Winning Photographer

Spike Johnson’s (’11 M.J.) pictures of a Texas militia survivalist group earned him first prize in the International Picture Story category in the 2011 College Photographer of the Year competition. The category honors a series of photographs taken by a student in a country that is not his native country.

Johnson, who is from England, studied at the Mayborn School of Journalism on the recommendation of a friend. He says the Mayborn’s financial support allowed him to concentrate on the project, and Thorne Anderson, assistant professor of journalism, helped him wrestle the issue into a coherent visual story.

“He pushed me to look for emotional and intimate details beneath the surface of this masculine world,” Johnson says.

Johnson is working on projects — including a story in Foreign Policy magazine — in London and in France related to religious and racial integration. He plans to move to Asia or another area of the world in the fall to explore more stories.

“The award has been so important for my career,” Johnson says. “It’s acted as a huge icebreaker when approaching editors within the industry, and has added some validity to my portfolio and practice. Since this award, editors have taken notice of my current work and future pitches and are taking me a little more seriously.”

Anderson notes that Johnson worked on the project by embedding himself in the group, even going through some of the defense training.

“For a long project like this, there is a risk that you can get burned out by pouring your heart into the photography and reporting, leaving yourself little energy for all the hard work it takes to ultimately get the work seen,” Anderson says.

“Spike followed through, and continues to follow through.”

Visit to see Johnson’s award-winning series of photos.