Only recently, a couple of gifted photographers established American Reportage, a collective devoted to telling tales about the American experience. Founded Kathleen Flynn, Justin Merriman, Brian Plonka, Jeff Swensen, by photographers Pete Marovich and Adria Malcolm, the Aim is for its members to produce stories of communities and people whose voices often go awry.    

We spoke with two of the founding photographers, Justin Merriman and PhotoShelter member Pete Marovich, regarding the inspiration behind the project.

[Feature Image by Pete Marovich]

What inspired American Reportage?

Justin Merriman: I am a product of the present climate in newspapers. After 16 years working at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I took a buyout in September of 2016 as soon as the newspaper was making drastic cuts and would soon be cutting its print product and moving to all digital.

Shortly after leaving the paper, Pete Marovich talked to me about his idea for the collective. I jumped on board and was interested. Having spent a fantastic part of my career working on projects, traveling to other places, and Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, I felt it was time for me to tell the stories in towns and my communities.

On the 5th Anniversary of the crash of United Flight 93, Wally Miller, the Somerset County Coroner, and among the first on the scene of the crash site, hears birds sing for the first time since the crash. 88% of the remains of the passengers on the flight still rests within the forest. Photo by Jeff Swensen

I had always felt like my overseas work was never done, partly because at some point I had to come home, leaving the story behind. Now, in the stories, I Reside as part of American Reportage. I understand these people and I understand them, their culture, their customs, their cares and concerns. This is home to me.

Currently I’m working on several projects in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, including stories on healthcare, coal mining, and the economy.

George Gonzales prays at a little chapel atop a hill after he carried a heavy wooden cross for many miles to a peaceful spot on his property south of Santa Rosa. He practices the Lenten ritual in the days leading up the Easter holiday. Photo by Adria Malcolm

Pete Marovich: The idea was stewing for quite some time. The tightening of magazine and newspaper budgets, the number of places to have work funded and the dearth of print spacestorytelling, was nagging at me.

I also felt, and the election was a prime example, that we as journalists were a bit out of touch with America as a whole. So photographers that are independent appear to want to go to work, and again with the of space and publication budgetsvisual storytelling about the issues are being underreported and voices are going unheard.

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer as he speaks during a campaign stop at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena on October 21, 2016 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. As Election Day nears, Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton continue to effort.   Photo by Justin Merriman

()Since the collective develops, what is your expectation for it moving forward?

Justin Merriman: I’m thrilled to be part of American Reportage. I believe we’ve made something special and I’m honored to be a member alongside more importantly and such journalists folks. We’ve got lots of ideas for the future of the collective as well as projects which we are going to work on as individuals and as a group.

My hope with American Reportage is exactly the exact same hope I’ve carried with me through my whole career behind the camera — to make people think, to make people care, to react, to wonder, to laugh, to cry, to smile — to really make a difference.

A mother’s day second line in the 7th ward in New Orleans on Sunday May 10, 2009. The “main line” is the principal section of a parade, which comprises the brass band. Those who follow the band to dance and party are called the “second line.” The line was known as the jazz funeral. Photo by Kathleen Flynn/St. Petersburg Times

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