"The Fence," Honored by World Press Photo

Last summer, photographer Charles Ommanney drove a Land Rover over 2000 miles along the US-Mexico border, from Brownsville, TX to San Diego, CA. The result of his 3 week drive is the 10-minute film, The Fence, produced for MSNBC. 

Yesterday, the World Press Photo Foundation awarded the project with 2nd Prize in the Long Feature category in the 2015 Multimedia Contest. Jury member Hussain Currimbhoy describes his experience with the film, "By turning the fence into a character, is a master stroke...[Ommanney] exposes the absurdity of this fence beautifully. He has done that with some text, but also through a mood that he's created, which is very, very delicate, and very, very smart....It's one of the best looking films I've seen in a very long time. " 

It is an honor to receive the award, and to be among colleagues and friends, including the film, The Long Night by Tim Matsui and MediaStorm, which won first prize. Matsui, a Seattle-based photojournalist, was my mentor during my early years in photography. Influential in directing my career, he guided me into the then burgeoning space of multimedia storytelling. Matsui taught me the most valuable lesson of determination and tireless work, which he exemplifies in the dedication of his life's career to documenting issues of sexual violence and sex trafficking. The Long Night is the culmination of his vision to change the way the world perceives, understands, and affects change on the global crisis of human sex trafficking. 

Third place in the Long Feature category is Japan's Disposable Workers: Net Cafe Refugees, another MediaStorm production, directed by Shiho Fukada, and edited and produced by Eric Maierson. As the most transformative period in my young career, the six months interning at MediaStorm with Maierson forever changed my understanding of storytelling and the craft of editing. Maierson's deeply thoughtful and intelligent approach to story continues to influence my work every day. 

Congratulations to all the winners of this year's World Press Photo competition, and thank you to this year's jury.  

Follow My Steps

It was 2010, when trees started to shed their leaves and the bitter Syracuse winter began to cool the air, that I met Andrew Cunningham, a young 12-year-old boy diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His Aunt introduced us after seing a short video I had done about the historic Columbus Bakery. She had wanted me to meet her nephew and his teammates on Central New York United power soccer. I was sold! Imagine 5 guys dribbling a large soccer ball across a basketball court in their power wheelchairs, only to release it after spinning 180 degrees at high speeds to shoot a goal. It's exhilarating and nothing you could ever imagine. 

I spent a number of days filming Andrew and his teammates, intent on producing a short promo video for the team, when I noticed a unique dynamic between Andrew and his teammate Tony Reuter, 20, born with brittle bone disease and 8 years his elder. They were both kids in the element, making fun of each other, arm wrestling, and singing out of tune. It was beautiful to watch this genuine friendship and affection for each other that seemed to border on brotherhood. 

For the next year I would follow the two boys through their daily lives, I'd be at power soccer practice, at middle school or college, and allow myself to be absorbed into their world. Their bouts of Xbox challenges and arguments on each other's Facebook walls were not much different from those I shared with my own best friends (however I don't play Xbox). The more time I spent with them, the more I realized that despite their disabilities, they still experience the same challenges, pitfalls, and successes that you or I experience through puberty and young adult life. Andrew is moving to high school, as Tony graduates college. Andrew relies on his father for his care, as Tony has been able to find a sense of independence. Their situations are physically different, though they find support in their similarities. 

What began as a marketing piece for a power soccer team, turned into a graduate assignment for a documentary film class, which then evolved into my Master's project: "Follow My Steps" a 16-minute short film. In October 2012, I defended my project alongside my classmates Maureen Coyle, who published the iBook, "Death Valley Unified," and Zach Ornitz, who produced the short film, "Vaya a la Cumbre." It was well received, and passed unanimously by my committee who I thank for their help and support: Eric Maierson, Seth Gitner, and Bruce Strong. I would also like to acknowledge the color grading done by Michael Curry, without which this film would never have looked so good. 

Since its release, the film has received a number of accolades, including 2nd Place Documentary Multimedia Story in the 2013 NPPA Best of Photojournalism competition, and 2nd Place Longform Multimedia in the 2013 Northern Short Course Contest. It's since screened at the Athens International Film + Video Festival, and has been accepted into the Society for Disability Studies 26th Annual Conference. 

Please take a moment to watch the film, "Follow My Steps". 

The Dividing Line

In the past few months The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has recognized "The Dividing Line" with 3 awards. Produced in May for Bruce Strong's Multimedia Rockstar class, "The Dividing Line" follows the compelling story of Mick Caulfield, 27, who sustained a traumatic brain injury at the age of 17 during a horrific car crash. Ten years later, Mick still struggles to find his place, and find himself. Two years after being convicted of sex abuse 1, Mick violated his probation by mistakenly leaving the county to attend church. "The Dividing Line" explores the issues that have lead up to this day, where he finds himself under house arrest for the next six moths.

NPPA has awarded "The Dividing Line" with 1st Place Video in the Monthly Professional Multimedia contest, 3rd Place Multimedia in the Student Quarterly Clip contest, and 3rd Place Multiple Picture Story in the Student Quarterly Clip contest. Thank you NPPA.