Rebecca Slezak, an undergraduate from Ball State University, won the Jimi Lott Scholarship.
As I reflect on my career accomplishments, I know that the things that I’ve learned along the way have had a more resounding impact on my life. Those whom I’ve wept with, embraced, and laughed alongside are the ones who’ve challenged me to grow the most personally and photographically. If I feel as though if I’ve learned something through telling someone’s story that is an accomplishment more important than any recognition.
I have been recognized by the Heart Foundation, College Photographer of the Year, National Press Photographer’s Foundation, and Indiana News Photographer’s Association during the past 3 years of my college career. All of these accomplishments have been in large part to the guidance and mentorship I have received from my mentor, Martin Smith-Rodden. In 2019 I learned from two fantastic editors, Luis Rios and Michel Fortier while interning at the San Antonio Express-News.
While the world faces a pandemic, many people struggle with processing what has happened and have anxiety about what is to come, myself included. Making artistic images has been a way to help me process this. After my summer internship was canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, I started brainstorming and searching for other opportunities to fill the summer of 2020. I bought a plane ticket to Kodiak, Alaska on a hunch that I would meet the young surfers my Uncle had once spoken briefly of. After four weeks on the island, I met “the groms”, a group of young men stoked on surfing. I spent the remaining six weeks photographing them. I worked with several peers and editors putting together an edit for this story to pitch. This was the first time I’ve ever pitched a story to several news outlets and magazines. During this time I took a risk and did something that scared me by going somewhere so far away from any familiar faces I had known. I had many introspective moments and met people that changed me. My confidence in myself increased. I learned more about editing my own work and my visual voice. To grow as an individual and a photographer in this way this summer has been a large accomplishment that has prepared me for whatever is ahead.
I do not know where my journey will take me after I graduate in the spring, nor does it matter where I go, but what I do there. I hope to continue making a lasting impact through my visual work- both in my subject’s lives and my audiences. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that the stories I am most passionate about telling and am drawn to are those that reflect or are parallel to experiences I’ve had in my childhood and that challenge my way of thought. Specific subjects that I am curious about include: immigration, women in traditionally male roles, and religion’s role in different cultures. I am interested in several different visual career avenues. Working as a photo editor, an international freelancer, or with non-profits all appeal to me so that I can continue to explore the world around me and answer the things I am curious about. Regardless of the path, I want to help others whether it be through elevating work, creating visual advocacy, doing manual labor, or a mixture of all three.
Click on the photo to launch the video story and it will open in a new window. Once viewed close the window to get back to this page.
I Can Live In Peace
“My mom didn’t want to raise me because I was a black sheep” shares Maria. At 13-years old she decided to leave Mexico City in fear of being sex trafficked.
After crossing the U.S. border illegally, Maria and her friend who journeyed together stayed with family in Bradenton, Florida. Through the years Maria has worked as a caterer, construction worker, and commercial cleaner. In times where she was desperate for money, she would go out to the nightclubs, flirt with men and eventually go home with them and sell her body. Through this form of work, Maria met several men, 3 of whom became the fathers of her three children: Diego, 13, Camila, 10, and Nina, 8. Nina’s father has caused the most destruction to the children and Maria. After meeting Nina’s father, Maria became a victim of domestic violence.
“When I was younger with babies I was afraid, [but now] I can live in peace” states Maria in regards to the current situation she and her children live in.
Project role: videographer and editor