I was certainly not a professional photographer when I landed my first newspaper job as a photojournalist at The Greensburg (Ind.) Daily News in 1999, so it was pretty appropriate that my career began on April Fool’s Day. I like to think they hired me because I was fresh out of an internship in Los Angeles, full of spunk and ready to tackle any challenge thrown my way. In reality, it was probably because I agreed to work for $8.15 an hour.
My first assignment was to take pictures of a delegation from India that was visiting the home of the local Rotary Club president. An 8-year-old boy thought it was cool that I was a photographer, so he borrowed his father’s camera and shadowed me, taking the same pictures I was shooting. Much to my horror, I learned when I got back to the darkroom that I hadn’t loaded my film correctly and therefore had no images of the event. It was with great humiliation that I returned to the Rotary Club president’s house and asked for his son’s film. The boy’s picture ran as the next day’s A1 centerpiece.
I got better, thankfully. I still had the textbook from the two photography courses I took at Ball State University (part of the elective requirements for my degree in telecommunications). If I had read the book in college, I probably would have done better than a ‘C’ in Basic Photography 101. But now I studied every page, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was practicing coiling film with my eyes closed. That year I would win seven awards at the Hoosier State Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. I don’t know if my pictures were really that good or if the competition was weak, but it solidified my decision to continue in the profession.
It was lonely working as the only photographer though, so I took a job in Oklahoma at The Edmond Sun for a chance to work on a staff of three shooters. Unfortunately, I was laid off after a little more than a year in September of 2001, and a week later terrorists changed the country forever. The economy and job market went sour. With no one hiring in the wake of the attacks, I began freelancing. I am not terribly proud that I signed the Associated Press all rights contract, but it kept me alive and kept me shooting. When Oklahoma’s sole AP staff photographer moved to another state, the bureau gave me his pager. Often numbers would pop up that I didn’t recognize, but I always made sure to call back. The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and The Dallas Morning News all became clients along with numerous others thanks to that little pager.
I was later hired by the alternative weekly Oklahoma Gazette in Oklahoma City as the publication’s first-ever staff photographer. It was an experiment, for sure, and in the end it was not really a good fit for either of us. That’s a nice way of saying I was terminated, and it was a very humbling experience. I’ll admit I was a bit relieved by it (I’ll never forget the time I was assigned to “just go out and shoot fat people at Arby’s,” which I unfortunately did), but it was devastating financially. In hindsight, it was one of the best things to ever have happened in my life. A few months later I was back on my feet at a job in Wisconsin with The Beloit Daily News.
While I was at Beloit, an old photography buddy from my Greensburg Daily News days told me about an opening at his newspaper, The Republic, in Columbus, Indiana. I jumped at the chance to work for the publication, which had a great reputation and produced amazing photojournalism. I began working for the paper in June of 2004 as one of five photogaphers. More than eight years later, I’m still at The Republic. Our photo department has dwindled to two, but we still strive to produce quality storytelling images even though the workload seems to have remained the same. It’s a tough time for newspapers and for photojournalists, and it is unclear what the future holds for us in the next decade. One thing that won’t change is the need for visual reporting. Whether anyone will want to pay for it, only time will tell. For now, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to do what I do.
But that’s not a very happy way to end an “about me” section. I’ve seen so many amazing things because I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get paid to visually (and sometimes artistically) interpret the news. And I get to shoot sports. How awesome is that? I’ve photographed U.S. presidents, incredible concerts, movie stars, heartwarming stories and heart-pounding spot news. Last year I covered the Super Bowl. One of the most fascinating things I’ve ever shot was the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma, which I covered for The Los Angeles Times. For those not familiar with it, the plant – secured in a campus three times the size of Manhattan – is the source of every bomb the Pentagon drops, and I toured the secret facility when business was, um, booming. I found one operation particulary intriguing because it was like stepping back in time (bomb making hasn’t changed much since the 1940s). There, in an old bunker, women wearing white coveralls hand-painted the ordnance rolling down a Mark 84 assembly line. Wanting to get the right angle, I knew I had gotten a bit too close when I saw a woman’s eye’s grow large at something over my shoulder. If I’m remembered for nothing else, let it be known that I was hit in the arse with a 2,000-pound bomb and survived to tell the tale.
Not only do I love photojournalism, but I’m curious in general about all things photography. When I’m not buying some new-fangled photo gadget that I can’t possibly live without, I often busy myself learning editing or design software such as Dreamweaver, InDesign, After Effects and just about anything I can get my hands on. My first love (and technical background) is video, and I stay sharp by freelancing corporate videos on the side and making silly home movies of my fat little dog, Hoagie.