Home of the Free: A Student Photojournalism Project Sponsored by Washington Mutual and the New-York Historical Society

October 29, 2002
January 19, 2003

How do you capture democracy?
How do you portray community?
How do you photograph history?

These questions reflect the challenge posed to hundreds of middle school students from New Jersey, Long Island, and the five Boroughs of New York City. The answer: Get a digital camera and follow the example of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly.

During the past year, Kennerly has photographed the people in the forefront and behind the scenes of government, exploring the diverse and vital roles public servants play in supporting our communities. Kennerly's work is the inspiration for Home of the Free: A Student Photojournalism Project.

With the support and guidance of Washington Mutual and the New-York Historical Society, students from around the region were outfitted with digital cameras and charged with a mission—to go into their own neighborhoods to identify, research, and photograph public servants at work.

The project brought together public officials, educators, professional photographers and photo editors, Washington Mutual employees, and staff from local newspapers. This uncommon partnership among students and members of the government, media, educational, and corporate worlds has helped forge new links within our local and regional communities.

By recording the work of public servants, the students began to explore the ways in which government touches their everyday lives. Combined with Kennerly's ground-breaking photos, their work presents a visual text book of democracy in action, from Queens bus drivers, New Brunswick public works directors, and their their neighborhood crossing guards up through the U.S. Senate, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency. This exhibition documents our civic history from a people's perspective, capturing a broad view of our democratic system at all levels and in all its diversity.

The student photographs exhibited here represent a small sample of the photographs taken as part of the Home of the Free project. Additional student photos are on display at Washington Mutual financial centers throughout the region.

David Hume Kennerly
David Hume Kennerly's riveting photographs of historic events and world leaders form a compelling portrait of the past four decades of American and world history. His pictures have revealed the brutality of the Vietnam War, the challenges of the presidency, the tensions of the Cold War, and the uncertainty of the contemporary political landscape. Kennerly's photographs of the Vietnam War won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1972, and his work has graced more than 40 covers of Time and Newsweek.

Kennerly's work on display here includes never-before-published images of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of our government, as well as candid photos of the "fourth estate," the media. He was granted unprecedented access to take many of these photos, and his efforts reveal a fresh and surprising perspective on the men and women behind today's headlines. From then-Governor Bush's living room on election night 2000 to the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Kennerly's photos capture history-makers in an intimate, personal way.

Kennerly's photos also bring to light the contributions of lesser-known public servants—like the FDA fish-smeller and NASA scientists—whose contributions are no less important. These images will all form the basis for Kennerly's forthcoming book, Balance of Power: The Government and the Press at the Turn of the Century, to be published by the University of Texas Press in the fall of 2004.

The Students
On Tuesday, September 17, students, teachers, and principals were joined by Washington Mutual financial center employees and representatives from local newspapers, or "Media Mentors," for an inspirational presentation led by David Hume Kennerly and CBS 2 News Anchor Ernie Anastos. Afterwards, each student team was given a CANON G4 digital camera and an assignment: to photograph local public servants at work.

The student teams visited city halls, universities, and firehouses. They went underground to photograph subway employees and into public works departments to take pictures of sanitation workers. They photographed Mayors, city council members, governors, policemen, meat inspectors, and their own principals. In the process, the students learned about their own communities and about the people who keep those communities vital and responsible to our needs as citizens.

The students submitted several hundred photographs for review. It was now up to the judging committee to choose 60 of the photos for display in the Home of the Free exhibition.

Media Mentors
Numerous individuals and groups contributed to the success of the Home of the Free project. Many students benefited from the expertise of local newspaper photo editors who served as hands-on advisors. These "Media Mentors" visited classes to speak about their profession, conducted tours of their newsrooms, helped students identify public servants in their communities, and offered guidance about how best to capture these public servants at work.

The Judges
Each student team submitted six photos to be considered for the Home of the Free exhibition. A panel of judges—themselves respected photographers and photo editors—was assembled to select the 60 photographs they felt best depicted public servants at work. Those pictures are exhibited here. All of the photographs submitted by the schools, however, are on display at their local Washington Mutual financial centers. Home of the Free judges included: David Kennerly, Chair; Ramiro Fernandez, Associate Photo Editor, PEOPLE Magazine; Burt Glinn, Magnum Photos; Sarah Harbutt, Director of Photography, Newsweek; Bronwen Latimer, US News and World Report; Arnold Newman, photographer; Margaret O'Conner, Director of Photography, The New York Times; George Pitts, Director of Photography, VIBE Magazine; Mel Rosenthal, photographer; Michele Stephenson, Director of Photography, Time Magazine.

Creative: Tronvig Group