60th College POY: Casey Templeton

January 2006

For News Photographer magazine

By Jenn Fields

In 2004, Casey Templeton took a week off from the fall semester of his junior year at James Madison University to observe the judging of College Photographer of the Year. Templeton’s school in Harrisonburg, Va., doesn’t have a journalism program. CPOY judging was to be his photojournalism education for the year.
Templeton sat in the front row and hung over the railing so he could hear every word that came out of the judges’ mouths. He watched pictures flash across a screen for hours in a dark room. He learned what the judges looked for in a photograph, in a picture story, in a portfolio. Perhaps most importantly, he learned to self-edit.
One year later, four CPOY judges hovered over five portfolios in the same dark room at the Missouri School of Journalism. The judges weren’t talking about Templeton’s portfolio, but the rest of the room was buzzing about it. His tightly edited portfolio was the clear winner.
Rita Reed, the director of CPOY, called Templeton immediately after the judging to let him know he had won the competition.
“Is this Casey Templeton?” Reed asked into the speakerphone.
“Yes, this is Casey,” Templeton said.
Reed asked him to guess who had won the 60th CPOY. Templeton couldn’t believe it – it was a dream.
“I think I’m going to wake up and be pissed,” he said.

Templeton, 22, immediately ran to his girlfriend’s house. He could have jumped in his car or hopped on his bike, but that didn’t occur to him. So he ran the three-quarters of a mile flat-out to tell her he’d won and started calling family and friends to spread the good news.
Then he remembered a previous obligation for that evening – his bible study group. Templeton stopped the celebratory phone calls and went to bible study. After all, he wanted to keep his priorities straight. Ironically, when Casey arrived he found the planned topic for study that night was humility.
“If I’m not humble, I’m going to start feeling like I don’t have to work as hard,” Templeton says. “I don’t want to lose my motivation. It’s encouraged me to work even harder.”
Following the competition, Templeton contacted all four of the other finalists in the portfolio category to complement them on their work and tell them how much he respected them.
“The other photographers are such great photojournalists that I was just blown away when I won,” Templeton says. “By no means am I the best photographer in that competition.”
Tommy Thompson, a commercial photographer in Virginia who teaches JMU’s only photojournalism course, was Templeton’s teacher and now serves as his mentor.
“Every photographer has an ego, and every photographer has an attitude,” Thompson says. “And Casey, despite not having an abundance of attitude, always backs up his work.”

Diverse experience
Templeton occasionally works for Thompson as an assistant. At a wedding Thompson was shooting, Templeton was working with motion blur on the dance floor. Thompson asked him to stop and said “I don’t have time to edit that stuff, Casey.”
Not long after, Thompson unabashedly showed his assistant an article he’d just found on using that very technique to bring a more photojournalistic style to wedding photography. “Well, you were right,” Thompson told him.
Josh Meltzer, the Roanoke Times photojournalist Templeton job-shadowed in high school, says Templeton’s wedding photography is good for more than paying for college.
“That’s been a great way for him to practice, because every weekend he’s shooting a little picture story about these two people getting married,” Meltzer says.
Meltzer first met Templeton on an assignment for the Times. Templeton was one of a group of high schoolers raising money for charity by doing a polar bear swim in the ocean in the winter. Meltzer rode the bus to the beach with the kids, and Templeton peppered him with questions for much of the ride. Templeton, who followed the photojournalists in his hometown paper like some kids follow professional athletes, described the experience as like meeting your sports hero. When he introduced himself on the bus, Templeton replied: “Josh? Josh Meltzer?” Templeton went on to shadow Meltzer and interned for the Roanoke Times last summer.
Like Templeton, Meltzer didn’t study in a photojournalism program, but he believes Templeton has opened doors for himself by shooting every chance he gets.
“He is really going to have a lot of options, partly because of the way he educated himself,” Meltzer says. “He didn’t go to a traditional photojournalism program. He doesn’t have a portfolio with house fires and people catching footballs.”
One of those open doors is National Geographic. As the College Photographer of the Year, Templeton has earned an internship with the magazine.
“Frankly, it’s a selfish internship,” says Susan Smith, deputy director of photography for National Geographic magazine. “It gives us the opportunity to scrutinize the work of young people who we want to work for us.”
“Our photographers are very independent,” she added. “They come up with their own story ideas, and we look for that in an intern as well.”
Templeton believes that going to a school without a photo program has given him more incentive to be a self-starter and work hard to seek out his own stories. Winning CPOY has not reduced his tenacity, either.
“The last thing I want to do is become unmotivated,” he says. “I’ve got everything to prove now.”
Templeton hasn’t lost his modesty, either.
“I’ve got so much to learn. I can’t stress that enough. When I get to the point where I feel like I’ve got nothing left to learn, that’s when I need to hang up my camera.”

