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October 17, 2017

Award-winning work makes an imprint on College scene.

Susan McSpadden captures the essence of JCCC by looking through her own perceptive lens. Her award-winning images weave compelling stories of students, faculty and even nature on campus.

Five years of excellence

McSpadden just marked her five-year anniversary as JCCC’s exclusive photographer. For the last four years, she has been a member of the University Photographers Association of America (UPAA); during that time she has attended every conference, participated in the Triple Threat Challenge, spoken on a member critique panel, and won seven awards including a coveted Best of Show Award and two awards for publications.

She also won a Libris Iconic Images Award last year. Her photo of JCCC student Jacqueline Bitendelo reading the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony in Yardley Hall in the spring of 2016 was one of only 16 photos chosen from nearly 200 submissions by university and professional photographers.

Competitive at the highest level

UPAA, primarily comprising university photographers, hosts image competitions among its members with the results tallied each month. McSpadden ended the 2016-17 academic year as the top community college photographer in the organization; she also ranked fourth among female photographers and in the top 25 overall.

The ability to discern which image will grab the viewer on an emotional level is what gives her a competitive edge, she said. A self-described extroverted introvert, she strives to give the College a variety of images that represent each department, student life and an ever-changing slate of events. She looks for compelling and relatable ways to present images that are inviting, beautiful and sometimes haunting, to “suck viewers into the scene.”

“Being able to separate our experience creating the images from the experience of those viewing them is the first challenge in good photo editing,” McSpadden said. “It’s important to edit from the point of view of your audience.”

College stories

McSpadden takes her job seriously when given assignments to document JCCC history and showcase the institution. She aims to convey how the College is active, moving, changing and progressing.

“College photographers are charged to tell stories with pictures in a way that will promote higher enrollment and retention,” she said. “I want viewers to see the experiences and interactions and think to themselves, ‘I think I could do that, too. Or, ‘It looks like they have fun there. I think I want to attend that college.’ Not just, ‘What a pretty campus.’”

Sometimes the best image is obvious. It’s that moment when the College president bursts out in an unexpected, hearty laugh with a group of students, McSpadden reflects. It’s the excitement of lab partners when the chemistry experiment works. It’s the look of unmistakable pride when a graduate receives her diploma.

“The tougher ones involve more attention to framing, separation, mood, balance, nuances of body language and emotion,” she said.

Memories and musings

McSpadden's earliest memory of knowing she wanted to be a professional photographer stems from summers at her grandparents’ house poring over their old issues of National Geographic.

“The images were so fascinating and striking; I felt like I knew the story without reading the words. I loved the feeling of being transported to foreign lands just by looking at the images,” she said. “I could connect and relate to the people in the photographs because of the emotions captured and the tone set by the lighting and composition.”

Prior to her tenure as JCCC’s photographer, McSpadden freelanced in the Kansas City area for 10 years after almost a decade as a photojournalist and photo editor with The Kansas City Star.

A future in photography?

Want to take a shot at a photography class for college credit, maybe dig into the details of digital photography or learn the secrets of your phone camera? Check out these credit classes or take a shorter Continuing Education class, just for fun.