Artist, alumnus wins Lifetime Achievement Awards

CMU graduate Steve Jessmore has earned accolades for his nature photography, photojournalism and humanity


A screenshot of photographs taken by Steve Jessmore on his website,

Courtesy photo

“For a lifetime of contributions of outstanding artistic significance and impact to the field of photojournalism in the state of Michigan.”

So reads Steve Jessmore’s latest accomplishment: the Michigan Press Photographers Association (MPPA) Lifetime Acheivement Award. 

Raised in Saginaw, Jessmore attended Douglas MacArthur High School, where his professional photography career got an early start. As an underclassman at Douglas MacArthur in 1976, Jessmore began taking photos of artists at concerts in his hometown, which were published in the Saginaw News. 

“I got thrown into the fire real quick,” Jessmore said. “Anybody on classic radio I’ve photographed. I had my elbows on the runway, I could have reached out and grabbed Freddie Mercury’s leg.”

Jessmore described these experiences as “priceless.” 

Later, as a student at Central Michigan University, Jessmore was able to combine his love for photography with another passion of his: nature. While he majored in journalism, he pursued a minor in biology.

Jessmore owned crayfish, frogs and turtles as a child. He said science was his favorite subject, and that he loves nature, specifically the wetlands. 

Fast forward to his professional career, and Jessmore has earned several awards and recognitions for his work in bird photography. He has won MPPA’s Photographer of the Year award five times; both placed first and won an honorable mention in the 2021 National Audobon Photography Awards; and won first place again in 2022 with the Fisher Prize for “most creative approach to photographing birds,” according to his website,

Jessmore said he is grateful to be in his career and doing what he loves, and he feels blessed to have received his Lifetime Acheivement Award from his peers. 

“[The awards] have never driven me to do better work," Jessmore said. "I drive myself to do better work.” 

He said his wife, “beautiful Brenda” Hassow, has supported him throughout his career.

“She’s just so encouraging and so positive about everything,” he said. “She’s just wonderful. She just gets it.”

At the start of COVID-19, Jessmore lost the majority of his commercial work to the mandated quarantine. But he made a promise to himself that he would turn this problem into something positive, so he turned to birds.

“I enjoy… learning something new about these creatures that are everywhere. ... Why birds? No matter where I go there’s birds,” Jessmore said. “It’s the same kind of stories I told with people, but with birds.”

A photograph of a hawk staring down its next meal, a chipmunk, won him his honorable mention in 2021. 

“To me, that’s journalism at it’s finest. That tension, that moment of eye-to-eye, it was the moment before it got gorey and before you lost hope,” Jessmore said. 

Aside from bird photography, Jessmore is dedicated to community spirit. 

“I was always a community journalist," Jessmore said. "I never took the jobs at the really big papers that were offered to me, I wanted to stay grounded and in a community. ... I just like that side where you got to know the community, the community got to know you.”

He worked in his Saginaw hometown as well as Flint, for which he won the Robert F. Kennedy photojournalism award for “outstanding coverage of the disadvantaged." 

'Sense of Community'

As Jessmore worked at the Flint Journal as chief photographer, he self-produced a weekly column on the side, “Sense of Community.” It published on Sundays from 2004 until 2008 (all "Sense of Community" columns can be read at

“Flint, Michigan … (is) frequently listed among the worst, most stressful, dangerous, impoverished, segregated and economically disadvantaged cities in this country. While statistics and public opinion are stacked against Flint, many of it’s people haven’t given up hope,” Jessmore’s website said. 

For Jessmore, "Sense of Community" was a way to spotlight and document those hopeful individuals. 

“[It was] my thought that there was more good than bad in Flint," he said. "Sometimes you have to just take a look and realize that there’s still hope and things can get better.” 

Jessmore worked on and off for five years documenting citizens of Flint doing “grassroots things” and “little simple acts of kindness” for their community and the people around them. He completed a total of 175 columns during this time. 

Jessmore said every one of the pieces in "Sense of Community" had a “point of action” listed; if readers wanted to get involved with these individuals Jessmore wrote about and also help their community, he included a way to get in touch. 

Some of Jessmore’s subjects were an individual who volunteered at an animal shelter, a farmer with a goal to inspire children and a retired mental health treatment worker. But he said his favorite column he worked on was with a man waving an umbrella in the air on Saginaw Street: a man named Clifford Smith. 

Jessmore wrote about Smith’s dedication to bringing positive energy to people in Flint. Every morning, Smith walked up and down Saginaw Street waving to people in their cars as they commuted to work or school. Jessmore said Smith was always “impeccably dressed” and that he felt blessed to be able to have an opportunity to make people smile. 

“They say you have a calling in life,” Smith said, as quoted in "Sense of Community." “I never knew what mine was. People will stop and say that I’ve made their day. I just praise and thank the Lord.”

“I think people need to realize that no matter what you choose to do, you've got to be serious about it and put in the time to get better and improve yourself,” Jessmore said.