Student Profile: Photography drives student to make a difference

Photography Senior Heather McKinney. photo by Karissa Erickson

When Heather McKenney chose a major three years ago, she had little idea where it would lead her. Now, as a senior with a degree in photography and an art history minor in progress, McKenney is receiving big opportunities thanks to her passion for photography.

Last summer, McKenney was accepted into a program sponsored by Canon called the American Park Network, through which she traveled to seven different national parks and gave workshops on photography. She was selected from a pool of about 50 other applicants from around the United States. While the program is advertised in most photography schools, including the prestigious Brooks Institute, “Somehow I managed to get the job,” McKenney said humbly.

McKenney is also a prominent member of MSU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which she joined as a sophomore. In 2011, she received two grants and was accepted to travel with the group to Kenya, where the group works on clean water and sanitation projects in the western district of Khwisero. Her job was to document what the group is doing there, and as McKenney explained, her photos have helped people at home understand what the group is accomplishing.

McKenney has a passion for non-profit organizations and enjoys being a part of EWB. What is special about the group, McKenney said, is “we try to have the projects owned by the people they are built for.” The group works with the local community so when the students leave, the community feels ownership of the new structures.

Now the club’s vice president, McKenney and EWB-MSU are planning for their annual Jubilee fundraiser on Oct. 26. This is the club’s largest fundraiser, which includes a dinner and two auctions. The club has received lots of “love and support from our community for this,” McKenney said.

On top of these activities, McKenney completed her thesis project last semester, entitled “Vulnerable.” It was “different from anything I’d done before,” she described.

For this 10-photo series, she had the opportunity to experiment with alternative processes to create a self-reflective piece. The self portrait series was made through a printmaking process called Platinum Palladium Printing, which entailed painting herself green, photographing herself and working with various techniques to alter the images.

“This project is a literal reflection of the protective layers that I have learned to maintain in order to sustain emotional balance within my life,” McKenney’s artist statement explains. “It depicts the introspective analysis I took to understand what lies beneath the layers.”

“I was finding myself and rebuilding myself,” she said. “It is the best project I have produced since I’ve been in school.”

McKenney enjoys working with alternative or experimental processes, and loves using her hands to create art. She prefers film over digital photography and enjoys spending time in the dark room.

This year, McKenney plans to receive her minor in art history, which she hopes will improve her graduate school prospects. Ultimately, she hopes to teach at a college level and keep people working in the dark room.

To view McKenney’s work, go to