I was a newspaper photographer in the '80s and '90s. I walked away from photography pretty much entirely. Did something else.
But I've carried around my portfolio the whole time. Everywhere I've lived. 8x10s mounted on 11x14 matte board stored in a hard case. Maybe 50 pictures. Weighs 16 pounds. I'd like to share some with you.
You don't see a lot of local photojournalism these days. But back then, a metro daily might have 20 photographers on staff. Even the Podunk rags I worked for carried 3-5 photographers. And there was always extra work stringing for somebody.
We shot everything. News, sports, government, schools, employee of the month, house of the week. Whatever they were writing about in the paper, we had to come up with a picture of it. Words and pictures worked together. I almost always traveled with a reporter.
-----------------------------------------
Sports
Let's start with sports.
-----------------------------------------
By volume, I probably shot more sports than anything. But there's not a ton of sports in my book. I was pretty good at it. But all that meant was that I could stay tight and in focus. I always got good shots, but rarely anything better than that. Helped pay the bills, though.
What didn't help was that most of the sports I shot was at night or in the Kingdome. What a hole. What a freaking cave. I had a 300 2.8 and I used every bit of it to get 1/500 with Tri-x pushed 2 stops. Ugly stuff. Not fit to be seen anywhere outside a halftone.
Once in a while I'd get to shoot outside during the day. Finally, both shutter speed AND depth of field.

This was shot for a feature story on the blocker, Mike Utley. (Right tackle if you're familiar.) Both the guys in white (Drew Bledsoe is the other) went on to have distinguished NFL careers. Couple of local boys. You could always sell that picture.
Again, outdoors in daylight. I shot this with a Tamron 300 2.8. When I got that lens everything changed. Glass was sharp as a tack. But it wasn't as sturdy as a Nikon. Only took me a few years to destroy it.
I followed this kid from across the pool. This shot was made on the last stroke before my end. He was probably 8 feet away from me with that 300mm.
Sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. This was bright overhead sun reflecting in every direction. Tough print to make. But it was tight and in focus. Just what the doctor ordered.
You can't take this picture any more. They all wear goggles.
-----------------------------------------
Portraits
While I shot a lot of sports, I found the process a little sterile. I knew the games, I knew the gear, stand in the right place and let the athletes do their thing.

But with portraits, you're stealing a little piece of someone's soul. There are cultures that believe that. And yeah -- if you can do it right -- you do. Just a little piece, and I'm sorry for that, but look at the picture we're going to put in the paper of you.
-----------------------------------------
I love natural, light. That's should always be the first option.
This gentleman was the first black principal in some local school district. We made it in his living room while the reporter interviewed him. I loved those situations. No matter how hard you try, you can't be quiet enough, so I went the other way. I tried to be as quiet as I could, but I'd shoot a bunch of pictures. Generally a roll, sometimes two. It's awkward as hell at first, but then everyone settles into a rhythm and I'm just part of the whole.
That's when magic is allowed to happen.
Southern California terrain is canyons and hills. One Sunday afternoon a brush fire started in a canyon and swept up the hillside into a residential neighborhood. Destroyed some 20 homes.

I found Linden sitting on a sidewalk curb. He told me, I'm more tired than I've ever been.

They evacuated the neighborhood but I had credentials, so they let me in. Not all the homes caught fire. On my way out a couple asked me if I knew about a house around the corner at the end of the block. I said, the one with the pirate flag in the yard? YES, the one with the pirate flag in the yard! That one's OK.

So I got to deliver a little piece of good news that day.
I always carried 2 cameras. I'd put a 24mm F/2 on one of them and on the other, something else. I love a 24. And this is one of the best things a 24 is good for. The environmental portrait. A person in a place. A thing in a place.

This was shot in the 80s. Sex Pistols, punk. These kids are siblings. Their father owned a shoe store on Main St, Someplace. He gave the kids a little corner of the store for them to sell punkwear. Within 6 months they took over the whole shop. Capitalist success story.
Sometimes there's just no available light. The only light I carried with me was a Vivitar 283. Had a home-made bounce card made of photo paper, photo paper box and gaffer tape. Held it on with a vacuum cleaner belt. Still have it. Carried 2 cords. One like a phone cord, coiled. Another long, 20 foot plain PC cord.

Like I mentioned, photographically, I'm Rip Van Winkle. When I woke up there was a thing or a group or a style or something called 'Strobist.'

This shot was made at a pipe-smoking contest. In a mall. Outside the tobacco store. Personally, I never acquired a taste for a pipe although I did kinda see the appeal of a good, aged Meerschaum. Apparently it's tough to keep a pipe lit. That's the contest. Last man burning wins. But it's a quiet contest. Appears to take concentration, patience and finesse. Entrants compete in silence.

I hooked up the long cord and sent somebody off to hold the flash behind him while I snatched a bit of his soul. I was a Strobist and I didn't even know it. Bet the guy didn't see all that coming when he walked into the mall.
Here's another shot made with that 24mm.

This is Vicky Aragon, first female jockey at the local racetrack, sharing a carrot with a mount.

