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NMSU journalism professor wins state photography award

A photography project that sent Sterling Trantham into the rugged, primitive Western Highlands of Guatemala has earned the New Mexico State University assistant journalism professor a state-wide award.

Trantham was awarded the 13th annual Willard Van Dyke Memorial Grant in Photography for his black and white documentary photo project "Faith in the Guatemalan Highlands."

The $1,000 award is administered by the New Mexico Council on Photography based in Santa Fe and is awarded to emerging New Mexico photographers who are not yet nationally known.

Trantham, who teaches photojournalism, first visited Guatemala in 1995 for a language school trip. He vowed to return to begin work on photographing the indigenous San Simon worshipers in the community of Zunil, near the Guatemalan city of Quetzaltenago.

The worshipers of San Simon mix traditional Mayan beliefs with mainstream Catholicism. San Simon is a combination of the Catholic Apostle Simon Peter and Ma'am, the ancient Mayan Earth Lord. Although the Catholic Church disapproves, many such combinations flourish in the Highland communities.

San Simon -- a mannequin dressed with sunglasses, a bandana and a plaid shirt -- looks vastly different from traditional Christian deities. Pilgrims from across Latin America visit Zunil to worship, make offerings and request guidance from San Simon. Many of Trantham's photos capture the worshipers at the altar of San Simon.

Trantham said he was "really honored" to receive the award and plans to continue to document the San Simon worshipers.

Trantham has a bachelor's degree in individualized studies, a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in fine arts. All are from New Mexico State University.