A Cronkite senior has taken the top prize in a national photojournalism contest — for the second time.
Alberto Mariani won first place in the Photojournalism Features and News Competition of the 2021-2022 Hearst Journalism Awards Program. His work was selected out of 101 entries submitted from 56 universities nationwide.
Mariani explains, “I became interested in photojournalism after visiting a retrospective exhibition of Sebastiao Salgado’s work when I was 15 in Milan, Italy, where I grew up. I was struck by this person’s ability to convey a story in a single frame, capturing the essence of a place, event, or person with such a force to demand the viewer’s committed attention.”
The award comes with a $3,000 scholarship, with the top five winning schools receiving matching grants. He also now qualifies for the 2022 National Photojournalism Championship.
Mariani also won first place last year in the 2021 Greg Crowder Memorial Photojournalism Award for his images documenting the 2020 social justice protests triggered by George Floyd’s death, the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and the effects of the deadly pandemic.
“I am convinced that our work can motivate people, even if only a small number, to see present wrongs and challenge unjust systems,” said Mariani. “In some instances, the stories we tell allow individuals from very different backgrounds to identify and connect with each other and maybe spark crucial civic engagement.”
Mariani moved to the U.S. in 2012 and has been working with Cronkite News as a photographer on the health and general assignment beats. He also works as a freelance photographer for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.
The Cronkite team asked Mariani a few questions about his work and his awards.
How would you describe the feeling of seeing your work placed first in a national competition?
Well, winning any competition is a great boost to self-confidence; it probably placates some of the validation needs and egomaniac tendencies most of us carry, whether we like to admit it or not. Of course, it’s always nice to see other people appreciate your work. Still, you have to be careful about conferring much significance to such awards, as what makes a photo great can be a very subjective assessment. And as an individual, you run the risk of thinking too much of yourself. I am sure that plenty of other more capable photographers deserved the scholarship, so I feel very fortunate and grateful for the judges’ decision. I hope the work can say more about the state of the country today and the challenges many continue to face daily, more than the person behind the camera. It feels great to place 1st for a quick moment, but it’s not a driving factor for pursuing a career in photojournalism. On the other hand, the remuneration is greatly appreciated as it will fund and support future documentary projects.
Why is it important for journalists to document these moments?
I’d say what else is the role of journalism if not to document these stories? Our first concern should be to inform the public and hopefully educate it simultaneously. Some of the events that I photographed present an opportunity to educate and encourage reflection about our actions as individuals, communities, and country.
In recent years, we have witnessed the detrimental effects of rampant attacks on facts and institutions, attempts to rewrite history as it was unfolding on national TV to benefit certain political narratives, a complete disregard toward basic human dignity and individual liberties. (These trends are not limited to the U.S) To document these events means producing a factual record of what happened that can withstand censorship and lies propagated by those who seek to hide the truth.
What inspired you to pursue photojournalism?
I view photography as a democratic and universal language because it doesn’t require you to be literate, educated in foreign languages, nor does it ask for much of your time or your money. To access its content and meaning, you just need your eyes open. The ability to make a statement for all to understand and perhaps even make a small difference in our world is what drives my interest in photojournalism today. And lastly, I am also inspired by the people who opened their doors for me to tell their stories and will always be indebted for such amazing generosity.
What are your plans for the spring semester and beyond?
I am looking forward to completing most of my classes and graduating by the end of the summer. During the summer I’ll be working as a photographer in a newsroom as part of a fellowship. For the future, I would love to find a staff position for a year or two at a newspaper in the U.S to own my reporting and photography skills, as well as continue to work on some long-term stories. Ultimately, my career goal is to cover international conflict and humanitarian issues as a freelancer.