OHIO VisCom alum wins first place in national photojournalism competition, student named finalist

Published: July 14, 2021 Author: Samantha Pelham

Recent Ohio University graduate Alie Skowronski was named the 2021 Hearst Photojournalism Championship winner, with OHIO rising senior Nate Swanson being named a finalist in the same category in the 2021 Hearst Journalism Awards Program.

Nate Swanson VisCom
Nate Swanson. Photo Credit: Julia Martins de Sa

The winners and finalists were selected out of 211 photo entries submitted in the 2020-2021 News & Features and Picture Story/Series competitions.

Skowronski, an Aurora, Ohio native who graduated in December 2020 with degrees in marine biology and photojournalism, was awarded a scholarship of $10,000, and Swanson, a photojournalism major from Elmhurst, Illinois, was awarded $1,500.

“After the year that 2020 was for so many, I feel honored that my work was recognized,” Skowronski said. “It was a hard time for everyone, but I told myself early on that I wanted to become a more compassionate photographer. This award feels a little bit like I succeeded in this venture.”

Competitors were assigned to document the new normal that represents the American experience in eight to 10 images, encompassing the events and changes that have occurred over the last 18 months.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the championship was held virtually again this year, with finalists meeting with judges via Zoom and fulfilling their assignments from home.

Through her photos, Skowronski told the story of Keira Christie and Joslynn Mayhew and their connection due to organ donation, highlighting that during COVID organ recipients were at a greater risk due to a weakened immune system and inability to go most places.

According to Skowronski, Keira passed away in October of 2017, around the time that Joslynn was going into her fourth round of chemotherapy.

“The two girls looked extremely similar at the time and were a perfect match, and since then, the two families have generated a beautiful relationship to celebrate Joslynn’s life, the life made possible because of Keira,” Skowronski explained. “At the beginning of the pandemic, Joslynn was not able to go into stores because organ recipients have weak immune systems, but now she enjoys the time with her donor parents.”

For Swanson, his photo submissions were personal responses to the given prompt, “Chaotic Normalcy,” which entailed the opening up of America amid the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in economic hardships, tense political polarization and society’s desire to connect again. His photo essay documents his experience as a lone journalist in Washington, D.C., for the summer while navigating the clean slate through making connections within the queer community, observing how others have formed connections with one another and recognizing the repercussions of the pandemic and the Jan. 6  Capitol riot that are still seen today.

“It's an honor to be chosen as a runner-up and granted a scholarship in the prestigious Hearst Awards Program and to stand among five other talented photojournalists whose passion for telling the visual stories that matter does not fall short,” Swanson said. “Out of more than a thousand applicants across the nation, I finished as a finalist in the championship and I am grateful for the whole experience that is additionally an opportunity for young photojournalists to get their name recognized in the field; it's a foot in the door for the career you have been working toward and hope to make something of, serving as a reward for the hard work and dedication that is put into it.”

Swanson and Skowronski placed second and fourth, respectively, earlier in the year in the Photojournalism Features and News Competition of the 2020-2021 Hearst Journalism Awards Program, the preliminary competition that allowed them to qualify for the National Championship.

“I always had small point and shoots and disposable cameras from a young age, and the desire never seemed to cease,” Skowronski added.  

Skowronski is currently looking for jobs and internships while she learns more about underwater photography and expands her portfolio, working in the British Virgin Islands.

Swanson also continues to build his portfolio, with a goal of landing more internships and job opportunities with publications and outlets, and to work as a staff photographer or photo editor. He is currently interning with Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle at its Washington, D.C. studio for this summer and will be wrapping up his college career as Director of Photography with The Post.

“My experience with The Post during my time at Ohio University is my primary source of graciousness; if not for my time and dedication with this publication, these future aspirations would not exist,” Swanson said. “None of this would have been possible without the endless support of my parents, friends and family. Additionally, the School of Visual Communication is a powerhouse that has built me up to where I am today. Blink and you may not see how fast you will grow with their push.”

“We are so proud of Alie and Nate for their placing in the Hearst competition,” Stan Alost, professor of Visual Communication, said. “This is a highly competitive national collegiate contest and Alie won. She becomes the second (VisCom student) in a row to be national champion. Just to make it to the finals is a big deal. Both these students create amazing work and it’s amazing to see them recognized for their transformative visual storytelling.”

This is the second year in a row that a Hearst Photojournalism Champion has been from Ohio University, with alum Michael Swenson placing first last year.