A Collective Determined to Share Untold American Stories

A Collective Determined to Share Untold American Stories

Just recently, a handful of talented photographers launched American Reportage, a collective dedicated to telling stories about the American experience. Founded by photographers Pete Marovich, Justin Merriman, Brian Plonka, Jeff Swensen, Kathleen Flynn and Adria Malcolm, the goal is for its members to produce in-depth stories of people and communities whose voices often go unheard.  

We spoke with two of the founding photographers, Justin Merriman and PhotoShelter member Pete Marovich, about the inspiration behind the project.

[Feature Image by Pete Marovich]

What inspired American Reportage?

Justin Merriman: I am a product of the current climate in newspapers. After 16 years working at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I took a buyout in September of 2016 when the newspaper was making drastic cuts and would soon be cutting its print product and moving to all digital.

Shortly after leaving the paper, Pete Marovich talked to me about his idea for the collective. I was immediately interested and quickly jumped on board. Having spent a good portion of my career working on overseas projects, traveling to Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and other places, I felt it was time for me to tell the stories in my own communities and towns.

On the 5th Anniversary of the crash of United Flight 93, Wally Miller, the Somerset County Coroner, and one of the first on the scene of the crash site, hears birds sing for the first time since the crash. 88% of the remains of the passengers on the flight still rests within the forest. Photo by Jeff Swensen

I had always felt like my overseas work was never done, partly because at some point I had to come home, leaving the story behind. Now, as part of American Reportage, I live in the stories. I know these people and more importantly I understand them, their culture, their customs, their cares and concerns. This is home to me.

Currently I’m working on several projects in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, including stories on healthcare, coal mining, and the economy.

George Gonzales prays at a small chapel atop a hill after he carried a heavy wooden cross for several miles to a peaceful spot on his property south of Santa Rosa. He practices the annual Lenten ritual in the days leading up the the Easter holiday. Photo by Adria Malcolm

Pete Marovich: The idea had been stewing for quite a while. The tightening of newspaper and magazine budgets, the lack of available print space and the limited number of places to have work funded, especially long-form storytelling, was nagging at me.

I also felt, and the election was a prime example, that we as journalists were a bit out of touch with America as a whole. So many independent photographers seem to want to go overseas to work, and again with the tightening of publication budgets and space, in-depth visual storytelling about the issues facing our country are being underreported and voices are going unheard.

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer as he speaks during a campaign stop at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena on October 21, 2016 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton continue to campaign as Election Day nears. Photo by Justin Merriman

As the collective grows, what’s your hope for it moving forward?

Justin Merriman: I’m thrilled to be part of American Reportage. I think we’ve made something special with this collective and I’m honored to be a member alongside such accomplished journalists and more importantly wonderful people. We have a lot of ideas for the future of the collective as well as projects that we will be working on as a group and  as individuals.

My hope with American Reportage is the same hope I’ve carried with me through my entire career behind the camera — to make people think, to make people care, to react, to wonder, to laugh, to cry, to smile – to make a difference.

A mother’s day second line in the 7th ward in New Orleans on Sunday May 10, 2009. The “main line” is the main section of a parade, which includes the brass band. Those who follow the band to dance and party are called the “second line.” The second line has been referred to as the jazz funeral without a body. Photo by Kathleen Flynn/St. Petersburg Times

Visit American Reportage to stay updated with their stories. Also follow them on Instagram @americanreportage and Twitter @amreportage.

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