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University of Missouri

Alumna Documents Unrest

Laurie Skrivan, BJ ’95, covered events in Ferguson, Missouri.

laurie skrivan ferguson mo

Award-winning St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer Laurie Skrivan, BJ ’95, covered events in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death by a police officer. For the past decade, she has photographed community issues, including lead poisoning in southeastern Missouri, childhood obesity and the plight of Bosnian refugees. Skrivan took this photo Aug. 12, 2014, at a rally in Clayton, Missouri.

MIZZOU magazine asked St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer Laurie Skrivan, BJ ’95, about her work:

Q: Did the attention of the national media on Ferguson, Missouri, change the way you went about documenting that story?

A: I suppose it shouldn’t, but in this case the arrival of the national media in Ferguson dramatically changed the scene. Because the majority of the protesting, both peaceful and the standoff with police, happened along a strip of road in Florissant, the arrival of the national media created a landscape saturated with reporters and photographers. Ambitious reporters were trying to establish their own sources, chasing leads and talking to some of the same residents and business owners in a relatively small space. It seemed, at certain times, there were more media than protesters. As a photographer I still look for intimate storytelling images. However, in these situations, it can be challenging. Not to mention trying to find a clean background. The media became part of the story.

Q: Because this is the community you call home, is it hard to balance your feelings with maintaining objectivity while reporting?

A: St. Louis is my home. I was born and raised here until I left for college and out-of-state internships. I grew up seeing and experiencing the racial divide in St. Louis. My school district participated in the desegregation program, which was most likely the seed for my curiosity. My questions about racial inequality led me take several African-American history classes at Mizzou. One of the first photo projects at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was the last days of the [Darst-Webbe high-rise public housing towers] downtown, which made me aware of some of the residents’ feelings and struggles. These are issues that have been brewing in St. Louis. Ferguson seems to be the tipping point of decades of racial strife in St. Louis. In some ways, Mike Brown’s death is bringing about discussions and voices that have been silenced too long.

Q: You have been at the Post-Dispatch since 1998. What is the benefit of covering the same community for so long?

A: I believe it helps me establish relationships with story subjects. I am familiar with the city and the general issues affecting our residents. Even though we might have had different life experiences, we most likely remember the same events in St. Louis or might even know some of the same people.

Q: What is the biggest lesson in storytelling you learned at Mizzou?

A: Be patient and listen to your subjects. Establishing trust and rapport usually leads to intimate storytelling images.

Q: A lot of your work focuses on social issues. What role do you see your photographs playing in your community?

A: I believe in the power of photojournalism. I hope my images create a visceral reaction in the viewer that makes them feel something, anything. If they do invoke an emotional response — sympathy, empathy, anger, love, hate — I would like to think that could start a discussion that might lead to change or understanding.