2017 CatchLight Fellow: Sarah Blesener

Sarah Blesener is a New York-based documentary photographer who will be working with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to address growing nationalism among youth in the U.S. during her fellowship year.

Of the fellowship selection process, Amy Pyle of Reveal wrote us, "All of the candidates were amazingly talented and driven; it was a tough decision. Sarah stood out for the review committee largely because of the uniqueness of her story proposal and how well it fits into some other areas of coverage we have in the works. None of us had ever heard of these nationalist youth programs and camps and we simply were dying to know more. The fact that she already had calendared her summer, including gaining approval to photography at several camps, made it clear she had the moxie and organization to pull it off."

See more images from Sarah's ongoing work, "Toy Soldiers," below, which examines patriotic education and ideology in Russia.

Follow along with Sarah during her fellowship year here and check back soon for more news.

Students from School #18 perform a show at the local theater in Sergiyev Posad, Russia, December 15, 2016. The show promotes the cadet school at School #18. © Sarah Blesener

Students from School #18 perform a show at the local theater in Sergiyev Posad, Russia, December 15, 2016. The show promotes the cadet school at School #18. © Sarah Blesener

Students compete at the "Inspection of Singing and Marching" competition at the gymnasium of School #6 for students in the Dmitrov region, a suburb of Moscow, Dmitrov, Russia, December 14, 2016. © Sarah Blesener

Students compete at the "Inspection of Singing and Marching" competition at the gymnasium of School #6 for students in the Dmitrov region, a suburb of Moscow, Dmitrov, Russia, December 14, 2016. © Sarah Blesener

Students from School #18 perform a show at the local theater in Sergiyev Posad, Russia, December 15, 2016. The show promotes the cadet school at School #18. © Sarah Blesener

Students from School #18 perform a show at the local theater in Sergiyev Posad, Russia, December 15, 2016. The show promotes the cadet school at School #18. © Sarah Blesener

Students train in firearms at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 24, 2016. Borodino is famous for a battle fought on September 7, 1812 - the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. They are using air-soft guns for the practice and competition. The camp teaches information about the basic kinds of weapons, bases and firing rules,  sniper rifles and different type of weapons. © Sarah Blesener

Students train in firearms at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 24, 2016. Borodino is famous for a battle fought on September 7, 1812 - the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. They are using air-soft guns for the practice and competition. The camp teaches information about the basic kinds of weapons, bases and firing rules,  sniper rifles and different type of weapons. © Sarah Blesener

Students train horse-back riding at the Historical War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 28, 2016. The project statement of the camp says: "To awaken in the younger generation a keen interest in the history of the Fatherland, the glorious deeds of our ancestors, to facilitate the expansion of military-historical knowledge." © Sarah Blesener

Students train horse-back riding at the Historical War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 28, 2016. The project statement of the camp says: "To awaken in the younger generation a keen interest in the history of the Fatherland, the glorious deeds of our ancestors, to facilitate the expansion of military-historical knowledge." © Sarah Blesener

Nastya Gobritskaya (L, 15) from Moscow and Alina Klikova (R, 16) from Medin at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 26, 2016. The project statement of the camp says:  "To awaken in the younger generation a keen interest in the history of the Fatherland, the glorious deeds of our ancestors, to facilitate the expansion of military-historical knowledge." © Sarah Blesener

Nastya Gobritskaya (L, 15) from Moscow and Alina Klikova (R, 16) from Medin at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 26, 2016. The project statement of the camp says:  "To awaken in the younger generation a keen interest in the history of the Fatherland, the glorious deeds of our ancestors, to facilitate the expansion of military-historical knowledge." © Sarah Blesener

A class is in session at School #7, April 5, 2016, Dmitrov, Russia. School #7 is a public school but offers cadet classes for those who wish to participate. The benefit of participating in cadet classes includes free lunch, while other students have to pay. © Sarah Blesener

A class is in session at School #7, April 5, 2016, Dmitrov, Russia. School #7 is a public school but offers cadet classes for those who wish to participate. The benefit of participating in cadet classes includes free lunch, while other students have to pay. © Sarah Blesener

A fake grenade is launched, setting smoke in the atmosphere as students practice a drill with air-soft guns at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 29, 2016. They are using air-soft guns for the practice and competition. Borodino is famous for a battle fought on September 7, 1812 - the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. 350 adolescents are in attendance, ranging in ages from 11 to 16, and lasts throughout the summer. © Sarah Blesener

A fake grenade is launched, setting smoke in the atmosphere as students practice a drill with air-soft guns at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 29, 2016. They are using air-soft guns for the practice and competition. Borodino is famous for a battle fought on September 7, 1812 - the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. 350 adolescents are in attendance, ranging in ages from 11 to 16, and lasts throughout the summer.

© Sarah Blesener

Students from School #18 perform a show at the local theater in Sergiyev Posad, Russia, December 15, 2016. The show promotes the cadet school at School #18. © Sarah Blesener

Students from School #18 perform a show at the local theater in Sergiyev Posad, Russia, December 15, 2016. The show promotes the cadet school at School #18. © Sarah Blesener

A unit dresses to re-enact Soviet Russia during WWII as part of their historical education at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 26, 2016. The camp offers reenactments of historical periods of war. Borodino is famous for a battle fought on September 7, 1812 - the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. Three hundred and fifty (350) adolescents are in attendance, ranging in ages from 11 to 16. © Sarah Blesener

A unit dresses to re-enact Soviet Russia during WWII as part of their historical education at the Historical-War Camp, in Borodino, Russia. July 26, 2016. The camp offers reenactments of historical periods of war. Borodino is famous for a battle fought on September 7, 1812 - the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. Three hundred and fifty (350) adolescents are in attendance, ranging in ages from 11 to 16. © Sarah Blesener


Sarah Blesener: Biography

Sarah Blesener was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She studied Linguistics and Youth Development at North Central University. While at university, she worked as a photographer for the organization Healing Haiti based in Port au Prince, Haiti, covering events surrounding the 2010 earthquake. Upon graduation in 2012, she studied at Bookvar Russian Academy in Minneapolis, concentrating on the Russian language. She is a recent graduate of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Practice program at the International Center of Photography in New York. Her latest work revolves around issues of youth culture and movements, focusing on Russia, Eastern Europe and the United States.

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