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Women Who Tell Our Stories: Maddie McGarvey

Maddie McGarvey, BSVC ’12, brings a unique perspective and natural curiosity to every image she captures, along with the ability to build relationships with those she photographs.

McGarvey’s ability to be entrusted to tell a story through images led her to create a meaningful connection with a family that she still photographs 13 years later.

When she was in her photojournalism program at Ohio University, an assignment in a documentary storytelling class instructed McGarvey to tell a story through images of a topic of her interest. At the time, McGarvey had noticed a rise in families where children were raised by their grandparents. She sought to capture this dynamic and reached out to local social workers for families who might fit this mold.

She discovered the Casto family, a set of grandparents raising their three grandchildren. At 19, McGarvey photographed their family for the first time. She is now 32 and continues to document them.

“It’s just been really rewarding having over a decade of following a family and all of it started with my curiosity in this storytelling documentary class in college,” she said.

Casto family photographed by Maddie McGarvey

“It's just such a special relationship in my life, I never would have met them if it wasn't for photojournalism or documentary photography,” McGarvey continued. “They're so special to me and I feel so honored that they have trusted me enough to tell their story for over a decade. The kids consider me like an aunt and it's just really sweet.”

The storytelling skills that McGarvey learned during her time at OHIO have granted her the ability to tell stories on a broader scale and form relationships with the people she photographs.

“It's just these small or big relationships I meet through photography that make it all worth it to me just because there's nothing else like it,” she explained. “There's no job I can think of where I can just meet so many people from so many different walks of life. And I'm trusted to tell their story, which is always amazing to me that people are so willing to share it. Seeing it all firsthand has impacted my life in so many different ways.”

McGarvey graduated from OHIO in 2012 with a degree in photojournalism from Scripps College of Communication’s School of Visual Communication.

“The program itself was very monumental to who I am as photographer, both my professors and honestly my peers helped shape the storyteller I am now,” McGarvey said.

Coming into the photojournalism program with sheer interest in photography, McGarvey credits the VisCom program for giving her the technical knowledge and the people skills that make a good photographer.

“When I entered the program, I literally could not even expose a photo on my camera," recalled McGarvey. “I knew I had this interest in photography, but I didn't know a single thing about it. So, I came in knowing essentially nothing about storytelling through photography or, even just the basics of how to operate a camera.”

“They really just taught me everything: all the basics and how to tell the story, and how to approach storytelling ethically. They really made such an made such an impact on who I am as photographer today,” she said.

Upon graduating, McGarvey interned at the San Francisco Chronicle. She then worked at a newspaper in Vermont before moving back to Columbus in 2013 to pursue freelance photography full time.

“I can confidently say after ten years of doing this that persistence pays off,” she said. “I just love what I do so much. I get to tell stories all around the country and in the Midwest and Appalachia, which I really am very passionate about those kinds of stories.”

McGarvey embraces the freedom of freelance work and is able to tell a wide variety of stories to a broad range of audiences. Her work has been featured in acclaimed publications such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine and National Geographic.

“It's been such a fulfilling career of meeting so many people who have absolutely changed my life too, just by telling their stories,” McGarvey said.

As McGarvey reflects on her career up to this point, she emphasizes the importance of gaining trust from her subjects when shooting their intimate moments.

“Just building that trust in a person is a whole exercise of just being a human, but also breaking down those barriers so I can tell people's stories in the most authentic way, it's so personal,” she said. “There is a lot more that goes into it than just obviously taking the picture and pressing the button.”

From the storytellers to the story subjects, including diverse perspectives only strengthens a story.

“Women Who Tell Our Stories – I think it's really important,” McGarvey said about this year’s theme for Women’s History Month. “Having diverse voices is so necessary for storytelling and having stories told through people with different life experiences can really shape storytelling in a good way.”

March is Women’s History Month. This year, the theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” Stay tuned to learn more about Scripps alumnae who have shaped their respective fields with communication this month by visiting  

March 29, 2023
Jordan Schmitt