"Iraq to me is a very complicated, complex place where you never really know what's going on," she says. "So the photo, I thought, summed up my experience there — what looked simple is very complex."
Currently at work shooting migrant laborers in Florida, Appleton will no longer take assignments in dangerous, conflict-ridden regions. The 2011 deaths in Libya of photojournalists (and friends) Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros "affected me tremendously," Appleton says.
But while her latest project may take her to a slightly safer locale, it's no less historically relevant. "This is an international story and very much an American story," she says of the plight of undocumented immigrants. "It's the absolute oldest American story. The parallels between what these laborers are doing and what all of our ancestors did is astounding."
No matter her assignment, Appleton is constantly seeking to put her work into a larger context. It was no different when she was photographing Barack and Michelle Obama on the 2008 campaign trail and then in the White House.
"It was an amazing experience because I really saw the other side of the work I'd been doing," she says. "To be photographing the way that decisions were made, or the President trying to advocate for these policies. . . . it was very inspiring and very hard." But still, she always considered that job "a little reward for all the tough stuff I'd done before."
MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
By the time they were sophomores in high school, these three Waterville natives had achieved more than some activists dream of in a lifetime.
Working with the activist organization SPARK, which facilitates grassroots mobilization around issues of female sexualization and self-esteem, Julia Bluhm, Maya Brown, and Izzy Labbe helped convince Seventeen magazine to portray women and girls more accurately in its popular publication — and in the process, they helped call attention to a media culture that promotes insidious and unrealistic female ideals. Winners of this year's MWF Samantha Smith award, the girls continue to blog about body-image issues at sparksummit.com, and speak widely (and quite eloquently — check out Bluhm and Labbe's December 2012 TEDxWomen talk) about the impact of media messages on young women (and men).
It's been just over a year since Bluhm (then in eighth grade) created a Change.org petition calling on Seventeen "to commit to printing one unaltered — real — photo spread per month. I want to see regular girls that look like me in a magazine that's supposed to be for me." The petition, which was eventually signed by more than 84,000 people, combined with a video and blogging campaign spearheaded by Brown and Labbe, led to Seventeen printing an eight-point "Body Peace Treaty" in which it recommitted to not Photoshopping girls' faces and body shapes in editorial content (they still digitally alter things like blemishes or errant bra straps).
"I feel proud of myself, and SPARK, and how far we've gotten," says Bluhm, who is finishing up her freshman year at Waterville High School and counts teenage style icon and activist Tavi Gevinson as one of her role models. But there's much more to come. "There's a lot more stuff that I'm going to do."