CHESTER — Jennifer Gonzalez knew the town she lived in for 10 years had a lot of great stories to tell for the SIU photography weekend workshop.

The program takes photojournalism students to a small area town and gives them the opportunity to work with professional photographers for the weekend. Mark Dolan, assistant professor in the School of Journalism, leads the workshop. He said there were about 35 students for the fourth annual workshop.

Past programs have focused on Murphysboro, Cobden and Alto Pass and the Carterville/Cambria/Crainville area. The school also publishes a book of photos that tell the stories of each community.

Gonzalez, a senior in photojournalism, said “having the opportunity to focus on the community for the weekend is incredible.” She said she and her family still lives in Chester. She has attended three of the workshops.

Dolan said the students get a big boost from the workshop because they get to work with professional photographers from all over the country from newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit News and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

“This thing just really couldn’t happen without them,” Dolan said. “They provide the magic.”

He said the workshop also shows that students “don’t need to be in some major metropolitan area to get good photos.”

Danielle McGrew, a senior in photojournalism from Flora, said it is great to get so many different perspectives from the coaches and to get immediate feedback.

McGrew said it is also great to see the reaction from the communities because the reactions are usually either excitement that the students are focusing on the community or amusement because residents don’t believe there are really any interesting stories to tell. When the books come out though, she said she hasn’t heard a single negative reaction.

“Small towns have the best character,” McGrew said.

Chester Alderwoman Nancy Crossland played a hand in getting the workshop to the community and said she thinks Chester will be a perfect fit. She said she loved the past books that came from the workshop and is eager to see Chester get the same spotlight.

“It’s great,” Crossland said. “It’s why we’ve worked so hard to bring them to the community.”

McGrew said thanks to the workshops, she can now put on her résumé that she’s been published in several books.

Gonzalez said she couldn’t be happier to be able to share her home with her fellow students and said the experience is beneficial to everyone involved.

“It’s great for the community, it’s great for the school and for me, it’s like coming home,” Gonzalez said.


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