A boy scooters past the row houses on the 5400 block of Delancey Street in West Philadelphia.

A boy scooters past the row houses on the 5400 block of Delancey Street in West Philadelphia.

Samuel Wilson is a recent graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism. He interned at the Fort Collins Coloradoan last summer and was awarded 1st place in multimedia at the 2013 Hearst championship.

Smoking blunts on the memorial birthday party for Lajuan Watkins, murdered a month before he turned 21.

Smoking blunts on the memorial birthday party for Lajuan Watkins, murdered a month before he turned 21.

What brought you to photojournalism/photography? Can you think of one specific moment?

I asked a lot of questions when I was a kid, and the idea of asking people questions as a career is so obvious to me. Photography didn’t really enter my life until I was a student at the University of Montana, and I felt very comfortable taking pictures of the people who I was talking with. I am a big fan of the challenges that come with picking up new skills, and I’m amazed and appreciative of how steep the photojournalism learning curve still is for me. I hope it stays that way.

CC, 3, selects a sugary drink at a corner store next to the 5400 block of Delancey. Trips to corner stores are staples in the daily life of people in the neighborhood and result in handfuls on snacks that sustain children until the next trip to the store.

CC, 3, selects a sugary drink at a corner store next to the 5400 block of Delancey. Trips to corner stores are staples in the daily life of people in the neighborhood and result in handfuls on snacks that sustain children until the next trip to the store.

Tell me about the project you’re working on and how you came to work on it.

The internship that I had lined up for the summer got cut right after I graduated, so I drove to Philadelphia and moved in with my PJ aunt, Lori Waselchuk, with the idea that I would work on a big project to make up for the lack of a job. I wandered onto this block in West Philly, with the intention of documenting the free summer meals program, introduced myself, and slowly started taking photographs. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks into it that I realized exactly what I was photographing.

Coming from Montana, everything I knew about the American inner city came from rap, movies and newspaper articles. I thought I understood what I was listening to, but really, I had no context. One of residents of the block uses the term ‘urban psychosis’ to describe the conditions that make it difficult to leave. This project is certainly not groundbreaking in the journalism world, but it has been truly eye-opening for me.

People dance to Chief Keef blasting on a PA system during the memorial birthday party for Lajuan Watkins, who was murdered a month before he turned 21.

People dance to Chief Keef blasting on a PA system during the memorial birthday party for Lajuan Watkins, who was murdered a month before he turned 21.

In what ways do you hope to grow as a photographer?

I hope to always keep an open mind and to never lose the patience to just sit and listen to people, and actually care about what they have to say. I think growth as a photographer will come through these honest interactions, and in that way, I hope photography will help me grow as a human.

Toronja poses in the kitchen space she shares with her mother in the sash and crown she won as Miss Black Deaf America in 2002. With ambitions to pursue a career in law, Toronja will undergo surgery to restore 90% of her hearing.

Toronja poses in the kitchen space she shares with her mother in the sash and crown she won as Miss Black Deaf America in 2002. With ambitions to pursue a career in law, Toronja will undergo surgery to restore 90% of her hearing.

Who are your main inspirations?

I was recently introduced to the work of Eugene Richards. He gets incredibly close to his subjects, scary close, and his images are very honest as a result. I’m trying to develop these kinds of deep relationships, and it’s very challenging, especially coming from a background that is so different from the people I’m photographing.

While at Montana, I missed the opportunity to meet my peers around the country who were doing good things, but I was still inspired by the work of the young photographers who I knew by name only. I’ve since had the fortune of getting to know a few of them, which has been great.

Mann, 48, watches his birds in his bedroom. He has lived on the block since he was 14.

Mann, 48, watches his birds in his bedroom. He has lived on the block since he was 14.

What has been the hardest struggle for you thus far?

The most difficult part is being okay with not knowing what is going to happen in the future. Maybe I’ll be able to find people who want my work, maybe I’ll have to wash dishes and live in my car, but as long as I can keep meeting new people and listening to their stories, I think I’ll be ok.

Madeline Covington teases a child before giving him a lunch. Covington is the distributor on the 5400 block of Delancey for Philadelphia's Free Summer Meals program, which provides lunches to children under the age of 18 during the summer.

Madeline Covington teases a child before giving him a lunch. Covington is the distributor on the 5400 block of Delancey for Philadelphia’s Free Summer Meals program, which provides lunches to children under the age of 18 during the summer.

How do you think photojournalism/photography will evolve in the next 10-20 years?

I think that ‘photojournalism’ will be increasingly delegated to citizens who won’t think twice about giving their photos away for free, but there will always be an audience for work that is invested and thoughtful. Of course there will be new technologies, which I’ll be eager to use, but I don’t think that they’ll change what photojournalism is. The stories will always be there.

Shantai Hastings, 22, watches a Youtube video on Bell's Palsy rehabilitation She suffered a stroke at the age of 13, which left her with little control of the left side of her face. She is still unable to form a complete smile.

Shantai Hastings, 22, watches a Youtube video on Bell’s Palsy rehabilitation She suffered a stroke at the age of 13, which left her with little control of the left side of her face. She is still unable to form a complete smile.

What are your goals for now?

I think it would be nice to get a staff job somewhere where I can establish some roots in a community. I still believe in that.