She spent months at the bedside of a homeless Calgary woman, watching as she slowly died of cancer. She captured the life-changing wins and gruelling losses of Paralympians in Brazil. She’s immortalized the ordinary, photographing her son as he grew up.
The most intimate moments of lives near and far, she was there, documenting it all.
Now, it’s no surprise that long-time Calgary photographer Leah Hennel has been nominated for 2016 Photojournalist of the Year by the News Photographers Association of Canada.
“I still can’t believe it,” Hennel said. “To be nominated for Photojournalist of the Year for the first time, I was blown away. I’m always excited to be recognized for my work.”
Hennel, 38, began her first, serious love affair with a camera during a high school work experience course at the Calgary Sun. After graduating from SAIT’s photojournalism program in 1998, Hennel landed herself a full-time position at the Calgary Herald just two years later.
Between reporting and snapping hundreds of shots at the local level in Calgary, Hennel managed to squeeze in trips to Egypt, Sudan, Moscow, Ethiopia, Amsterdam (the list goes on…) — anywhere and everywhere a plane and a camera could take her.
“I love meeting people and listening to their life stories,” she said. “I’m privileged to be able to photograph a wide variety of subjects in a wide variety of locations and situations — it’s the best part of the job.”
Now up for Photojournalist of the Year, it’s clear by looking at Hennel’s extensive portfolio that she’s had a busy year. A fascination with the simplicities of rural, ranch life, Hennel’s photos have snared rodeo dangers (one especially difficult photo to view depicts a man getting stomped on after being bucked off his horse) and cowboy life in black and white.
As of late, Hennel said one of her favourite shoots this year was with a group of Syrian families when they first arrived in Canada from war-torn countries.
“They welcomed me into their lives at a very difficult time for them,” Hennel said. “In a lot of cases, without the subjects’ willingness to allow a photographer into their lives, some of these photos would have never been taken.”
Celebrating her nomination with her husband, fellow sports writer Scott Cruickshank, and her son Hunter, fans can rejoice knowing there’s no shortage of Hennel originals to come.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but I’m fortunate to make a living doing what I love.”