Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues

The Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues creates a space for a socially engaged photographer to produce a compelling and dynamic body of work highlighting human rights and social issues.

Columbia College Chicago an institution with Chicago roots dating back more than 120 years facilitates the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues. The fellowship is a unique public commitment to socially engaged art, combining Columbia's dedication to academic excellence, and developing authentic, creative voices with socially involved artists and the communities they engage.

How does the Fellowship work?

The fellows play a critical link between art practice, their chosen community partners, and Columbia College Chicago. Collectively we seek out opportunities where the fellows’ art practice elevates culture, values, and philosophy of care in action. The fellows’ artistic practice unfolds through a variety of meaningful, co-created activities for engagement and learning—activities that are funded by the fellowship allow participants, community partners and the artists to benefit throughout the duration of the fellowship and culminates in a final public presentation.

Orientation and immersion into the selected community is key, so the fellows spend a substantial amount of time within the community listening, and learning. The fellows identify opportunities where they focus and engage others in collaborative practice to meet the larger goal of advancing awareness of social issues and community aspirations.

About Diane Dammeyer

Diane Dammeyer discovered her passion for socially engaged photography when she was a student at Columbia College Chicago, not long after retiring from a successful career in real estate. At the same time that she was taking classes, she was also serving on the board of Heartland Alliance. "I needed to learn a lot about the programs at Heartland, so I decided to go around and photograph them and include them in my assignments," said Dammeyer. Shortly thereafter, Dammeyer took her camera on the road, traveling internationally with Heartland Alliance to document the work they did in communities all over the globe.

It was this transformative life experience that made Dammeyer want to give back and fund a photography fellowship centered on social issues. "I just think it was a wonderful gift to me, to go to Columbia and to have my eyes opened," she said. Her hope is that the fellowship provides an opportunity for a photographer to elevate our collective awareness of social, economic, and cultural issues and to inspire positive social changes.

Past Diane Dammeyer Fellowship Recipients

Beginning with a collaboration between Columbia College Chicago and leading global anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance from 2015 to 2020, and now working with other Chicago community organizations including Centro Romero, the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues creates a space for a socially engaged creatives to produce a compelling and dynamic body of work highlighting human rights and social issues.

  • 2023-2024 Fellows: Oscar B. Castillo and Wil Sands

    Oscar Castillo is a documentary photographer, multimedia artist and educator born in Caracas, Venezuela. His work focuses on social subjects related to youth, identity, migration, the cycles of political rupture and violence and the initiatives for inclusion and community empowerment. His work has appeared in TIME Magazine, The New Yorker, NYT, Le Monde and The Wall Street Journal. He has exhibited internationally and received awards, grants, and fellowships from the Eugene Smith Grant, Magnum Foundation, Diane Dammeyer Foundation, Onassis Foundation, World Press Photo, Aperture / Paris Photo, Tim Hetherington Visionary Award among others. His photobook “Esos Que Saben” has been recognized by Mention of Honor at PhotoEspaña 2023, Shortlist Aperture / Paris Photo 2022, 20 Photobooks of the Year 2022 by TIME Magazine and is part of the photobook collection at the Museum of Modern Art.

    Wil Sands is a journalist and documentary photographer based in Mexico City, Mexico. As a journalist Wil is guided by the belief that journalism’s role is to “hold truth(s) to power”. As a photographer Wil searches for stories that add nuance and complexity to public discourse. His work seeks to challenge reductionist narratives that maintain the status quo. Co-founder of the Fractures Collective, Wil's reporting has appeared in major publications like The Washington Post, Wired Magazine and Harper's among many others.

    In 2023, migrant crossings at the U.S. southern border reached an all-time high. Hundreds of thousands of migrants, primarily from South and Central America, but increasingly from across the globe, journeyed north, driven by political upheaval, economic insecurity, climate breakdown, and violence in their home countries. For many migrants, the journey takes them across the Darién Gap, traversing thousands of miles, crossing multiple international borders, risking their lives for the promise of a better life. This historic movement of people is a well-documented, global phenomenon that has been accompanied by an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment and the tightening of immigration policy. Dissatisfied with the ways in which international media coverage flattens the immigrant experience, photojournalists Oscar Castillo and Wil Sands, began accompanying migrants from Venezuela to the U.S. in the fall of 2022.

    Borders Cruzadas critiques photographic, journalistic, and documentary traditions in installations that combine photographs, objects Castillo and Sands gather or are gifted by migrant collaborators, with materials produced in collaborative photo workshops. For Castillo and Sands, their installations form a bulwark against the ability of decontextualized images to feed anti-immigrant sentiment and policy. In response, Borders Cruzadas insists upon visualizing the multifaceted realities of the immigrant experience by expanding the photographic field.

