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A Change in Perspective Wins High School Photographer National Award

Virginia Alvino

A senior from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne is headed to Carnegie Hall.

A photograph by Jessica Lineman won a national Scholastic Art and Writing Award – the longest running source of recognition and scholarships for teen arts in the country.  The national awards will be given out Friday in New York.

Past winners include everyone from Sylvia Plath to Andy Warhol to Lena Dunham.

In Fort Wayne, the Scholastic program is run through the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and has grown to be recognized as one of the best in the country.  

WBOI’s Virginia Alvino has the story behind the somewhat macabre image that’s bringing home an American Vision Award.

It’s a striking image – an outdoor funeral. Naturally lit hands hold a little bouquet of yellow tansy flowers.

It's a somewhat familiar scene, except in this case the departed is a squirrel which also has a crabapple in its mouth.

The photograph is titled A Vulture’s Thanksgiving Feast.

So, who’s responsible for the whimsically morbid photo? Carroll High School senior Jessica Lineman. She’s a pretty average teenager.

“I don’t really have much of a life," Lineman says, "but I’m on the computer a lot.”

I sat down with her in a small diner in Churubusco a few months back after her piece was nominated for a regional Scholastic award, and she told me how the photo came about.  It was the result of a pretty basic assignment for her photography class.

“Essentially we were just given 26 different prompts," says Lineman. "There were things like complementary colors, bugs eye view. One of them was a bird’s eye view and I’m sitting there brainstorming.”

It’s clear what her teacher had in mind. Lineman says “the basic idea of it would be you get up high and you look down on something. All it is is a change in perspective.” But Lineman isn’t one to think inside the box. She thought, "hey, what if I did a vulture’s eye view."

So she got down low, put herself into the mind of a vulture, and went looking for her next meal.

Her Mom and Dad had some free time to help her out, so Lineman says “all three of us hopped in the truck and we’re just scanning the road, looking for roadkill.” She said it took some time to find something in tact, so they had to drive down country roads for a while.

“He was in the middle of the lane somewhere," Lineman says, "so we grabbed a shovel out of the back, and started scooping him up”

When they first set off, they were indiscriminate about exactly what type of critter they’d find. Lineman says “we had a plastic bag down and everything, we were prepared for anything up to size of large possum or raccoon.”

Credit Jessica Lineman
A Vulture's Thanksgiving Feast

Lineman told me the rest of the process was pretty straight forward. “We took it back to my house," she said, "and so I’m sitting out there with some rubber gloves, I’m grabbing all these dead leaves, making it a very autumn like scene, pulled some walnuts down from the trees, got the crabapples.”

I confessed to Lineman that I was moved when I first saw her photograph on display at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. It really got me thinking about my own mortality.

But, she told me, as it sometimes goes in the art world – the joke is on the audience.  She didn’t mean for it to be taken so seriously.

“It’s hilarious," she says, "but by the same token I can see where you’re coming from, and I can see why. If you get something profound out of it, you get something deeper, more meaningful, then that’s fabulous. That’s part of a human experience, we make things out of nothing. That’s what we do”

The photo’s garnered a lot of attention. It appeared in the New Yorker Magazine, and out of thousands of entries, Lineman was awarded regional best in show by the scholastic competition.

“I’m not used to this much attention," Lineman says. "It’s been really almost overwhelming. People like me! Yay!”

As far as her future, she’s planning on going to college and studying environmental science – but says she can always keep photography as a hobby.