Working with Templeton recently, Thompson cautioned him about shooting from the hip too often. Thompson worried that he would eventually miss a shot that way. Sure enough, another magazine article popped up, this time in support of that kind of shooting, and Thompson passed it on to his protégé again.
“He has a lot of feeling in his style,” Thompson says. “He puts himself with the person he’s photographing, watches their characteristics and mannerisms so he can capture it. I think the reason he shoots from the hip is that he’s watching their mannerisms and doesn’t want to interrupt the moment. His style is a latent creativity.”
Templeton says his eye comes from his faith.
“When I shoot, I shoot for my own personal vision,” Templeton says. “I shoot for God, you know, and that’s how I can explain what I do.”
Others have recognized Templeton’s eye.
“His style is pretty well-defined; when I’m looking through his pictures, I can tell they’re his,” Meltzer says.
Scott Strazzante, one of the CPOY judges and photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune, said when choosing the College Photographer of the Year, the judges were looking for a photographer with a strong vision who is comfortable with documentary style and lighter photo essays. He cited the versatility of Templeton’s portfolio.
“It comes down to style, very strong style,” Strazzante said. “They definitely have something to say about the world.”
“I had a good feel for the first place entry for the quality of seeing,” said Manny Crisostomo, a senior photojournalist at the Sacramento Bee and CPOY judge.
“I’m very blessed by God to have this opportunity and have the eye that I do,” Templeton says.

The future
Templeton isn’t sure where he’ll end up after he graduates with a bachelor’s degree from JMU in May. It’s not up to him, he says, it’s up to God.
Before winning his internship at National Geographic, Templeton applied for internships with U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Post. He has not heard from either yet.
Down the road, Meltzer doesn’t necessarily see Templeton at a newspaper. He could fund photojournalism projects through his wedding photography, or possibly work as a photographer for a nonprofit agency.
“Throughout his internship he really thrived – like everyone does – when he’s shooting something he’s interested in,” Meltzer says.
Templeton is looking forward to one big change in his future. On Dec. 8, before a small crowd (including musicians) on JMU’s campus, he proposed to his girlfriend, Ashley Perry. They plan to marry after she graduates from JMU in May 2007.

In the 60th year of the competition, Nikon and National Geographic returned as sponsors of College Photographer of the Year. Nikon provided an educational grant that paid entrance fees for participants. The top three winners in the portfolio category will receive a Nikon digital SLR, and Templeton, the gold medal winner, received an internship at National Geographic magazine and a $1,000 scholarship from the NPPA. But more the contest is about more than prizes – it’s about educating young photographers.
“Just entering the contest is good for students in that it gives them the chance to look back over their work for the year,” says Rita Reed, director of CPOY and assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. She added that this is excellent training for what they will do as they look for jobs and work as professional photojournalists.
“When you look at your work from the last year, you notice where your weaknesses are, and it helps you set goals for next year,” she says.
In 2006, the CPOY awards will be presented at the same time as Pictures of the Year International (POYi), April 20 and 21 in Columbia, Mo. The winners of COPY will have the chance to get portfolio reviews from the POYi winners.
“It’s a great opportunity for college students to come pick up their awards and rub elbows with the POY winners,” Reed says. “It’s also a chance for the top newspapers and photographers in the professional realm to see the crème de la crème of college photographers.”
Judging at a photo competition can be instructive as well. The judges are accomplished photographers and leaders in the field, and they like talking about – sometimes arguing over – pictures. This year’s CPOY judges good-naturedly gave their battles over photos a nickname: Fight Club.
“I hope the students nationwide know that the judging is open, and if they can get away for that weekend, they can come over and watch, just like Casey did,” Reed says. “Casey’s portfolio was tightly edited, and I think he saw that last year.”