Multimedia journalist creates awareness through works

Multimedia journalist creates awareness through works

A s a young child, Jessie Parks, ’08, knew she wanted to be an artist. Since that time, she never looked back or questioned her decision to major in that field.

“I loved my time at Georgia College,” she said. “The work I did for my senior capstone was my favorite project, which was a blend of photography and drawing.”

At the time, Parks’ mother was sick with a brain tumor.

“The downward spiral that led to my mom’s permanent paralysis from the waist down began the same year I took my first photography class,” she said, admitting she had no interest in photography. “We were just required to take a class outside our discipline. But, I became immediately intrigued with how the camera could document my mother's life and the story of what my family was going through.”

She continued photographing through college and took all the digital photography classes offered. Her mother's story became her final project at Georgia College.

Parks’ favorite teacher was the late Dr. Tina Yarborough, professor of art history. Yarborough informed Parks how powerful she felt her pictures were depicting the struggles she and her family endured as her mother's health deteriorated.

Yarborough was familiar with Parks’ senior capstone project while she worked on it.

“After the gallery opening, I remember Dr. Yarborough telling me how much it meant to her,” she said. “That affected me because I looked up to her.”

Parks was living in Iraq in 2016 and 2017 when she received a text about Yarborough passing away.

“I was really sad to have not seen her before her passing,” Parks said. “I think the biggest thing was that she always made me feel like my work and opinion made a valuable contribution to discussions in and out of class.”

Parks loved going by Yarborough’s office to talk, because she was always so lively and welcoming.

“Her affirmation played a role in my work, even after graduation,” Parks said. 

Parks with then President of Kurdistan Masoud Bargain (center) and Mayor Kak Krmanj of Soran at Soran University's soccer stadium eight days before Iraqi Kurdistan's vote to negotiate independence from Iraq.
Parks with then President of Kurdistan Masoud Bargain (center) and Mayor Kak Krmanj of Soran at Soran University's soccer stadium eight days before Iraqi Kurdistan's vote to negotiate independence from Iraq.

“Dr. Yarborough always made me think deeply about things, even if we disagreed,” she said. “She asked a lot of questions. You take memories of people like her with you through the years.”

She recalled other professors from Georgia College she’ll likewise not forget, like photography Professor Emily Gomez and Patrick Holbrook.

Since Georgia College, Parks was worked as a freelance multimedia journalist, adding video and audio to her skillset.

“Having different tools to tell stories enables you to reach the widest audience and cross various platforms,” she said. “Some people are more willing to engage a story told in a quick photo caption while others prefer a long-form film.”

Parks is drawn to social issues. Much of her work in recent years has focused on immigration, migration and refugees in America and the Middle East. 

Parks photographs men gathered inside a home at the Azadi Syrian Refugee Camp in the Rawanduz region of Northern Iraq. (June 28, 2017)
Parks photographs men gathered inside a home at the Azadi Syrian Refugee Camp in the Rawanduz region of Northern Iraq. (June 28, 2017)

“Decrying injustices will always play a role in my work,” she said. “Chronicling the forcibly displaced matters, because mass migrations unjustly impact the world’s poorest and the uprooted. The wealthiest nations, particularly America, are confronted with over 200 years of systemic racism and over-prosecution compounded by politically motivated aggression against not only their safety but value as human beings.”

Parks’ “American Journey’s” project took her and journalist Katy Long through 21 states, photographing and telling stories of more than 100 migrants, locals, academics and historians. Their work has been featured in The Guardian and the Overseas Development Institute in London.

Parks’ work captures her subjects’ lives and provides a window into their situation in a way that makes them relatable. She sees them as fellow human beings. 

“Decrying injustices will always play a role in my work. Chronicling the forcibly displaced matters, because mass migrations unjustly impact the world’s poorest and the uprooted. The wealthiest nations, particularly America, are confronted with over 200 years of systemic racism and over-prosecution compounded by politically motivated aggression against not only their safety but value as human beings.”
– Jessie Parks

“The power of the camera is it can usher viewers into the lives of people in a way that is not possible through text,” she said. “In my early days at Georgia College, I learned the camera could give a voice to the suffering or unheard.”

She’s been doing that ever since.

“Which is why I moved to northern Iraq in the middle of the Syrian crisis,” said Parks. “I went there to help the west understand what’s going on there and help bring aid to those in need.”

Currently, Parks lives in Washington, DC. Her time is spent on multimedia journalism, pursuing an MA in New Media Photojournalism from the Cochran School of the Arts & Design at George Washington University. Her projected graduation is May 2022.

“I’m tapping the brakes on the freelance world to put my work under scrutiny and push myself with collaborative projects,” she said. “There's a creative buzz that happens in environments like these, especially in DC.”

Parks’ time at Georgia College and as a freelance multimedia journalist has shown her the power of storytelling with the camera.

“I’m not interested in frontline war stories alone, but the daily grind—the very human aspect of life that spans all cultures, even in a war zone,” she said. “Everyone wants their children to get a good education. Everyone in the world wakes up ready for a morning coffee or tea. We just aren’t all that different at the core.”

She feels that sometimes the stories needed out of difficult places answer questions of how people get on with life.

“Often, I am asked, ‘Do those people still have hope?’”

She feels it’s a joy to share how much they really do.

Offering hope amid trying circumstances has always intrigued Parks.

“I want the people in front of my camera to be heard,” she said. “I think that’s valuable, because even though I am the storyteller, none of it is actually about me at all.”

Visit Parks' website or Instagram account to learn more about her creative works.