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Q&A: Josie Norris discusses awards, experience with photojournalism


Saginaw senior Josie Norris takes photos of commencement last year in McGuirk Arena. (Courtesy Photo)

Saginaw senior Josephine Norris has been able to capture more than just photos through the lens of a camera – she tries to capture the world in a different light.

Norris received the 2019 Reid Blackburn scholarship from the National Press Photographers Foundation, a $2,000 scholarship awarded by a panel of professional photojournalists. She was named runner-up for the 2018 College Photographer of the Year, which is an international competition. She came in second place in the competition and recently traveled to Missouri to accept her award. 

She also has been recognized as a semifinalist of the 2019 Hearst Photojournalism award, the 2017 College Photographer of the Year for the Michigan Press Photographer Association and runner-up in 2016 and 2018.

She was homeschooled before attending college. Through homeschooling, Norris found a way to take a photography class at the age of 12 which began her journey finding her way to photojournalism. 

Over time, Norris worked her way into the professional world through internships at The Saginaw News, The Tennessean in Nashville, Tennessee and the San Antonio Express-News in San Antonio, Texas.

Central Michigan Life spoke with Norris to learn about her experiences with photojournalism and what led her to that career.

When did you discover photojournalism was for you? 

Norris: I had this moment, I was photographing the (Saginaw County Fair) rodeo and pictures were just coming together. I just felt alive. I realized that I could feel that adrenaline every single day as a photojournalist. 

If you could pick one thing that is your favorite thing about photography, what would you say that would be?

Sometimes it feels like a super power. Like sometimes I wonder how other people view the world, because when I look around I'll notice the light coming in from the window and I’ll be seeing (potential) photos. Being able to translate that into photos and knowing that I can see things that maybe not everybody can see, and then I get to share things that I see with people via photography, that’s pretty amazing. 

Is there a favorite subject you’ve photographed? 

There is a lot, but I will say some of the work that had a big impact on me was a project I started last year looking at what it means to be black and male in the United States. I photographed four different CMU students and followed them from the moment they woke up to the moment they went to bed looking at what their experiences were being black in the United States. 

That was kind of the first time that I really had deep connections with who I was photographing and in a short time we developed these relationships that allowed me to make really meaningful work. 

Could you talk about what it was like winning the title of College Photographer of the Year?

It's an international competition run through the University of Missouri and I came in second place (out of students from all over the world). It was the night they were judging the portfolio and I was supposed to go to sleep early, and then I saw they posted on Instagram that they called first place. I kept refreshing and refreshing the page and then it refreshed and it had silver and I saw my name and I couldn't believe it. Then I clinked on the link and there were my photos and I just lost it.

What would you say has been the biggest thing you have realized over the years with photojournalism? 

Definitely knowing how to foster connections with people and really embracing that connection. When I first started I thought there has to be distance between you and the person you’re photographing and you have to stay professional, but I’ve come to realize that’s kind of impossible. Likes yes, there are ethics to follow and ethics you need to hold as a journalist, but you have to make yourself vulnerable. 

Something I started doing within the last couple of years was whatever question I asked the person I’m photographing, I also have that answer myself for them. You have to have a connection with the people you’re photographing in order to really document their story, truly.