The Daily Mississippian photo editor took home impressive honors in the Sports Action category of the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar contest.
Jackson native Hannah Grace Biggs, 21, was named a second place winner competing against a pool of many professional photographers while attending the November event with Michael Fagans, a University of Mississippi School of Journalism and New Media assistant professor of journalism. Bigg’s winning photo was a shot of the women’s steeplechase taken at the SEC Track and Field Championships last spring.
“I was shocked that any of my work placed, because the majority of people who submit work for the competition are professional photojournalists,” Biggs said. “I was very honored because my work was placed alongside work by photographers for Getty Images and other news organizations.”
Biggs is a junior majoring in Chinese in the language flagship program and minoring in intelligence and security studies and chemistry. She is also an ambassador in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
She said she became involved in photography after seeing a working photographer “in the wild” at her little brothers’ T-ball games in the early 2010s.
“Somewhere on an old computer hard drive are awful photos taken through a rusty chain link fence at youth baseball fields in Jackson,” she said. “My mom was gifted the camera by her parents to take photos of myself and my brothers, but she was never happy with her photos. So, I picked up the camera around fourth grade and started shooting photos.”
When Biggs enrolled in the University of Mississippi, she thought she might get lost in the crowd, but she reached out to then DM Photo Editor Billy Scheurman who hired her as a staff photographer.
“Spring semester of my freshman year, Billy told me that he was leaving The DM for an internship with Athletics and that he wanted me to take over his position,” she said. “I was shocked, but of course, I accepted the job, and here we are.”
The university’s Student Media Center (SMC) is open to all majors on campus and students who have a passion for photography or video, writing or audio storytelling, social media, design or sales are all welcome to check it out.
“I like to think of the SMC as the place where many of our students find their people. Tucked away in Bishop Hall is this spot where a very diverse group of students comes together to express their creativity and to share news and information that matters to the community,” said Dr. Deb Wenger, associate dean in the School of Journalism and New Media. “I hope someone reading this will decide to check it out and be a part of this wonderful student experience.”
Biggs said she faced challenges during her sophomore year, but found comfort in a group of sports photographers who became her friends and mentors.
“I will never forget leaving the Tulane game that season at 2 a.m. with (photographers) Thomas Graning and Rogelio Solis,” she said. “Rogelio looked me straight in the eyes and told me, ‘You’re one of us now,’ and that he and the other photographers had my back, should I ever need them.
“Before that fall, no one had ever explicitly told me I belonged somewhere before, and I truly believe I owe my life to the photographers I saw (almost) every Saturday in the media workroom under Vaught-Hemingway (or whichever stadium to which the football team traveled).”
Biggs said she has never been great at expressing emotions through words, but realized she could put all the love she has for people into her photography.
“Much of my work for The Daily Mississippian has been sports-related,” she said, “but, as a result, I have been contacted for freelance work for various departments at the university and to shoot senior portraits. I really enjoy the opportunities photography gives me to connect with people, even if I am anxious about first approaching people as a journalist. As Professor Fagans and others have told me, ‘The camera is just an excuse to talk to people.'”
The Atlanta conference was one of the most valuable experiences of her college career, Biggs said.
“I had the opportunity to listen to, speak with, and be critiqued by some of the most incredible photojournalists and photo editors currently working in the field,” she said.
They included Marcus Yam, “who is known for his work covering wildfires in California and abroad in Afghanistan,” Biggs said.
She also met Paul Kitagaki Jr., “who spent years finding, speaking with, and photographing survivors of the World War II Japanese internment camps in the U.S.”
Biggs said portfolio critiques were helpful.
“While hearing critiques is often difficult, I did feel validated that I have chosen the right career path,” she said. “I have reached a point where I can take and want strong critiques, and the seminar was the ideal place to find people willing to do so. It means more to students than I can describe that there are people in the field willing to take the time out of their busy schedules to mentor us and critique our portfolios.”
Biggs said she came back to the University of Mississippi with enthusiasm.
“I returned to Oxford feeling revitalized to study because I know I have chosen a career path into which I am willing to pour all of the love and passion I can,” she said.
This story was written by LaReeca Rucker.