Wed, 08/31/2016 - 03:51

Posted by Tamara Baluja on June 03, 2014

Photo courtesy of Michelle Siu

By Mark Taylor, Photojournalism Editor

The future of Canadian photojournalism looks bright after a number of fresh faces emerged as winners of the eighth annual News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC) National Pictures of the Year competition in Vancouver May 24.

Michelle Siu, a freelancer based in Toronto and relative newcomer to the field, took first place for best picture story and second place in the social issues category. She was also nominated for photojournalist of the year (won by The Globe and Mail’s John Lehman for the second straight year). In 2010, Siu quit a fulltime job in public relations to pursue a career as a photojournalist. By 2012, she had been accepted into the Eddie Adams workshop for emerging photographers and also won the Tom Hanson Photojournalism Award that year.

After accepting her award in Vancouver, Siu said the recognition is nice, but the important thing is the work. Her winning picture story focuses on residents from the Lake St. Martin reserve in Manitoba who were displaced by flooding in 2011 and, over three years later, are still living in hotels and temporary housing 250 km away in Winnipeg. The story was produced independently by Siu and then bought by The Globe and Mail.


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Photo courtesy of Michelle Siu

Michelle Siu, a freelancer based in Toronto and relative newcomer to the field, took first place for best picture story and second place in the social issues category. She was also nominated for photojournalist of the year (won by The Globe and Mail’s John Lehman for the second straight year). In 2010, Siu quit a fulltime job in public relations to pursue a career as a photojournalist. By 2012, she had been accepted

into the Eddie Adams workshop for emerging photographers and also won the Tom Hanson Photojournalism Award that year.

After accepting her award in Vancouver, Siu said the recognition is nice, but the important thing is the work. Her winning picture story focuses on residents from the Lake St. Martin reserve in Manitoba who were displaced by flooding in 2011 and, over three years later, are still living in hotels and temporary housing 250 km away in Winnipeg. The story was produced independently by Siu and then bought by The Globe and Mail.

“I’m just thrilled that…more people might see it and might know about native issues,” she said. “I grew up with immigrant parents and they always taught me Canada was one of the best countries in the world. And when I found out this was happening—third world poverty in my own backyard—this is why I had to do it. It’s an important story and I plan to continue working on it with the money that I’m getting from this award.”.

Hannah Yoon, who graduated this spring from the Loyalist College photojournalism program, nabbed student photojournalist of the year honours.

“I was still a new photographer when I came to Loyalist College. So all of it was still a part of my learning and just going out and trying new things,” Yoon said of her winning selection of photos.

Yoon plans to work at the Waterloo Region Record this summer before heading to Toronto to begin a six-week paid internship at The Canadian Press as the recipient of the 2014 Tom Hanson Photojournalism Award.

“It’s been a pretty wild year,” Yoon said. “I wasn’t really expecting either one.”

Perhaps the sweetest victory of the night was Jordan Verlage’s. After graduating from Loyalist in 2005, working as a staff photographer at the Edmonton Sun then heading out on his own as a freelancer, Verlage had quit photography. Last year, he decided to give it one more try and began working as a freelancer for the Okotoks Western Wheel. As the Highwood River overflowed into the town of High River, Alta., on June 20, 2013, Verlage took the back roads to get to a spot near the river where he knew other media wouldn’t be and saw a man in a truck as it was swept up by the rising water.

“It was amazing. People were just yelling at him, ‘Get out. Get out. Get out.’ All of a sudden we saw his head pop out the back window. He got out of the back of the truck and as it was going down, he reached back into the truck and grabbed his cat,” Verlage said. “He’s standing in the back of the cab of the truck and the cat leapt from his arms. He (the driver) jumped out afterwards and literally about two or three seconds after he jumped the truck disappeared and he swam for it.”

Verlage said he didn’t know at the time how iconic the photos would become.

 “I was the only guy with a camera that was there, but I knew it was a national news story,” Verlage said, so he sent The Canadian Press a series of photos. “Graeme Roy (CP director of news photography) called me back within about 10 minutes and said, ‘Oh my God, do you know what you have?’ I guess it kind of hit home there.”

That lead to two solid weeks covering the flood for the CP, a full-time staff position at the Western Wheel and now top honours in both the spot news and photo of the year categories at the National Pictures of the Year competition.

“So, has work picked up? Yeah,” Verlage said. “It’s enabled me to continue to do this, and that’s what I’m most thankful for.”

A complete list of winners can be found at the NPAC website.


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