Charles "Stretch" Ledford

Associate Professor of Journalism
242 Gregory Hall
  • M.A., Multimedia Journalism, University of Miami 
  • B.A., Journalism and Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Course Specialties
  • Visual and Audio Journalism

Recipient of the 2020 Illinois Student Government Teaching Excellence Award and named the 2014 Associated Press Media Editors Innovator of the Year for College Students, Stretch Ledford has worked as a journalist telling stories through audio, photographs and video in more than 55 countries. His career began as a staff photojournalist for The State (Columbia, SC), The Fayetteville (NC) Observer, The Durham (NC) Morning Herald, The St. Petersburg (FL) Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) and The Commission, the journal of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board. 

As a freelance photojournalist and advertising photographer, Ledford has been published by The Atlantic, Consumer Reports, Health, Ladies Home Journal, Mens Journal, Modern Maturity, Newsweek, Outside, POZ, Readers Digest, Smithsonian, Time, USA Weekend, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, the Washingtonian, The Associated Press, Black Star, Knight Ridder/Tribune News, United Press International, The Wall Street Journal, Advanced Micro Devices, Arnold Worldwide, Bank One, CNN, Continental Airlines, Cryolife, Deere & Company, Dominion, DuPont, Freddie Mac, Genworth, Geico, Kindercare Learning Centers, KPMG, The Martin Agency, Mazda, Nike, Ogilvy & Mather, Ping, the Rocky Mountain School of Design, the Royal Bank of Canada, Ryder, Sanofi-Aventis, Shell, Sports Illustrated, Tillamook Creamery, Trigon/Blue Cross, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Department of Transportation, Wal-Mart, Washington Mutual Bank, Whole Foods Market, XCel Energy, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Food for the Hungry, the Grossman Burn Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Junior Achievement Worldwide, MercyCorps, Project Angel Heart, Project HOPE and the YMCA. 

Since joining the Illinois faculty in 2011, Ledford's work has been featured online and/or broadcast by major news organizations around the world, including NPR’s Morning Edition, NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, the Today show, Time, the Huffington Post, The Weather Channel, the BBC, The Atlantic, Esquire, the Wall Street Journal, the Globe and Mail (Toronto), the Guardian (London), the Nippon Television Network (Japan), Gawker, Vice and Forbes.

Galleries and museums in Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, Nebraska and Virginia have displayed Ledford's photographs. His work has been recognized with awards from the National Press Photographers Association, the Online News Association, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the New York Art Directors Club, the International Photography Awards and Communication Arts Magazine's Photography Annual.

Research/Creative Endeavor

We fragile humans are more prone to label one another, to place one another into groups and to revert to the insularity of our various tribes than we are to recognize our innate commonalities. Doing so is easy, risk free and readily dismissed as “just human nature.”

But there also exists a deeper human nature that longs for recognition by and connection with the phenomenological Other. If there’s any single motivating factor behind my work it is my desire for it to provide a pathway for that deeper Self to recognize the connectedness it shares with the Other. Psychologists would call this “catalyzing humanistic empathy;” for journalists, it’s “promoting civil discourse.”

Since I began making photographs as a journalist in 1983, my cameras have taken me to more than 50 countries – places with exotic sounding names like Ouagadougou and as isolated geographically as the Sangihe Islands in the western Pacific. I have photographed Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, Mother Teresa in an earthquake zone and both Bill and Hillary Clinton (and Donald Trump) on the campaign trail. I have photographed people on the verge of starvation, several women giving birth and any number of weddings.  I have been detained by police or military units in three countries as I worked to make photographs that would get below surface appearances and tell meaningful stories.

Throughout, my goal is to find, capture and produce stories that foster the shared sense of community that I believe defines our deepest human nature.