Karen Pulfer Focht, Class of ‘78, has been named Glenbrook South High School’s Distinguished Alumna for 2018. She is an award-winning, self-employed photojournalist who is currently based out of Memphis, Tenn. with her husband and three children. Her work is regularly published in newspapers and magazines throughout the world.
After graduating from GBS about 40 years ago, she worked full time paying her own way through school at night, and freelancing for wire services and Chicago newspapers while building her portfolio on weekends.
She attended Columbia College, and studied photography and photojournalism under Pulitzer Prize winner John H. White. Her first staff job was at the Post-Tribune in Northwest Indiana, where as a rookie she was named Indiana Photographer of the Year in 1987.
Focht went on to work for the largest newspaper in Tennessee, The Commercial Appeal, from 1988 to 2017. She was recognized as one of the world’s top contemporary photographers by both Magnum Photos and LensCulture in 2017.
Photo assignments have taken Focht as far as New Zealand, Peru, China, France, and even the White House.
“While I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world, what I love most is in-depth, community-changing journalism,” she said.
She enjoys music and has documented much of the infamous Memphis music scene – everything from album covers to photos of local artists. She personally dabbles with the blues harmonica and ukulele.
Focht called the Distinguished Alumna award a true honor.
“A million years ago when I was sitting on the stage myself waiting to graduate, I could have only imagined that I would get this kind of honor,” she said.
She encouraged the graduating seniors to “take the foundation” they’ve been given; use it to find their gifts; and use those gifts to change the world.
“Use your gifts to be a blessing to others,” she said. “... I love nothing more than to open minds and challenge beliefs with powerful photography.
I knew when I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a photographer, particularly a photojournalist – I never wavered,” she said. “… I had a unique vision at the time because there were not many female photojournalists when I started in the business. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was actually a groundbreaker.”
More information about Focht can be found on her website, as well as her professional portfolio.