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American Photography Open 2020: Meet Judge Maureen Cavanagh

By David Schonauer   Thursday August 6, 2020


Sometimes dreams comes true.

As a kid, Maureen Cavanagh wanted to work at Sports Illustrated. “I am originally from Chicago, grew up in Connecticut, went to Syracuse University and Columbia University, and I have always loved sports photography,” she says. Her first full-time job in photojournalism was, indeed, at Sports Illustrated. 

I got to spend hours in the Time/Life photo archive, where I pored over old negatives of Mickey Mantle and Muhammad Ali by photographers Howard Bingham, Hy Peskin, John Dominis. I was in heaven,” she adds. “As my career as a photo editor grew, I was able to meet and work alongside photographers I always admired — Heinz Kluetmeier, Walter Iooss Jr., Jeffery Salter, Lynn Johnson … the list goes on.”

Cavanagh has worked at newspapers, magazines and in book publishing, and in 2014 she helped New York Yankee great Derek Jeter launch The Players' Tribune, a sports-media platform that helps athletes tell their stories in their own words.  “As the Creative Director, I put together the photo and multimedia department, where I continued to work with some of the top professionals in the sports photography industry, including Nate Gordon, Taylor Baucom, and Jed Jacobsohn,” she notes.

Cavanagh and Derek Jeter, Photo by Sam Maller

Cavanagh is also the president of WOMEN IN SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY, an organization that promotes community and mentorship for female photographers. On top of all that, she is helping to judge the American Photographer 2020 contest, bringing her keen visual eye — honed by looking at the work of all those renown photographers — to the job.

“Sports photography is sometimes overlooked as a form of 'mainstream' photojournalism or artistic photography, but in addition to the straight storytelling pictures of a sporting event you can find some really gorgeous, artistic imagery,” she notes. “In portraits, there is the raw emotion and determination in the eyes of an athlete. And there are stunning graphic shots — the overhead photo of a track meet, or the way the light dapples through the stands at a baseball game and hits the pitcher on the mound as he throws. When you get those pictures that give you goosebumps, it makes it all worth it.”

Photo by Steven Freeman

What might she be looking for in the contest’s entries? “I always feel that the best images show an emotional connection between the photographer and what they are covering,” she says. “When someone truly believes in the importance of telling a story it comes through in their work, so I always give the advice to photographers to cover what they love or what they feel strongly needs to be shown to the world.”

“I always know a picture is a winner when I say to myself ‘Wow, that picture is awesome, I wish I had taken it,’” she adds. “It's the images that stand out and you can't get out of your head, you keep coming back to it as you scroll through a collection of pictures.”

Get your entries to the contest ready now — the deadline is August 31. Go here for more details, and go here to find out about this year’s prizes from our partners.
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Cavanaugh, center

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