Corcoran Students Capture College Photography Honors

November 10, 2021
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Hadley Chittum, BFA '21, won a gold medal at the College Photographer of the Year competition for her portrait of Lashonia and Sean Thompson-El, violence prevention advocates who were convicted of murder as teenagers. (Photo: Hadley Chittum)

Three students from Columbian College’s Corcoran School of the Arts & Design won awards at the prestigious College Photographer of the Year competition, showcasing work that included intimate portraits of a Washington, D.C., couple who served a combined 50 years in prison and a series exploring the photographer’s relationship with her sister during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 76-year-old international competition, which is administered by the University of Missouri with co-sponsor, Nikon Inc., recognizes premier photojournalism and documentary work from undergraduate and graduate students.

This year’s panel of judges—which included prize-winning photographers from publications such as National Geographic and The New York Times—chose from 10,000 images entered by 535 students from 116 colleges and universities in 35 countries.

“It speaks highly of the quality of student work being produced at Corcoran and GW that our students garnered five awards this year,” said Assistant Professor of Photojournalism Matt Eich. “It means that their pictures were seen and discussed by industry leaders who deem their work to be among the best produced by their peer group over the past year.”

Hadley Chittum, BFA ’21, won three awards: gold medals in the portrait and feature categories and an award of excellence for interpretive projects. Sydney Walsh, a senior majoring in photojournalism with a minor in Spanish and Latin American languages, literatures and cultures, won both a bronze medal and an award of excellence in the illustration category. Senior photojournalism major Maansi Srivastava won a bronze medal in the documentary category.

Chittum’s entries were inspired by her Corcoran thesis project on Lashonia and Sean Thompson-El, a Washington, D.C., couple who were convicted of murder as teenagers. After their release from prison, they became violence prevention advocates. Chittum spent three years documenting their relationship. The photos challenge society’s perspective of people who have committed violent crimes, she said.

“I want to emphasize my gratitude for Sean and Lashonia,” said Chittum, who is a digital media specialist with the nonprofit DC Central Kitchen. “On multiple occasions they have both recounted traumatic moments from their lives for me, indulged my creative ideas despite their difficulty and even helped me with my homework. I would not have received these recognitions if it weren’t for their trust, openness and commitment to the project.”

The entire series, titled “Team El,” can be viewed on Chittum’s website.

Walsh’s work recalls the 15 months she attended classes virtually from her south Florida home due to the pandemic. Her bronze medal-winning image “Pandemic Garden” illustrates how she and her sister grew closer during the quarantine. She was also recognized for a self-portrait that spotlights transracial and intercultural adoption themes.

“As a Chinese-American adoptee, I use photography to explore my own identity and upbringing within a family that doesn’t share my ethnic or cultural background,” said Walsh, whose work is showcased on her website.

Srivastava won the documentary bronze medal for her photo series on DeShanna Neal, a Black Lives Matter organizer and intersectional activist in Wilmington, Del. Neal is a single mother of four children, two of whom are transgender women on the autism spectrum. Neal’s oldest child, Trinity, is the first transgender woman to completely transition while on Medicare. The entire photo series, titled “The House Which Love Built,” appears on Srivastava’s website.

“I was drawn to their rich interpersonal connections and their unique personalities,” Srivastava said. “They’ve come to feel like my own family and I am so happy to be able to share their stories.”