Women Who Tell Our Stories: Madeleine Hordinski
Madeleine Hordinski, BA ’20, BSVC ’20, has been taking pictures of people ever since she was in her young teens.
One of her longest-running projects, “The Sabina Series,” pays homage to the relationship between her and her sister. She's been documenting her younger sister in portraiture ever since she was 11, with Hordinski herself being 17. Sabina is now in her 20s.
“That project is definitely the most special to me,” Hordinski said.
Now, the freelancer has had her photographs and writing appear in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, BBC, PBS and more.
While at Ohio University, Hordinski earned degrees in visual communication through the School of Visual Communication in the Scripps College of Communication and anthropology through the Honors Tutorial College.
According to Hordinski, every professor she had left a “significant impact” on how she writes or thinks about photography. While she said the list could go on and on, retired professor Marcy Nighswander, professor Stan Alost, and associate professor Josh Birnbaum are just a few of the professors whose lessons she carries with her every day.
While Hordinski’s main focus is photography, she writes articles too. Her curiosity has helped her start her freelancing career.
“Freelancing is daunting when you’re starting out. Being curious has definitely helped me find more stories,” she said. “I’m always writing down ideas for new projects as soon as I have an idea.”
Hordinski credits her successful career start to OHIO – everyone from the faculty, staff, alumni and her fellow students contributed to her experience.
“You know that saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child?’ It was like that for me at OU. Everyone was and is so supportive,” she said. “I felt really supported starting my career. Freelancing is hard because it’s something that changes constantly -- and because journalism is changing constantly – having that network of professors, alumni and students at your fingertips is really incredible. Especially since OU, in my opinion, has the best journalism program in the country.”
While she remembers the lessons from her journalism and visual communication professors every time she is on a project, she also leans on the lessons she learned throughout her anthropology program when developing stories.
“I try to take as much time as I can to really get to know people before I photograph them,” she said. “I want to ensure that I’m sharing their story in the best way that I can.”
Her favorite professional project happens to be one of her most recent ones, too. This winter she traveled to Put-In-Bay, an island off Lake Erie, documenting how the lake not freezing, and therefore a lack of ice fishing, impacts the residents who stay on the island year-round.
“I got to work with one of my favorite photo editors of all time, Heather Casey at The New York Times. I really like her eye for color, and she’s just brilliant at pairing images together that have the same kind of tones and mood,” she said. “Getting to work with her on that project was really cool and it was really special to be able to work on a story in Ohio and contribute reporting to it, too.”
Some of Hordinski’s projects are close to her heart, too. A few years back, she did some family history research and found many results of her last name in a database of Holocaust victims and survivors. Hordinski traveled to Poland with her sister in 2022, visiting family sites and meeting distant relatives.
Her curiosity for her family history led her to want to pursue a larger project on it. In February, Hordinski was one of 75 Ohio artists to receive a grant from the Ohio Arts Council. The grant will help her fund a return trip to Poland with her sister, where she will document her family’s heritage and history during the Holocaust.
Hordinski is also working on a portrait book in partnership with the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center in Cincinnati.
“After learning that some of my relatives had died during the Holocaust or even pre-Holocaust because of antisemitic hate, being able to work on this project in partnership with the Holocaust Museum is really rewarding,” she said.
Photojournalism is a vital storytelling tool, Hordinski noted.
“Photography forces you to slow down and examine one moment in time,” she said. “With Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook -- we are constantly scrolling. Every once in a while, you see a picture and think ‘wow, that really means something.’ Then you spend more time with it than you would with something else. I think that’s why, to me, photography is really special.”
When it comes to telling a story, Hordinski recognized the importance of having diversity in journalism.
“It’s really important to have diversity in newsrooms and among freelancers because every person has a different perspective and offers something unique,” Hordinski said. “Diversity in any field is extremely important, but especially in photojournalism because it shapes how we see the world.”
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 www.ohio.edu/scripps-college/women-who-tell-our-stories.