Two years ago, Thomas Patterson was working long hours as a staff photographer at the Statesman Journal in Salem, slogging through the daily newspaper diet of tight deadlines and rapid-fire content.
“Sometimes I was doing high school sports three nights a week, and I was ready for greener pastures,” said Patterson, a multimedia journalism master’s student at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s (SOJC).
“One reason I looked at graduate school was that I wanted to round out my toolbox and build different skill sets.”
Patterson joined the SOJC’s Multimedia Journalism program in 2014, and less than a year later he accepted a position as content asset specialist for Mercy Corps, where he directs photography for the nonprofit’s operations around the world. Patterson now works out of the Mercy Corps’ global headquarters in downtown Portland — just across the street from the UO’s White Stag building, where he’s finishing the final class of his master’s degree.
“This morning I was editing photographs from Jordan, Turkey, Greece and Iraq, as well as photos I shot of the Action Center exhibit that I helped curate,” Patterson said. “I’m also building the archive for all of Mercy Corps’ source documents, photographs — the whole enchilada. My job has moved beyond just photography.”
Mercy Corps is a global humanitarian aid organization that provides support for communities in transition following natural disasters, economic crises, political turmoil and war. That work includes using photography to document the stories of embattled people around the globe. Mercy Corps has a library of more than 100,000 photos that help communicate the organization’s work and mission to an international audience.
“Photography is the backbone of what we do,” Patterson said. “It’s so easy to ignore someone’s plight if we feel like they’re ‘other’ from us. Photography is a great way to show the similarities of life and experience, and I think it’s the ideal art form to convey empathy.”
Since taking his position in August 2015, Patterson has helped Mercy Corps organize its digital assets and integrate them into live exhibits and other special projects. He says it’s the kind of challenging, multi-layered work he envisioned two years ago when left the Statesman Journal to pursue a master’s degree.
“I sometimes felt like a one-man band at my newspaper, and I wanted to be part of a community of people working together,” he says. “I have that at Mercy Corps.”
By Ben DeJarnette, MS ’15