The Air Force says Marianique Santos is picture perfect—again

by Jamie Jenson

November 2, 2018

Santos, a 2018 graduate of the military visual journalism program at Newhouse, won the 2017 Air Force Military Photographer of the Year award, an honor she first won in 2015

Marianique Santos G'18
Marianique Santos G'18 Photo by Michael Cossaboom

Thankfully, Marianique Santos’ roommate was the one driving when she got the news that she had won U.S. Air Force’s Military Photographer of the Year award for the second time in three years.

“I screamed in the car and my roommate was like, ‘Jeez, Angela! What are you doing?’ And I just said, ‘Dude, I won!’”

Santos won top honors for the photographs she took of the presidential inauguration in January 2017.

She is a 2018 graduate of Newhouse’s military visual journalism program, a Department of Defense-sponsored program that provides training in photojournalism and broadcast journalism for active duty service members. The 10-month, 30-credit program includes coursework in photojournalism, communication, broadcast and digital journalism, sound, design and documentary production.

Santos, who has been in the Air Force for seven years, won her first Photographer of the Year award in 2015 for the photos she took of Marines in tactical training while in the Combat Camera Squadron in Charleston, South Carolina, where she and her peers trained in order to be ready to document combat operations, exercises, and other contingencies from the ground and in the air.

She says winning the award for a second time is just as special because the Air Force does not allow photo entries that are taken outside of the military, which means the photos and videso Santos shot while at Newhouse could not be considered.

“Luckily for me, I had the privilege of having a really good position during the [2017] presidential inauguration,” Santos says. “It was such a politically heavy election that I wanted to show the event for what it is, and I think one of the coolest things about it is the amount of people who commented on social media about the photos.”

The photos were published in “Airman,” the official magazine of the Air Force, and also on Air Force social media channels.

“A lot of people said, ‘No matter who you voted for, these photographs are art. You can appreciate the event for what it is,’” Santos says.

Photographing a presidential inauguration wasn’t something Santos dreamed about as a little girl. In fact, neither the military nor photography were on her professional radar until college.

She and her mother immigrated to the United States from the Philippines when Santos was 14, settling in Vallejo, California. Santos, a bright student, began her studies at the University of California, Berkeley, after she graduated sixth out of 360 students in her high school class.

Two years into college, however, Santos had a change of heart when she had a discussion with a member of the Air Force.

Santos had always had an adventurous spirit, and the experiences she could have in the military—especially in terms of travel—were appealing to her.

In 2011, she enlisted and was assigned to Air Force Public Affairs, which is responsible for telling the Air Force’s story to its global audience.

When she enlisted, her roles included writing and working on public relations materials for the military branch. She received minimal training on how to use a camera, but photography appealed to her, so she pursued it.

In 2014, she opted to move to the Combat Camera Squadron because she knew she would learn photography from some of the best teachers the military had to offer. When her time with the squadron was ending, Santos set her sights on the Newhouse program because she knew how prestigious it was.

“Graduating from the Syracuse program pretty much says you’re a master in your craft, whether it’s photography or video, and that you have that inherent self-discipline and integrity to be able to work independently without someone looking over your shoulder,” Santos says.

Winning the award for the second time while completing the program at Syracuse made the experience even more special for Santos, and now she has set another goal for herself.

“I want the opportunity to mentor younger military shooters as much as I can,” she says. As my own mentors would always say: pass it on as freely as you received it.”

Jamie Jenson is a graduate of the magazine, newspaper and online journalism master's program at the Newhouse School.