The light here is all wrong, but she surprised me. She just did this and I grabbed it and then it was gone. Sometimes, a lot of times, you have to work with what you get because just getting it is never a given.
-----------------------------------------
Hard News
The gallery of horrors
-----------------------------------------
I shot my share of stark shit. I don't show these around much. 

I won't lie, we kept our eye out for images of suffering. I probably told myself lies about why I thought people wanted to see this stuff. Convinced myself it was my job not to look away. I'm still mostly convinced.
With hard news, I was never invested in the story like I was with feature shots. Things are unsettled, reporters are off talking with cops, or whoever. I'm on my own, just watching. Using one sense. I don't remember a lot of details about the event, but I can describe the details of making the shot.
News Year's Eve, 1991. Reporter and I were driving from one party to another. Half smashed ourselves. I thought, holy crud, we're right on top of this, right in our beat. I want to shoot this. Told the reporter to go talk to the cops.

We were there for probably 5 minutes. Cold outside. Really cold. Dialed the 283 up to full blast. Stark.

I put the film in my pocket. Don't know if the reporter ever talked to the cops. Souped it the next work day, but by then it was too old. Never ran. Just as well.
I went out with a group from the mission with hot food for people living on the street. They set up tables and the homeless appear out of the night, then disappear back into it.
Hellacious winter storm brought the cliffside down on a beach cottage in the Pacific Northwest. House was empty at the time, no one hurt.

Next day we went out to shoot storm damage. Owner showed up. Apparently the house had been in the family for 3 generations.

I saw this shot before he was in it. There's an overhang on that porch and he was in that shadow you can see on the wall. I wanted him to move into the sun so I could get the shot framed this way. C'mon. Little more, little more. There. Then he put his head in his hands. Bang.

I was standing next to another photographer who had a Pulitzer Prize on his mantle. I got this shot and he didn't. Neener neener.
-----------------------------------------
Kids
Let's lighten this up a little bit.
-----------------------------------------
I shot a lot of pictures of kids. Management encouraged it and I was happy to oblige. As much time as I spent around kids with a camera, I'd probably be profiled as something these days. Nope, just fun pictures.
I was the pied piper. Kids like to have fun. Kids are curious. And I was the most interesting thing going on right now. Guy from the newspaper. Show me something. I'll help.
In a box. The mime thing. Trying to see it. Trying to get it right.

I love this picture. Family was out clamming and dad was feeding this little guy right off the beach.

                       I felt bad about this one. Still do. But let's be honest. That's how we felt about this. Me and Little Miss Des Moines both. Sometimes the truth hurts.

Tough guys in the strobist tradition. You notice how many of these pictures were made with that 24mm F/2?
-----------------------------------------
Miscellaneous
-----------------------------------------
On Thursdays we ran a food section. Grocery stores ran their ads on Thursdays. Had a little budget. Had fun with it. Let me get some studio work in. When my career was winding down and I was flailing for stuff to do, I thought maybe I could do some of this kind of work. Looking back on it now, what I thought was pretty good really isn't.

This was for the food page. Onions. I don't know if I was a starving artist. But that's the people I hung around with. Writers, dancers, sculptors, chefs, you name it. I happened to have a friend who owned a pretty elaborate clown costume. Janet. I told her I was thinking about this shot and she was all in. I've used this picture as my avatar in some places.
I tell myself I don't like this picture. It's a cheesy example of a cheap effect. But I've kept it around all these years. Its flaws make it interesting. The extension cord on the floor. The highway in the background. And, of course, the lady.

This is a local woman who had a near-death experience, saw God and came back. You'd think that would be a little humbling. But no, she wanted to go big. And I let her take me there. She called the reporter who did the story that went with this. Wanted to know if he'd help her write a book. Lady was a bit of a crank so he turned her down. She found somebody else. Made a zillion dollars.
-----------------------------------------
Wild Art
You're on your own kid.
-----------------------------------------
For a variety of reasons, sometimes we had more space than stuff to fill it. So they'd send us out for wild art. Just come back with a picture of something.
This is in San Diego. In November. Nobody but locals on the beach.
I'm just wandering around. Looking for something to shoot. I'm up on a pier watching the surfers, watching the people, watching the weather, just watching. This was grab shot. Sports skills can come in handy in everyday life.
I'm at the Kingdome just setting up for a game. New York Yankees are in town. I don't know who the girl is. Little Leaguer of some sort. Out of nowhere, Billy Martin, Yankees manager, picks her out and tells her, let's go in the cage and hit some Big League pitching. She was firing line drives all over the park.
Big wheels all around at the monster truck show in a parking lot at a mall.
And finally, this one. I shot this for a class in college. I minored in Industrial Arts. Literally, shop class. Machine shop, drafting, small engine repair. Lot of football players in the program. They also had the best photo lab on campus.
It's pretty close to where it started and pretty close to where I'm starting over.
Whenever I talk photography these days, first question is always, what kind of pictures do you take? I haven't really had an answer for that. I've taken pictures of a lot of things. All kinds of pictures.
Now I think I can say that I shoot Wild Art pretty much full time.
-----------------------------------------
​​​​​​​
Back to Top