Geoffery Stellfox had completed an undergraduate major in finance when he quit to pursue visual journalism. Now finishing a master’s
degree in journalism at DePaul University in
Chicago, he was recognized last year by PDN’s
Faces competition for a news image taken in the
city in 2015, following the shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald. The photograph shows
pastor Michelle Dodson leading a prayer for
demonstrators outside of the Chicago Police
Department’s main office, and the intensity is
palpable. We asked Stellfox a few questions
about the shoot and his next steps.
PDN: Were you on assignment for this shoot?
Geoffery Stellfox: Technically no. I was working as the staff photojournalist for our school
paper, The DePaulia. I do my best to keep my
eye on breaking news, and at the last minute I
heard that there was a prayer rally being held
on the South Side of Chicago for a young man
who was shot by Chicago police. I texted my
editor, hopped in my truck, and rushed downtown. The piece ran in the DePaulia Online, because we were technically on break. But you
know, the news never sleeps.
PDN: What subjects do you like to cover? What
type of photography are you drawn to?
GS: In a word, people. I grew up having National
Geographic read to me by my parents, and they
always encouraged me to go out to meet new
people and learn new things. I love having the
opportunity to learn about people, their pas-
sions and culture, and I’ve found myself pas-
sionate about causes that I never previously
understood. I think that is what’s so beautiful
about photojournalism. I think if you’re doing it
right, there’s this deep connection and a new-
found level of understanding that’s difficult to
get in other ways.
PDN: What was your experience like photographing the Laquan McDonald vigil?
GS: It was a pretty intense experience. Different leaders from Chicago’s religious community
took turns leading prayers, and there was this
energy that everyone on the block could feel and
feed off of. The biggest lesson I’ve taken from
my mentor, Catherine Karnow of National Geographic Traveler, is to show energy in my photos
and communicate that to my audience.
The challenge with news is always the number
of people there—there were members of local
churches, groups who came out to show sup-
port, other photographers and news crews.
But the way I overcome that is to be the first
person there. That’s kind of my policy on all of
my shoots: You can never be too early (coming
from someone who’s chronically late in most
non-photography aspects of my life).
PDN: How would you describe your approach
to your work?
GS: The one idea that I really strive to live by is
to never lose my curiosity and imagination. I try
to approach every shoot and assignment as the
10-year-old version of myself—the one who fell
in love with National Geographic and saw the
world as a huge, exciting place meant to be explored. If I ever become cynical, I might as well
pack it up and go back to finance.
PDN: What’s next for you?
GS: I’m heading to Uruguay for three weeks to
work on a few different travel pieces, which I’m
pitching to different publications. I’m also doing
research for photo essays on endangered languages, gospel music in Chicago, and Central/
South American mixed martial arts. It’s important to me to shoot the things I’m passionate
about, but I also have to balance that with being
able to support myself. It’s a challenge, but one
I’m looking forward to overcoming.
Check out the full gallery from last year’s Faces
Communicating the Energy of a Moment
competition at facesphotocontest.com. The
next submission period will open in June. P H
Grad student Geoffery Stellfox captures an iconic news image in Chicago.
INTERVIEW BY JACQUI PALUMBO