55th annual POY Competition
"A hallmark of my work," Nancy Andrews says, "is that I go into situations seen by others as average, and I find something of interest. The term used around the office is that I 'make chicken salad out of chicken [droppings]."
Andrews, 34, took the top honor in the 1998 Newspaper Photographer of the Year contest, based on a portfolio that draws out the visual beauty in mundane moments. Whether picturing a sniffing toddler, an office holiday party or a group of elderly women walking slowly across a room, Andrews's photographs capture the extraordinary in everyday vignettes.
"I believe a lot of stereotypes are visual stereotypes," Andrews says. "In my own community, as a gay person, photographers have often looked for the most arresting pictures. The most arresting are valid it's valid to show people dying or dressed in drag at a gay pride parade but if these are the only pictures used to represent the gay community, then it's an inaccurate picture of the whole community.
"By being aware of how visual images are used to show my own community," she says, "that has made me aware of how important it is to show the average people in other communities."
The portfolios that won Andrews the top POY prize show a cross-section of her work. Her Father's Day feature, for example, tells "a very simple pictures story": the tale of the relationship between a father, Clyde Jackson, and his 5-year-old-daughter, Tiffany.
Her "Felines" feature depicts life in the home of a woman who has 115 cats. When the Post's photo desk received the assignment, Andrews says, "I got on my knees and begged for the story." She took her cameras to the house and spent the night among the furry horde. "There were 12 cats lying on top of me," she says. "The interesting thing is and you don't really think about this but you can really hear them. You can hear the breathing and purring all over the house." And, yes, she says, "the house smells like you think it would."
After the Virginia Military Institute admitted its first female cadets, Andrews was there to record their first week of classes in August 1997. She had been covering VMI since 1989. "It was very difficult to photograph," Andrews says. "Once the women's heads were shaved, it was very difficult to tell them apart from the men."
In Bosnia, Andrews chronicled the fragile emergence of hope in a land shattered by violence. "I was just struck by the joy people took in simple things," Andrews says. "The kind of things we take for granted. My favorite photo is of the woman on the balcony hanging laundry she is so grateful to have this apartment, one where any American would just go, 'Ugh! I'm not living there!'"
Along a 10-mile stretch of road that 31 churches call home along New Hampshire Avenue in Montgomery County, Md., Andrews drew a photographic portrait of the sacred places in today's America. "Some called it the 'highway to heaven,'" Andrews recalls. "Some called it 'religious row.' It was hard to photograph, because it can overwhelm you with its size. I had to figure out how to illustrate the idea of all these churches being on one stretch of road."
Andrews, who has been with The Post since 1990, is the author and photographer of the book "Family: A Portrait of Gay and Lesbian America" (HarperCollins, 1994). The Corcoran Gallery of Art put up a solo exhibition of her work in conjunction with the book's release. Her second book, "Partial View: An Alzheimer's Journal," is a collaboration with Alzheimer's sufferer Cary S. Henderson. It is scheduled to be published by Southern Methodist University Press in November 1998.