InMaricopa’s Monica D. Spencer lets her camera do the talking for awards

Monica D. Spencer, a photographer and reporter for InMaricopa, holding one of her film cameras, won the 2023 Vanguard Award for Best in Show and a $2,500 prize in the juried art competition. [Photo courtesy Steven Shelton]

InMaricopa reporter-photographer Monica D. Spencer has been named winner of two prestigious awards for photography from Phoenix College.

Spencer, who joined InMaricopa in February, took first place in the photography category of the student art competition and also was named a winner of the Vanguard Award, which comes with a $2,500 cash prize. Vanguard Awards are given to students whose work is selected as best in show in a juried art competition.

A multiple-exposure image of a silver gelatin print by InMaricopa reporter Monica D. Spencer is displayed at the Eric Fischl Gallery on April 17. The black-and-white film image won first place in the competition’s photography category. [InMaricopa]
Her winning entries were on display Monday evening in the Eric Fischl Gallery at Phoenix College, at 11th Avenue and Thomas Road in Phoenix. The display runs through April 27 at the gallery, which is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Spencer began taking photography classes at the community college in 2014 as a hobby.

“Art has always been an integral part of my life,” Spencer said. “I grew up drawing and stealing my mom’s camera. I did a lot writing and journaling.

“For me, it’s a method to express myself. I’ve always been a shy kid. Saying those things out loud was difficult. To express myself through art or the written word always has been easier for me.”

Spencer, a 2022 graduate of Arizona State University, said she was inspired to take photo classes at PC by a friend who had taken them.

“It just sparked an interest,” she said. “From there, I found I really had a love for film photography. I would like to continue a photo-journalism career but also begin more seriously exploring fine-arts photography, as well.”

Both of Spencer’s winning works feature her 15-year-old niece, depicting her through the changes teenagers tend to experience.

“With film photography, I tend to focus less on documenting events or Instagram-worthy shots,” Spencer said. “I’m interested in peoples’ identities and the emotional undertones of the quiet, undocumented moments people may experience in their lives.”

Scott Avett (from left), Monica D. Spencer and Eric Fischl at the Eric Fischl Vanguard Exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum on April 12. The exhibition highlights the award-winning work of Phoenix College fine-arts students. [Photo courtesy Matt Young]
Scott Avett, a painter, musician and the competition’s guest judge, noted Spencer’s capacity for “capturing real experiences” in her photography.

“I hope she makes lots of work,” Avett said of Spencer’s work. “I hope she puts herself in positions to honor people like she honored her niece, even when it’s uncomfortable. … I hope I see more work and experience this from her some more.”

Spencer covers city and county government for InMaricopa in addition to her photography for the organization.

This is the 18th year of the Fischl Series Vanguard Awards, founded by Eric Fischl, who said he feels a sense of obligation to give back to the place where he first felt he could be – and was allowed to be – an artist at Phoenix College. The motivation, he said, is to help artists pursue their dreams and find validation in pursuit of a career as an artist.