunt gave me my first camera. She taught me to take pictures on our farm, where we would practice aperture and shutter speed by photographing chickens and cows. I came to love photography then, the way it made me love where I was from and want to keep it with me in photographs. This photo is of my grandfather, Pop, taken for a project in picture stories class. I credit so much of my creativity to him and to the farm he has kept alive for all of us. Without it, I may never have found my passion for photography and I certainly would not have done so well on my intro to photojournalism class egg picture.



Beyond Graduation: Naomi Driessnack


In an April 5, 2019 email interview, Naomi Driessnack, a 2016 WKUPJ graduate sat down for a few moments and told us about her path from the classroom at WKUPJ to her current position at Apple. While Naomi cannot disclose exactly what she works on as a photo editor with Apple’s Media Content photo team, she finds the job extremely rewarding and fascinating. 

Where were you born?

I was born in State College, Pennsylvania.

What High School did you attend?

I went to Virgil I. Grissom High School in Huntsville, Alabama. My dad was in the military and we moved around a bunch growing up, but I claim Huntsville as my hometown.

Is there an interesting story that brought you to WKUPJ or photojournalism in general?

Hmm, actually it is a pretty good story. I had expressed to my dad that I was interested in photojournalism. I had just watched a documentary in high school called Born into Brothels and was completely blown away with the impact of photojournalism, the reach and the opportunities. My dad, being the researcher that he is, found WKU among the top schools with photojournalism programs, and he also found that they had a workshop for high schoolers during the summer. He immediately signed me up.

When it came time for me to go, I refused. I was nervous to be in a strange place, surrounded by people I didn’t know, focusing on a subject that I did not feel confident in. I distinctly remember crying in the car (I’m a drama queen). My dad told me that I did not have to go, but that I had to call the workshop coordinator and let them know I would not be attending. The idea of confronting an adult and telling them I didn’t want to go because I was nervous was so lame that I couldn’t do it.

I attended WKU’s high school workshop and I loved every second of it. I met amazing people, made lifelong friends, became acquainted with the school I would later choose to attend, hung out with the professors and learned how to use a freaking camera.

After attending the workshop, I knew that I needed to be at WKU and I really wanted to be a part of WKUPJ.

When did you start attending WKU and what year did you graduate?

I started attending WKU in the fall of 2011 and graduated in the spring of 2016. Just one victory lap. [smiley emoji]

Why did you require the “victory lap”?

I took an extra year, which allowed me to study abroad for a semester in Harlaxton (England) my sophomore year. I was also able to complete a winter term in Cuba and a Summer term in Germany. Having an extra year gave me the flexibility to take advantage of these programs. Another bonus of having a victory lap year meant that I had more chances to take internships before graduating. During my time at WKUPJ I interned with TIME, CNN.com and InStyle.com leading up to graduation. I also worked as a freelance photo editor for InStyle.com my senior year, working the morning shift 5 am to 8:30 am Monday through Friday. My extra year was extremely worthwhile, giving me work experience and a definite edge to separate me from other recent graduates.

Naomi Driessnack’s life as a photo editor finds her in exciting spaces and places, like here in 1 World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan in a conference room at GQ, an incredible view of the Hudson River over her shoulder. “No, I’m not cruising my Instagram account during a meeting,” Driessnack said. “This is a pretty accurate picture of what it’s like to be a photo editor – buried in my phone answering emails every chance I get.”

Immediately after graduation I …

The day before my graduation I flew to and from NYC for an interview and started at GQ as a photo assistant a week after. I mostly assisted the magazine’s director of photography (who is still my boss – now we are at a different company), but also was able to edit a small section of the magazine. I worked for GQ and GQ Style magazine for a year as a freelance photo assistant and then one year as a full-time assistant photo editor for GQ and GQ Style magazine as well as GQ.com.

Who do you currently work for?

Currently I work for Apple as a photo editor on the Apple Media Content Photo team based in Cupertino, California. Unfortunately, I can’t talk more about what I do at Apple. I know, it’s silly, but I can only mention the team that I am on.

Since graduation, tell us about some of the more interesting places you have visited as part of your work being a visual storyteller?

Maybe not so much as “places” that I have visited, but as a photo editor I am able to assign photographers to cover stories. A few of my favorite commissions have been commissioning Grant Cornett to photograph the two highest rated American restaurants, Devin Christopher to photograph the culture around “Donks,” in Miami, Grant Hindsley to photograph Steve Aoki’s workout routine while on tour and Wayne Lawrence to document New York City’s beachgoers.

In hindsight, is there anything you learned while in a PJ class at Western that still resonates with you now?

WKUPJ taught me to constantly be searching for the beautiful and unique parts of people. Everyone on this planet has a story if you listen well enough. The unique, wacky parts of people are what is fun to photograph, but the best part of storytelling is discovering the similarities that connect us all.

What has changed in your professional plans from the time you enrolled at WKU until now? Did you ever expect to be where you are today?

I always thought I would be working in journalism, specifically breaking news. Now, I work in tech (ha!), an industry I never thought photojournalism would take me. I definitely did not expect to be where I am today while I was in school.

Do you have any immediate future work plans that you can disclose? What awaits you in 2019?

I cannot disclose. [smiley face emoji]

If you could have any “dream” freelance assignment, what would that be?

I would like to curate a gallery show of photography that focuses on niche culture studies.

What is your favorite memory from WKUPJ?

An amazing benefit of being in WKUPJ meant that I had the opportunity to work as a staff employee for student publications, including our campus yearbook The Talisman. Working with a bunch of weird, talented, hardworking people who cared about creating meaningful and honest work that represented WKU accurately was a dream. I made my closest friends and my favorite memories brainstorming ideas to capture our campus in unique ways and helping students discover what set our school on a hill apart, both good and bad. I cannot stress enough how significant the experience was. I do not think our student publications would be as highly regarded without strong programs like WKUPJ equipping students with the technical skills needed.

A close second favorite memory would be pulling all-nighters and staying on campus over Thanksgiving break to work on a documentary I made alongside my short-form documentary class called Beyond Breath. Because we were documenting our subject’s Thanksgiving, we all missed the chance to celebrate on the actual calendar day. Instead, a day later after we were finished documenting, we all pitched in and cooked a HUGE Thanksgiving meal and ate together. WKUPJ was and continues to be my family. [smiley face emoji]

How can we see more of your work?

My website is mainly work I produced or shot for GQ before joining the team at Apple. You can find mostly pics of my dog here and some lame jokes I make here.


The Wrongful Imprisonment of Jose Luis Garcia

The Wrongful Imprisonment of
Jose Luis Garcia

Story by Gabriel Scarlett and Skyler Ballard

Residing in in the Unites States for 50 years and a current green card holder, Jose Luis Garcia was arrested by ICE as part of a new Trump administration policy targeting legal and illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds. The policy put in place to deport gang members ended up arresting people like 62-year-old Garcia who had a minor infraction 17 years ago.
For the complete story visit:


Jose watches fireworks from his rooftop on July 4th. For weeks after his imprisonment, he suffered from nightmares and sleepless nights. But he remains positive and says that achieving his full citizenship is his number one priority. “I will continue to do the right things with my family and I will become a U.S. citizen in no time.”


More than a week after the arrest of her father Jose (who is a green card holder), Natalie Garcia tries to console her daughter Marley outside their home in Arleta, California from which Jose was taken. He had been watering his lawn and preparing for a shift driving for Uber, one of his three jobs, when ICE officials detained him for deportation for a charge from two decades ago. Since his arrest, Marley has slept in his bed and lays out his clothes each day to pretend that he is there.