McCandless student's photo essay on light pollution wins prize
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens' inaugural Patti Burns Prize for Excellence in Environmental Communication went to North Allegheny Senior High School as a result of a project done by a recent graduate.
Matthew Nemeth, 19, of McCandless, who is starting his freshman year at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, earned the prize for his high school with a photo essay, “The Luminous Footprint,” on urban light pollution. The school will use the $500 award to start an on-site environmental improvement project for youths.
The competition was part of the conservatory's education and research programs, including the Fairchild Challenge, through which local students and teachers raise environmental awareness in their classrooms, schools and communities by participating in standards-based, multidisciplinary eco-challenges throughout the school year.
The prize is made possible through a donation by Charles C. Cohen, chairman of the law firm Cohen & Grigsby and a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, in honor of his late wife, iconic Pittsburgh television anchorwoman and lover of nature Patti Burns.
Nemeth, who did the project during his senior year of high school, said he only recently had learned about light pollution and wanted to use the Fairchild Challenge as a way to bring it to the forefront of environmental issues.
“Everybody does water pollution or air pollution, and I wanted to do something that no one around here had ever really heard of,” he explained.
As one of 112 competing entries, his photo essay was picked because of the artistic nature of his photos, as well as the modernity of the issue he chose, said Molly Steinwald, director of science education at Phipps, in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood.
Not only that, she said, Nemeth seemed to have a complete grasp of urban light pollution as he explained it in his accompanying essay for the competition.
“His images really told a story,” Steinwald noted.
“He had a cool mix of different (shots), and they were highly artistic in quality.”
Through this competition and work such as Nemeth's, Steinwald said, she and other Phipps officials hope to show that art can be yet another avenue to bring awareness to environmental issues. Ultimately, she said, it will give young people the chance to learn about these issues and use their own talents.
Nemeth said he plans to study photojournalism at Point Park and plans to continue photographing landscapes and environmental scenes.
Alex Audia is a contributing writer.