An Update from Maddie McGarvey: 2011 SPA Winner

    In June of 2011, Ohio University student Maddie McGarvey was selected by a panel of judges as the second winner of the LUCEO Student Project Award. With the award, Maddie received $1,000 to continue working on an ongoing story “A Generation Lost,” as well as a year-long mentorship with LUCEO’s Kendrick Brinson. Maddie also received edit help from editor and LUCEO partner Mike Davis, as well as the option to work with Larissa Leclair of the Indie Photobook Library on a book.

    Following the award, she interned at The San Francisco Chronicle before returning back to Ohio University to finish her degree where she is now. We decided that since the deadline of the 2012 Student Project Award is swiftly approaching (the deadline is May 10, 2012) that we would catch up with Maddie and see how her winning project has progressed.


    LUCEO: How did the grandparents project get sparked?

    Maddie: I did a stint at my school newspaper, The [Ohio University] Post, and I was given an assignment to photograph kinship care, a situation where children are raised by someone other than their parents (most often their grandparents).  Something about it immediately sparked my interest, and I met a few families throughout the year.  A few years later, I took a course in documentary photography that focused my attention on one long-term topic for eight weeks. It was the perfect opportunity to continue developing the body of work that I started.  After a lot of research and phone calls, I met a wonderful family called the Castos who lived in Carbondale, Ohio–about 30 minutes north. They immediately opened up their home to me and treated me as a part of their family.  This became the project that I was truly passionate about and am currently pursuing for the remainder of my college career. 


    When you were at your internship in San Francisco, did you get to continue working on your kinship project? What hurdles did you come across?

    Judy Walgren, my boss at the San Francisco Chronicle, was very supportive of my project. During my internship, she encouraged me to pursue the story in an urban setting, and after a lot of research, I made contact with some Kinship Care families in and around the Bay Area. At one point, I interacted with a large kinship group and met with about 25 grandparents who were interested in sharing their stories. Unfortunately, when it came time to explain that I would like to take photos of them, many got scared and quickly backed out. I spoke with many of these families several times and began to feel frustrated when it seemed like we were making no progress. In the last two weeks of my internship, I found a lovely Native American family where the great-grandparents were raising four generations in their household. I spent a few great days with them, but since it was at the end of my time in the city, I wasn’t able to pursue it as much as I wanted to. My time in San Francisco really taught me that although I may get frustrated, perseverance is really important.


    We were thrilled that the SPA winner just so happened to be in the audience last year. What was it like being present at the public Student Project Award judging when you were announced as the winner?

    I went to the judging at LUCEO’s gallery show in Charlottesville, VA last summer during Look3. I didn’t think I really had a shot, but it’s always fun to see the competition you’re up against, and there’s always something to be learned from watching the judges discuss various bodies of work that made it to the final round. Really get into their thought process and keep an ear out for the subtle nuances that separate some work from others. It was tough to watch, going back and forth as they commented on the images, the edit, the narrative structure of each project. And I was in the top five, and soon the top three, and then it was my own and one other project. After more discussion, Michael Wichita from AARP announced they had chosen my project, A Generation Lost, as the winner of the 2011 Student Award. I was in shock, and soon people realized I was one of the few in the audience. I managed to stutter out some incoherent “thank you’s,” but the whole process and realization quickly turned into a blur. I’m really glad I was there for the judging–even though it was nerve wracking, it made the experience so much better.

    What are your plans for this project in the future, if any?

    I’m currently working on some multimedia with the Castos, the main family in my project. They have really become my second family in Athens and I’m going to miss them a lot when I graduate. It has been wonderful to become integrated with a family on this level, but I think it is also very important to explore this story in diverse settings, such as an urban environment. Although I have taken a few breaks in this project from time to time, it remains an important story for me to tell. Because of the universality of this issue, I have faith that no matter where I end up, I will be able to find more families.

    That’s great to hear. What are you working on right now?

    I just finished a magazine class where we had to go on a ten-day shoot, design 24 pages of layout and write 3,000 words in ten weeks. I went to the Pittsburgh and Braddock area to shoot the rejuvenation of the city after the fall of the steel industry. I definitely had some struggles throughout the project, but it pushed me more than any other class in college I’ve had so far. Other than that, I’m working on shooting more grandparents raising their grandchildren and some personal projects.

    To see more of Maddie McGarvey’s work, including multimedia, head over to her web site. We know you’ll be seeing more of Maddie’s work in the future. Best of luck, Maddie!