It was February when I found out I had been chosen to receive the Tom Hanson Award. I had recently completed my first-ever assignment for The Canadian Press, which itself felt like a huge moment in my career, and was speaking with photo editor Graeme Roy on the phone about invoicing information.
He waited until the end of the conversation to say, “By the way,” then gave me the news, leaving me shrieking alone in my kitchen, grinning from ear to ear.
As soon as the excitement and shock wore off, the nerves set in. I had interned at newspapers before and had been freelancing for about six months, but I had never really worked for a wire.
The prospect of having my photos go across the country and even be published internationally was thrilling but I also knew I’d have to be faster and more decisive and refine the skills I’d been building for the past two years. The people on the award’s judging panel – photo editors, photojournalists and members of Tom Hanson’s family – were people I really didn’t want to let down.
"For young photojournalists looking to improve and to gain the skills to be part of this industry long-term, there is no substitute for experience."
Portraits were the bread and butter of my daily assignments. My first assignment, a portrait of actor and musician Steven Van Zandt, remains one of my favourites of the internship, as are some of the portraits I shot at the Toronto International Film Festival at the very end of my six weeks. In between there was a vast range of assignments. Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to town and James Forcillo, the officer who shot and killed Sammy Yatim, was charged with second degree murder. On those occasions I was sent out with Canadian Press staff photographers Frank Gunn and Nathan Denette and, although I took my own photographs, I was able to see how they approached the challenge of getting a great shot while under intense time constraints.
Freelancer Chris Young taught me how to shoot a protest as part of a team and gave me a primer on shooting TIFF. I tagged along to two Blue Jays games, got to shoot inside Mount Sinai Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and witnessed a Star Wars beach volleyball game. I was often simultaneously exhausted and energized. It was a great feeling.
For young photojournalists looking to improve and to gain the skills to be part of this industry long-term, there is no substitute for experience. I am so grateful to have been given the Tom Hanson Photojournalism Award and the opportunity to shoot every day; to have been pushed but also supported. I am a better photographer for it and want nothing more than to keep learning and working. A huge thank you to Tom’s family, The Canadian Press, The Canadian Journalism Foundation and everyone else who made this possible.
(All photos Copyright 2013 THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan)