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Her Award-Winning Photos Capture Humanity

February 07, 2018
By Deb Daley

Robert Frank, one of the most famous American photographers once said, “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.”

At a young age, Calla Kessler ’14 has captured moments of humanity and has had outstanding success making award-winning photographs while still in college.  Although she may have inherited some of her talent-- her father is an architectural and freelance photographer-- she has always loved to take pictures.  She credits Mercy for giving her a strong foundation for success by exposing her to a student body reflective of the real world, encouraging her to express herself and pushing her to go above and beyond.

“At Mercy teachers believe in you.  You learn confidence, and that helps you approach life positively outside the walls of the school,” she said.

While at Mercy she was President of the Student Council, a member of National Honor Society, a soccer player and the recipient of an American History Award from the Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society.

She received a Regents Scholarship to the University of Nebraska - Lincoln (UNL) and got involved in photojournalism.  One of her class projects reported on the situation in Whiteclay, Nebraska. The project, “The Wounds of Whiteclay: Nebraska's Shameful Legacy," delved into the issues and impact of alcohol sales in the small town of White Clay.  The project and its students won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Journalism grand prize. It was the first time in the event's 49-year history that the top prize went to a college group.

Calla has also received other awards.  They include an award of excellence in the sports feature competition from the 71st College Photographer of the Year competition, an invitation to the 4th Annual New York Times Portfolio Review in 2016 and first place awardee in the 2017 Hearst National Photojournalism Championship.

Along with that success came other opportunities. She has interned at the Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald, runs the social media accounts of a National Geographic photographer, and has secured a photo internship for two consecutive summers at the prestigious Washington Post. She has covered the White House, taking photos of President Trump and political events; she photographed a portrait of The Edge, a musician from U2; the Kentucky Derby; and the white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, where she was even pepper sprayed.

“Mercy provided me the tools to succeed not only academically, but socially and to approach situations empathetically,” she added. I entered college with AP credits I earned at Mercy, which will allow me to graduate in three and half years, taking a semester off to intern in Florida without any hiccups or time restraints,” she said.

This fall, she had an internship at the Palm Beach Post and was able to photograph daily news and work on a long-term project to benefit families in need throughout the county. 

This spring, she will to finish her last semester of school, then move back to D.C. to start her second summer with The Washington Post.

When in town, Calla makes time to return to the hallowed halls of Mercy. Her mother, Cathy Kessler is an English teacher here.  She recently spoke to the Convergence with Digital Media classes about her photojournalism career, hoping to give back to the school that taught her so many important lessons.

“I remind students that practice does make perfect and to always go beyond what’s expected.  That life lesson, taught to me by Mercy teachers, has helped me immensely,” she added.

The Mercy community can’t wait to see the images she creates along her journey.