    Oscar and Wil discuss their project with Columbia photography students

    Oscar and Wil discuss their project with Columbia photography students.
  • 2022-2023 Fellow: Dylan Yarbrough

    Dylan Yarbrough is Chicago based artist, photographer, and educator. He currently teaches photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College Chicago. Dylan has been recognized with awards such as the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues, Stuart Abelson Research Fellowship, and CPS Lives Artist Fellowship. His artwork is the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection, Center for Creative Photography, CPS Lives Collection, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and various private collections. Dylan's artwork has exhibited at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art, Historic Arkansas Museum, Center for Creative Photography, Heaven Gallery, and Glass Curtain Gallery, among others.

    I Am An Eclipse is a socially engaged art project led by photographer Dylan Yarbrough and poet Marcela Ossa in conjunction with Centro Romero, a long-standing nonprofit organization supporting the immigrant and refugee community of Chicago. In the creation of this work, members of the Centro Romero community were prompted to write a short composition of creative nonfiction and to sit for a portrait. The resulting artwork is presented as diptychs, with the participant’s written composition displayed on the left panel and a silhouette portrait on the right panel. The written pieces encompass a range of styles, including poetry, short stories, testimonials, and reflections centered on the theme of “Eclipse.” The photographs, captured from a side view, utilize striking lighting to create a silhouette effect. The silhouette acts as an eclipse, simultaneously revealing and concealing the identity of the subject. The artwork invites viewers to reflect on themes of immigration, community, the power of testimony, and the forces of light and dark.

    It’s A Free Country, Chicago, 2023, Panel B.

    It’s A Free Country, Chicago, 2023, Panel B. Courtesy of the artist.
  • 2021-2022 Fellow: Melissa Ann Pinney

    Melissa Ann Pinney, who is a Columbia alum and part-time faculty member, is well known for colorful documentary style images of ordinary situations showing the social construction of American female identity. She has work included in the permanent collections of museums including The Art Institute of Chicago, J. Paul Getty Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Modern Art, among others. Pinney has exhibited her work nationally and internationally and has received numerous grants from the Illinois Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    In Their Own Light: Photographs from Chicago Public Schools is the story of young people and their exploration of identity emerging through friendships, school traditions, and mourning rituals. Students define themselves, having grown up as heirs to the Black Lives Matter movement, #MeToo and an insistence on gender fluidity. My five-year artist residency in Chicago Public Schools, began in a largely White elementary school and expanded to several predominately Black and Latinx high schools. When I began this work in 2018, I had no idea of what was to come. The project evolved and shifted as I found new opportunities to deepen connections with students even through an ongoing global pandemic, escalating racial and gender inequities and continuing gun violence.

    Track Team, Ogden International High School 2021

    “Track Team, Ogden International High School” 2021; Courtesy of the artist.
  • 2019-2021 Fellow: Jonathan Michael Castillo

    Jonathan Michael Castillo is a visual artist, photographer and educator based in Chicago. He is the 2019-2021 recipient of the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues. Jonathan was included in the 2021 Hyde Park Art Center's Ground Floor Biennial in Chicago and was a finalist for the WMA Commission in Hong Kong. His work has been featured with The New Yorker, Wired, CBS: Los Angeles, and Brazil's G1 Globo. He has appeared on the radio to discuss his photography on the BBC's “World Update” and local Los Angeles public radio programs KPCC and KCRW. Jonathan was recently commissioned to create a large-scale permanent installation of his work at O’Hare International Airport as part of the new Terminal 5expansion project. Exhibitions include those at Photo LA2020, the Center for Creative Photography, Aperture Gallery, House of Lucie, Filter Photo Gallery, Ralph Arnold Gallery and the California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks. Jonathan is represented by Samuel Maenhoudt Gallery in Belgium. His education includes a BFA from California State University Long Beach and MFA from Columbia College Chicago.

    Unaccompanied, features new work by Jonathan Michael Castillo created in Chicago and funded by the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues. This work was made across several youth shelters run by leading global human rights organization Heartland Alliance, that care for unaccompanied children after they have arrived in the United States without their parents. The photographic exhibition is the culmination of two years of involvement with Heartland programs that care for this uniquely vulnerable population.

    Unaccompanied installation view 202

    Unaccompanied installation view 202, Courtesy of the artist.
  • 2018-2019 Fellow: Sasha Phyars-Burgess

    Sasha Phyars-Burgess was born in Brooklyn, New York to Trinidadian parents and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She received a BA in photography from Bard College and an MFA from Cornell University. Her photographs employ a documentary style approach in order to view the domestic, the unsupervised, and the ordinary in an effort to explore the varied social, economic, and political realities of the African diaspora.

