Emma Kalchik: Scholastic Art & Writing National Gold Medalist

Kalchik smiling for a photo.

By Celina Saba, Staff Writer

Trigger Warning: The following article contains sensitive content that may be unsuitable for some readers.

The photograph capturing the infamous kiss between a sailor and nurse in Times Square as people around them celebrating the end of World War II didn’t inspire most of us to take up photography. Junior Emma Kalchik does not fall into this category.

“I’ve always liked photography since I was a little kid, but the first thing that really made me like photography was this picture of a couple after World War II in New York City. It’s like this infamous kiss, and when I saw it, I knew I needed to make something like that. Ever since then, I’ve just been trying to get my work to be something as incredible,” Kalchik said.

Through years of practice, this love became a passion, and when Kalchik arrived at West, she knew taking visual art classes was the right choice. Because of these classes, Kalchik was able to submit her work to competitions such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Freshman year, she won Honorable Mention, but this year, two of her photographs won a Gold Key in the first round. One of her photographs moved on to a National Gold Medal afterward. 

When the 2020-2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Award announced that Kalchik earned national recognition, she was overwhelmed with happiness.

“Emma Kalchik is an incredibly talented and passionate photographer. She was my only photographer this year to win two Regional Scholastic Gold Keys and one National Gold Medal. Her images are awarded so much because they are powerful, raw, and real. They are meant to provoke a reaction in their viewers, and she wants you to think about what you are seeing,” visual arts instructor Deanna Sortino said. “It is a skill that not many photographers have, and Emma has already mastered it. I am so proud of Emma for using her skill to bring awareness to social issues such as Black Lives Matter and mental health. While most photographers might use their cameras to hide behind them and not face these issues, Emma will put herself in front of it.”

Kalchik’s mission, bringing awareness to mental health, was not left unheard. Her National Gold Medal photograph portrays a powerful image surrounding what it’s like to deal with self-harm and all the stereotypes that come with it.

“Self-harm is a very real thing that millions of people deal with every day, and this photo is to show the hidden pain behind it. I never thought I would have the courage to show my self-harm scars to the public; I spent months hiding myself. For so long, I was scared to show my scars because of the unfortunate stigma that comes with self-harm,” Kalchik said. “Taking this photo was one of the hardest things I did after relapsing. But I am now proud of it because my pain is art. This photo is supposed to be uncomfortable to look at because of how difficult mental health struggles are. We are told we need to hide what makes us feel different from everyone. This photo made me proud of myself, and I hope that it will help everyone struggling. Life can be hard, but we can be tougher.”

Outside of class, Kalchik spends time with friends creating engaging street photography. “Working with Emma is really amazing and fun because she tries to make you comfortable and involved with the process. Emma really puts her heart into her work, and you can see that not only through her work, but actually working with her,” junior Joy Seo said.

Kalchik is already planning for her future. Her big plans consist of majoring in photojournalism and working for a magazine or as a freelance photographer. The young photographer has a lot in store in her future career.