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Eyes on LaFollette Goes to Nashville

Will Pedigo, Rob Heller and Matt Emigh (Courtesy of Karen Cumorich, LaFollette Press) JEM Professor Rob Heller’s Eyes on LaFollette Tennessee State Museum exhibit opened on Oct. 3 in Nashville and runs through Nov. 30. The exhibit features 21 years of photos taken by his advanced photojournalism students as part of Heller’s annual Eyes on LaFollette class project. Over 300 individuals attended the Oct. 2 opening reception including at least 24 former students.   Heller hopes that all of his former students will contact him ( and he encourages them to stop by the exhibit if they can.

The exhibit was organized by Heller and his current students and features 202 photographs taken by 102 photographers over 21 years.  The East Tenn. town of LaFollette, population of around 7,300, has been the subject of the advanced photojournalism class for 21 years offering students the chance to get hands-on experience.  Each year the local paper, the LaFollette Press, publishes a special edition with selections of the latest photographs. 

“Preparation for this project begins early in the spring semester when we take a brief ‘research’ trip to LaFollette and speak with staff members of the newspaper for a few hours,” says Heller. “The discussion leads to story ideas, people to contact, and a quick drive around town before returning  home. Several weeks later, sometime early in April, students head out and spend two days searching for great photos.”

Approximately 250 students have had tens of thousands of photos reviewed and pared down to the select few that are published. Many students cite this learning experience as an important cornerstone in their careers regardless of whether they pursue a career in photojournalism.

Two of Heller’s past students, who now work for the PBS show Tennessee Crossroads, Matt Emigh (BS/JEM ’02) and Will Pedigo (BS/A&S College Scholars Program ’02), were part of the crew that produced a video segment about the project by following Heller’s Spring 2014 students when they made their annual trip to LaFollette.  This video segment has been airing on PBS stations around the state and can be found at

“I am excited for Rob and his students,” said JEM Director and Professor Peter Gross. “This unique hands-on learning opportunity engages students with their subjects and operationalizes the principles they learn in the classroom. It is an outstanding exhibit that I hope many of our alums get an opportunity to see.”

“Will Pedigo and Matt Emich  are great examples of the students inspired by Rob Heller,” said CCI Dean Mike Wirth. “The Tennessee Crossroads video segment on which they worked captures the wonder and excitement our students experience as they learn about photojournalism and journalism in general.”

Eyes on LaFollette Exhibit information can be found at the Tennessee State Museum website