This fall, TIME invited student photographers dedicated to honing their craft—whether it be photojournalism, portraiture, still life, conceptual or fine art—to submit a portfolio of photos for review by our editors. All applicants had to be currently enrolled students or members of the class of 2011. After receiving hundreds of entries, the editors chose Andrea Morales as the winner of the inaugural competition.
Though they grew up on opposite sides of the country, Morales saw much of herself and her two younger sisters in the Glouster girls she photographed for Extracted Dreams, Implanted Realities, a series that examines the coming of age for young women in the southeast Ohio city. “It’s a project filled with daily things that happen when you’re growing up anywhere,” says the photographer. A Master’s candidate at the visual communication program at Ohio University, in Athens, Morales won the top prize of $2,500 and a portfolio review with the magazine’s photo editors.
Morales met many of the young women she photographed while roaming the streets in early 2009, and she has spent the majority of the last three years documenting them. The young women face poverty, drug abuse among family members and crime—all while attending class in Ohio’s poorest school district. As the project progressed, some of the girls’ parents began to see Morales as a mentor, which put the photographer in an unfamiliar situation. “It became this weird thing for a while because I come from a strict journalism background,” the photographer says. “But I totally care about these girls like crazy…I don’t know if I’m able to help them through my photographs. But I know I’m able to help them by being there for them.”
First runner up Christian Hansen, a senior at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, showcased a collection of personal work taken since 2006 from places ranging from California to Canada. “It’s mostly from going on road trips and traveling around,” he says. “I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what I was trying to get or what I was trying to do. I just know what I like and I did it all based on feeling.”
Second runner up Brad Vest, also a Master’s candidate at the visual communication program at Ohio University, presented Adrift, a series that follows Travis Simmons’ struggles to stay off drugs and out of jail. Vest has captured the young father’s story since October 2009. “What drew me to his story was that it was always changing,” Vest says. “Initially I thought it would be a great story because it was a young guy who’d made some bad decisions early on, and was getting out, trying to start new. I thought it would be a great way to document the process of trying to start over.”
These three photographers’ work explored just a fraction of the subject matter covered in the entries TIME received during the contest call. And while not every entrant’s work could be displayed, the editors hope that this begins a dialogue with new talent that we hope to mentor over the next year.