Preston Gannaway, 2019 Spring T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor
Preston Gannaway, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, was a photojournalist at the Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor when, for more than a year, she undertook the documentary project “Remember Me,” which the Pulitzer committee described as an intimate chronicle of a family coping with a parent’s terminal illness.
In addition to working at the Monitor, Gannaway was subsequently a staff photographer at the Rocky Mountain News and the Virginian-Pilot. She is at present a freelance documentary and fine arts photographer based in Oakland, California. Her book, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” about the changing character of a seaside neighborhood in Virginia, was released in 2014. Gannaway’s work has been exhibited across the United States and internationally and is a part of the permanent exhibits at museums and schools in several locations. She, too, will advise the students at the Montana Kaimin. Her class will focus on intimacy and long-form journalism, examining how to form relationships that lead to sensitive and in-depth pieces and build networks that foster bringing those pieces to publication.
I had the great fortune of being a Pollner professor in 2019. Though I’d argue the “spring” semester is a total misnomer (my time there was one of the coldest stretches in Montana history), I would do it again in a heartbeat (and just vow to wear more layers.)
I applied mostly because I was curious about teaching. I had never taught a course before. I was used to doing periodic public lectures and teaching a few workshops a year, but the first few weeks of class I felt totally out of my element. I was unsure and uneasy. But by the end of the semester, I was surprised at how natural it had become. I was invigorated by the students and the work we were doing together.
My class of 13 ranged from sophomores to graduate students. At some point in the semester I realized the irony in teaching a class on intimacy and long-form documentary photography: my effectiveness as a teacher was dependent on how well I could get to know the students individually. Building relationships with them was paramount. This wasn’t a three day sprint, but a fifteen week marathon.
The University of Montana and the Pollner program couldn’t have set me up better. Missoula is a hidden gem of a city if there ever was one and Montana is one of the most inspiring places a journalist can be. I was surrounded by top-notch faculty who were very giving of their time and expertise.
But most of all, I loved the singular focus that came with the job: I was there for the students. My partner had to stay back in San Francisco for her own full-time journalism job, so I made the temporary relocation to Missoula on my own. I could spend as much time as necessary on my course and with the Kaimin staff. Since I was freed from my usual hustle as an independent photographer, I was also able to focus on my own projects. It almost felt like an artist residency.
As you’ll read from every other former Pollner, we were brought in to teach but we were the ones who learned the most. And it’s true. I grew from every part of the experience — from the earliest research and construction of the syllabus, to our lively classroom discussions, to getting an insider’s view of academia. I would have stayed if they’d let me!