The 2023 Faith, Reason, and World Affairs Symposium, “Creating the Visual Record,” will be chaired by W. Scott Olsen, English professor. The symposium will be held Sept. 19-20, 2023, and will focus on the ways in which the dynamic growth of social media has placed visual documentation and storytelling at the heart of global communication and culture.
Every person with a cellphone is now a photographer or videographer. The symposium will bring together experts in photojournalism and visual culture to explore the issues of ethics, accuracy, bias, entertainment vs. shock value, community standards, new technologies, using images as a way to promote activism, and more. Speakers include Whitney Johnson, director of Visuals and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic; Lauren Walsh, director of the Gallatin Photojournalism Lab at New York University and director of Lost Rolls America, a national archive of photography and memory; and Ami Vitale, National Geographic photographer and founder of Vital Impacts. The concurrent sessions will offer workshops and lectures by area experts. Students will be asked to document the event with images posted to a livestream throughout the day. The symposium will conclude with a panel discussion featuring our guest speakers.

2023 Confirmed Speakers

Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson is the director of visuals and immersive experiences at National Geographic. She leads the visual and immersive staff, overseeing photography, video, Instagram, and podcast teams. She joined National Geographic in 2015 as the magazine’s deputy director of photography.

From 2007 to 2015, Johnson was on the staff of The New Yorker, first as a picture editor and later as the director of photography. Prior to joining the magazine, Johnson worked at the Open Society Foundations, where she was a founding member of the Documentary Photography Project and managed an international grant competition and exhibition for documentary photographers.

Her work has earned numerous awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors, the Society of Publication Designers, and the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webbys). In 2011, Johnson — together with The New Yorker staff photographer Platon and Human Rights Watch — received a Peabody. In 2018, Pictures of the Year International honored the National Geographic photo staff with the Angus McDougall Overall Excellence in Editing Award and recognized Johnson with an Award of Excellence in the Magazine Visual Editor of the Year category. In 2019, National Geographic was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. Johnson received her Bachelor of Arts from Barnard College and continued with graduate work in American studies at Columbia University.

Lauren Walsh

Lauren Walsh’s books include Through the Lens: The Pandemic and Black Lives Matter (2022), Shadow of Memory (co-author, 2021), and Conversations on Conflict Photography (2019). She is co-editor of The Future of Text and Image: Collected Essays on Literary and Visual Conjunctures (2012) and The Millennium Villages Project (2016), and photo editor of Macondo: Memories of the Colombian Conflict (2017). Walsh has published in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Photography and Culture, The Romanic Review, The Journal of American History, The New Republic, and Nomadikon, among others, and has articles in numerous anthologies. In addition to her appearances on CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera, she has appeared on radio programs and in documentary films as an expert on photography. Walsh leads media literacy educational initiatives both in the U.S. and abroad and has led workshops and lectured globally, with an emphasis on ethics and photography. She is heading the media literacy education connected to a new global standard in digital image authenticity and verification (the Content Authenticity Initiative). Walsh is interested in contemporary debates in visual culture. She focuses particularly on photojournalism, with a specialty in conflict photography and peace journalism. She is the director of Lost Rolls America, a national archive of photography and memory, and runs Gallatin’s Photojournalism Lab. In 2017, she was awarded Gallatin‘s Excellence in Teaching Award.

Ami Vitale

Nikon Ambassador and National Geographic photographer, explorer, and filmmaker Ami Vitale has traveled to more than 100 countries, documenting the heartbreaking realities of war to witnessing the inspiring power of individuals making a difference. Her award-winning work illuminates the unsung heroes and communities working to protect wildlife and finding harmony in our natural world.

Vitale has been called one of the most influential photographers of her generation and is the 2022 Conservation International Innovators Fellow. In 2022, she was awarded with prestigious prizes from both the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service and the Lucie Humanitarian Award. InStyle magazine named her one of 50 Badass Women, a series celebrating women who show up, speak up, and get things done. She appeared alongside a group of incredible women including Jane Goodal, Christiane Amanpour, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Vitale received the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding Reporting and is a six-time recipient of World Press Photos.

She is also the founder and executive director of the women-led nonprofit Vital Impacts, which supports humanitarian and conservation efforts around the world. Vital Impacts has created a global grant and mentoring program to foster and support the next generation of environmental storytellers.

Please check back in August for the symposium schedule and list of concurrent session speakers and topics.