How a Local Photographer Took Iconic Portraits of Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg

A few days after the Parkland massacre, freelance photographer Emilee McGovern staked out a rally and planned to take just a few quick shots of the speaker before walking around the crowd to get reaction photos. But when Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Emma Gonzalez started talking, McGovern found herself unable to look away.

"She stopped me dead in my tracks," McGovern says. "I had to put my camera down and listen to her."

After Gonzalez finished her now-famous "we call BS" speech, McGovern stopped her and another classmate whose words had struck her, senior David Hogg, and took portraits of the two survivors. McGovern posted them on her blog and social media pages — just two out of hundreds of pictures she'd taken in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting that left 17 students and educators dead.

But the pair of photographs — especially the portrait of Gonzalez — quickly took off, racking up thousands of likes on Facebook before being shared by celebrities like Halsey and Elizabeth Banks.

Yet even as her photo of Gonzalez became famous worldwide — inspiring artwork, including many prints that adorned posters around this weekend's March for Our Lives — McGovern remained largely uncredited and unknown.

Artwork inspired by Emilee McGovern's photo of Emma Gonzalez.EXPAND
Artwork inspired by Emilee McGovern's photo of Emma Gonzalez.
Courtesy of Emilee McGovern

McGovern says she's been amazed and gratified by the spread of her now iconic photos.

"It was powerful for me to take; it was powerful for me to experience, so I love that everyone got that — that I was able to depict that in the image," she says.

A 2010 graduate of the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale, McGovern makes a living shooting mostly corporate events and headshots. But the 31-year-old, who was introduced to photography by her grandfather, who shot weddings and portraits, has long been passionate about photojournalism. She's shot many major news events on her own dime, from the rallies that followed the shooting of Trayvon Martin to the inauguration of Donald Trump. She posts her work to her blog as well as her Instagram and Facebook pages.  

When she heard about the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, she hurried to document the aftermath. She took pictures at the vigil, including one of a pensive-looking Hogg shortly before he became one of the school's most recognizable student activists. She traveled to Tallahassee to capture students' meetings with lawmakers. This past weekend, she followed them to D.C. for the March for Our Lives.

As a native South Floridian and a graduate of the Broward County School District, McGovern — who attended South Plantation High — says the story feels personal. She thinks maybe that's why her photos of Gonzalez and Hogg have traveled so far.

"I didn't know Emma was going to be what she is," McGovern says. "I had no idea. I was just following my own gut about how I felt about her speech." 

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