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Emily Bollinger’s award-winning WGLT photos are only one part of their artistry

A crowd wearing yellow holds up signs at a Leah Marlene concert in front of the Normal Theater
Emily Bollinger
WGLT file
WGLT photographer Emily Bollinger's nationally award-winning photo from Leah Marlene's "American Idol" concert in Uptown Normal in 2022.

Emily Bollinger is a national award-winning photographer, a musician, and a filmmaker. And now they’re about to become WGLT’s first graduate assistant.

Bollinger joined WGLT as a photography intern in 2020 while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in creative technologies from Illinois State University. They graduated in 2022 and are now a second-year graduate student at ISU seeking a master's degree in communication. Bollinger starts this month as WGLT’s first-ever graduate assistant, focused on photo and video production and reporting.

Emily Bollinger
Emily Bollinger is an award-winning photographer and a graduate student at Illinois State University.

Bollinger discovered a passion for photography in a class during their senior year of high school. They decided to pursue photography during their freshman year at the University of South Carolina as a photographer for the school newspaper. When they transferred to ISU in 2019, they were seeking photography work and found WGLT.

“I started working during the pandemic, so in August 2020. I'll be there (WGLT) for almost three years now,” Bollinger said. “Something that I've really enjoyed doing for them is the concert series, they've been throwing on these concerts since I've been with them and I love photographing them.” (Check out Bollinger’s photos from the inaugural Highway 309 LIVE show in June.)

Bollinger’s work for WGLT has earned two consecutive national awards for Best Photojournalism from the Public Media Journalists Association (PMJA). In 2021 they received second place for their photo of the Jelani Day awareness demonstration in Peru, Ill., and in 2022 they received first place for a photo of a Leah Marlene concert in Uptown Normal.

“I wasn't expecting to win it the first time or the second time. And it feels good to get first place this year ‘cause I got second place last year and it is just, it's super cool,” Bollinger said. “I like the photos that I take. I always had a hard time deciding which one to submit thinking that, oh, they're not good enough, or like, which one is better?”

The main component of photography Bollinger looks at is composition ‒ how the photographer arranges the photo and decides what should be included or highlighted. Bollinger has dabbled in many types of photography that require a deliberate eye for composition, with their favorite being wildlife.

“I love wildlife photography. I got to go to Alaska last year and I saw so many cool animals and I got to go to Montana two years before that,” Bollinger said. “Our tour guides are always like, ‘Oh, here's another person with a camera, they're probably going to take horrible photos.’ And then I'll show the tour guide my photos and they're like, ‘Oh my God, like you need to email this to me.’”

Bollinger recently decided to approach the camera in a new way, producing a documentary about the Coffeehouse in Uptown Normal that premiered in April at the Foxtail Film Festival. They single-handedly did the filming, interviewing, editing, and everything else to make the documentary come to life.

“I just kind of want to show off the music scene ‘cause I love the music scene. I've been a musician for a really long time,” Bollinger said. “When I finished like all the filming and editing it together, I took an independent study the following semester to kind of perfect it so that it could get played at a film festival.”

In fact, Bollinger plays an array of instruments, including bass, drums, and piano. Bollinger also earned a minor in music at ISU as an undergraduate student.

“I play bass in a band right now. We've played at Coffeehouse, and we've played at a couple house shows around Bloomington-Normal,” Bollinger said, “and I've also played drums in bands before. I played drums at Jazz UpFront every Wednesday night.”

The common denominator across these artforms is the community Bollinger has found among the other artists here. They encourage anyone who has an interest to get involved and seek a supportive environment.

“Connecting with other photographers is something that has helped me throughout my entire photography career. And we're not competitors, especially in the central Illinois area,” Bollinger said. “It's really fun to connect with other photographers and see what other people are doing and how they may help you in the future.”

You can check out more of Bollinger’s work on our website. And if you’re interested in becoming a student intern at WGLT, internships are available during the fall, spring, and summer.

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Alyssa Helm is an intern at WGLT on the Development team. Alyssa joined the station in 2023.
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