ONPA concludes annual conference


Boston photographer, Damian Strohmeyer, speaks to Kent State Students about the sports and business side of photography at ONPA held at Kent State University on April 24, 2014.

Latisha Ellison

The 65th Annual Ohio News Photographers Association (ONPA) Contest and Judging Seminar, co-sponsored by Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), was held over the weekend in Franklin Hall’s First Energy auditorium.

Visual journalists across Ohio submitted photos for the Photographer of the Year competition, which was judged and awarded Friday and Saturday. The photos were judged by three members of the National Press Photographers Association: Tim Broekema, a professor at Western Kentucky University; Melissa Lyttle, an independent visual journalist; and Jake May from The Flint Journal.

“This weekend has been fantastic, and the three people who judged were my first choices and they made great judges and good choices,” said Jonathan Quilter, president of ONPA.

Carrie Cochran from the Cincinnati Enquirer won Photographer of Year for the large market and Jessica Phelps from the Newark Advocate won Photographer of the Year for the small market.

The competition also included a student competition, which allowed the judges to give students feedback on their work at the conference. Isaac Hale from Ohio University won Student Photographer of the Year.

“I had photos entered in the student photographer of the year contest,” said Andrea Noall, a junior visual journalism major. “But, I think it’s just a really good learning experience for students to come here and watch the judging live because you usually never get to see what the judges say about your photos.”

On Sunday, ONPA featured four accomplished photojournalists to give presentations about their work and experiences.

Broekema kicked off the morning with his presentation “Make Me Care: The Road Through the Unknown.” He told the audience to tell stories through photography and not to stop caring what people think. Broekema stressed the importance of putting family first, surrounding one’s self with good people and trusting the unknown.

Lyttle presented “Life After Newspapers: From a staff of photographers to a staff of one,” telling her story of working in newspapers for 15 years and taking a buyout, which lead her to freelancing.

Lyttle credited her early success to taking assignments that no one else wanted and taking any opportunity she could. She told the audience that in her 10 years working at the Tampa Bay Times, she had seen several people leave and take buyouts because of the way the newspaper industry was changing. One day, it happened to her.

“I was (an) ‘idea’ person, a ‘yes’ person; I was always willing to find a feature story,” Lyttle said. “I didn’t think it could happen to me.”

Lyttle has since moved on to have a very successful freelance career, but stressed the importance of having a Plan B and to start saving money now because what happened to her, can happen to anybody.

“I’ve been laid off from one job—I think it’s an inevitability in the industry—and so, to see someone who was as wonderful a newspaper photographer like Melissa was, make that transition (to freelance) is pretty inspiring, and makes me think that maybe I should have a backup plan,” said Katie Rausch, a staff photojournalist at The Toledo Blade.

May gave his presentation about the Flint water crisis in Michigan, but showed the two sides of the city: The Flint the public thinks they know, and the real Flint.

May, who lives in Flint, talked about the tenacity Flint people have and gave the history of city as a whole. He then spoke on the history of the Flint water crisis.

“Anyone who lives in Flint, wears it like a badge of honor. We are all tougher for continuing through it; through this beaten down infrastructure … though we are seemingly characterized by crime statistics, we will not falter,” May said. “We do not tremble, we stand steady with heavy hearts and our head held high; we will move forward.”

Rausch, also from Flint, said she liked that May showed the dual sides to Flint.

“It’s great to see the coverage Jake is doing,” Rausch said. “He’s doing a really great job of trying to tell an entire story.”

Ed Suba Jr., a member of ONPA, is planning on retiring as a staff photographer at the Akron Beacon Journal after 40 years in the newspaper business. He used his presentation at the conference to reflect on his career.  

Eighteen of Suba’s family members surrounded him when he was awarded the Robert S. Carson Award, which recognizes someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of photojournalism.  

The last day of ONPA concluded with Damian Strohmeyer—a member of the Canon Explorer of Light, a group of 50 of the world’s most influential photographers—who talked about his career in sports photography.

Latisha Ellison is the CCI reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].