    UNTITLED AND YET TO BE DETERMINED, 41.8949° N, 87.7654° W (AUSTIN) grapples with the effects of disinvestment through redlining on the Austin neighborhood in Chicago. The exhibition is a collaborative effort told through photographs, video, text, and audio, resulting from time spent with two Heartland Alliance programs, the READI program and Mae Suites, as well as with other members of the Austin community. Heartland Alliance, one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, works in communities in the U.S. and abroad to serve those who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety. Through this exhibition, Phyars-Burgess raises more questions than answers, specifically, how do people make their lives in communities that have been segregated, neglected and ignored? The exhibition also includes a non-narrative documentary of the making of a film by READI participants.

    person wearing black coat and hat sittign at desk while looking directly into camera

    From the series UNTITLED AND YET TO BE DETERMINED, 41.8949° N, 87.7654° W (AUSTIN). Courtesy of the artist.
  • 2017-2018 Fellow: Anahid Ghorbani

    Anahid Ghorbani received her MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2017 and her BA in 2012 from Tehran University of Art in Iran. Engaged with creating site-specific installations that utilize photography and video, her goal is to engage, inform and invite dialogue around human rights. She has been included in exhibitions at the Tehran University of Art Gallery (2010, 2012), the Caroun Art Gallery, Vancouver (2014), The Center for Fine Art Photography, Colorado (2017) among others.

    The Edge of Shadows, explores issues of oppression, restriction of rights, and the contradictory fears of visibility and invisibility faced by immigrants and refugees. Ghorbani makes the invisible visible concerning this marginalized group, showcasing collaborative art she created with participants at Heartland Alliance, one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, working in communities in the U.S. and abroad to serve those who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety.

    Moving beyond being solely an observer, Ghorbani creates metaphors that speak to the heart of the dehumanization refugees and immigrants experience. She uses black as a visual metaphor for the suppression of the individual, using the absence of light as an indicator of the inability of refugees and immigrants to be recognized as human beings, with hopes, dreams, and rights. She invites her audience into layers of meaning by using poetic visual language to create forums for open discussion around these issues, with the goal of shining a light on the very real struggles these people engage with on a daily basis. She invites the viewer to not just understand the outrage, but to also inspire people to begin to think in new, more inclusive ways, inspired to reach across divides that now separate us.

    The Edge of Shadows Exhibition – Filter Gallery 2018

    The Edge of Shadows Exhibition – Filter Gallery 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
  • 2016-2017 Fellow: Ervin A Johnson

    Ervin A. Johnson was born and raised in Chicago. After graduating from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign with a bachelor's in Rhetoric he began work on his second bachelor's at Columbia College Chicago in photography and completed his MFA in photography at Savannah College of Art and Design. Ervin utilizes photo-based mixed media to reimagine his cultural and racial identity via photography and video. In his body of work, #InHonor, Ervin pays homage to the lives lost to police brutality and racism through a series of portraits (photo-based mixed media) created to honor Blackness. More specifically, it speaks to the racial violence and discrimination currently occurring across America, particularly in the form of police brutality. The faces in these portraits reference validation, representing not only individuals but in a deeper way the face of humanity.

    During the year of the fellowship, Ervin’s spent time in Englewood with Heartland Alliance staff and participants, where his #InHonor series evolved into a new iteration, #Monolith, which challenged the pre-conceived notion of Blackness as uniform, inflexible, and one-dimensional by constructing an image with elements from different portraits. The resulting work speaks to the complexity of identity and confronts the notion that Blackness is in and of itself can be articulated or understood superficially. His culminating exhibition at Gallery 19 featured an artist talk and samples of this work.

    Ervin A Johnson sitting among large paintings

    Fellow: Ervin A Johnson
  • 2015-2016 Fellow: Fereshteh Toosi

    The first recipient of the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship was local artist Fereshteh Toosi. Fereshteh describes herself as an activist-learner and is well established as a socially engaged artist. Her projects range from a food heritage and urban gardens project to a collaboration with artists at Stateville Prison through the Prison and Neighborhood Art Project. She has worked with seniors and youth on a GARLIC & GREENS project to document the stories of African Americans whose roots are in the southern United States, showcasing the culture and food traditions of families who traveled north during the Great Migration. Rather than telling the stories of the participants with whom she engages, she works to facilitate the individual’s own expression of their struggles and successes in life. As a social practice artist, her goal is to subvert the power of photography in social situations through a participatory, collaborative process with others.

    Fereshteh Toosi spent her year building relationships with the residents of Leland Apartments, an affordable housing building run by Heartland Alliance in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. She led workshops with residents, sharing with them accessible photographic techniques such as scannergrams, thermal portraits, direct animation and chemigrams. Her culminating work was a presentation at the Bezazian Branch of the Chicago Public Library in Uptown, which included a screening of collaborative animation by Leland Apartments residents as well as an expanded cinema piece by Toosi that incorporates live music and manipulation of archival educational films.

    Fellow Fereshteh Toosi

    Fellow: Fereshteh Toosi