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Mature Photojournalism Grad Gets Her Shot at Success

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Annie Sakkab always wanted to record what’s around her and to remember the things she has seen or done.

Since she grabbed her first camera at age 16 — a birthday present from her brother — many frames in Annie’s life have made the cut, from attending a documentary workshop in Dubai that featured photographer Jack Picone, to graduating from an Ontario photojournalism program in June 2015.

More recently, the Palestinian photographer (born and raised in Jordan), who turned 46 in July, was presented with the Student Photographer of the Year award from the News Photographers Association of Canada’s (NPAC) National Pictures of the Year (NPOY) awards competition, recognizing excellence in Canadian photojournalism. More than 1,880 submitted images were considered for the awards, which were announced at the NPOY Gala in May in Vancouver.

“I have taken rolls and rolls of photos over the years. They weren’t necessarily great, in fact far from it, but they were pictures that I was happy with and enjoyed looking at,” said Annie, just a few minutes before graduating in June.

“I’ve never really thought of photography as a documentary practice. I’ve always thought of it as a form of art – until 2008, when a huge photo festival was taking place in Dubai, where I was living at the time, and where I decided to take a documentary workshop with Jack Picone.”

That decisive moment — as well as a workshop held by a local photojournalism grad Donald Weber in Toronto in 2009, after she moved to the city — was an eye opener and a career turning point for Annie. Since 1995, she has worked and resided in London, Rome, Dubai, Amman, and Belleville, where she enrolled in a local college as a mature student in 2013.

“I did the full two years of the Photojournalism Diploma Program, which was instrumental in the way I have developed my work,” she added.

Annie’s documentary practice investigates sociocultural issues and questions of identity, and seeks to raise awareness on experiences of exile, uprooting, and displacement among marginalized groups.
She added that the program she attended is well-rounded, in the sense that students are also taught to write news stories, and has enabled her to excel at something she really loves.

“They taught us how to do captions, shoot features, write news stories, as well as doing video and photography, which gives us such a well-rounded expertise that we can take and apply to so many things,” she added.

Annie’s photographs have been exhibited in Canada and abroad. Her recent series, Projections—Ghosts of Dubai’s Boom (2010), was featured in a group exhibition in the 2013 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto.

Now that she has developed these skills, including storytelling, Annie doesn’t have to go back and ‘just’ do corporate and private events. She also runs her own event photography business.

“I can work for non-governmental organizations, develop stories, pitch stories to magazines and newspapers, and work for different sectors,” she said. “Studying at [the college]helped me expand my opportunities to go back and work as a freelancer doing different things. It’s not just about news; you can do so much more with these skills.”

Enroling in a college program at age 44 was no picnic for Annie, but it paid off. She first felt isolated, thinking she wouldn’t fit in and be able to get along with her much-younger classmates. She was one of two mature students enrolled in the program that year.

“It was hard,” said Annie. “But then I got to meet everybody and it really felt comfortable. It was great! I decided to move to Belleville after the first semester and live with my classmates, and it was the best decision. It was really nice to have someone my age to be with, as well.”

Just a few days prior to receiving her diploma, Annie was presented with another milestone recognition: the News Photographers Association of Canada’s Student Photographer of the Year award — an unexpected and firm pat on the back for her. In addition to the prestigious award, Annie was awarded third place for Hearts of Feather and an honourable mention for To be a Boy, both in the Single Multimedia category.

“Receiving these awards feels amazing as I wasn’t expecting it. I wasn’t going to go to Vancouver, but my Program Coordinator insisted I should, so I did,” she said. “It gives me a lot of confidence in my work. When I started the program, I was lost photographically; I didn’t know how to take my work further. So this recognition really shows how much I’ve grown as a photographer.”

Annie is spending the summer working as a full-time photographer with The Record, a newspaper based in Kitchener, Ontario. 

Contributed by
Loyalist College
Loyalist College offers a Photojournalism two-year diploma, the only multi-year photojournalism program offered in Canada. For details, visit loyalistcollege.com.

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