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Beastly Mizzou Photojournalism Alumni

Posted by ljbdmb on September 13, 2008

Yesterday I attended the “Carrying Photojournalism’s Practices to the Marketplace” event in Lee Hills Hall and all I can say is I was incredibly impressed. As a student considering the photojournalism track, I was both in awe and intimidated when I first walked into the auditorium. It seems everyone had some kind of hard core camera equipment and computer on them and looked just generally intense, making me feel a little bit like a twelve year old with my little notebook and pen. We were told there would be four speakers, each talking for about 18 minutes about their careers.

First up was Brian Smith, who basically proved to be the Bon Jovi of the photojournalism world. Shortly after graduating from the J-School he worked for the Orange County Register where he covered the Olympics. What was so distinctive about his photos in the Olympics shoot was that the angles were so unique. In a lot of ways they looked more like art than sports photography. He said his philosophy during that shoot was to “be where nobody else is going to be”. Since his early days as a journalist he has photographed countless celebrities and public figures, including DMX, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Venus Williams, Shaq, and Antonio Banderas just to name a few. In a good month, he’ll have FOUR cover photos on the newstands. Outside of celebrity photography, his work has been extremely varied, including sports shots and special interest pieces. In all of his photos I was struck by how striking they were. The colors are so vibrant it seems unreal, almost as if he has people placed in front of a painting. The angles are also stunning, again making his photos sometimes look more like art than what you generally expect in a journalistic piece. Throughout his presentation he gave really good advice about how to become a successful photojournalist, and perhaps more importantly how to be happy with the career. One point he emphasized through his talk was not to wait until you have your dream job to shoot like a rock star. In terms of making a living, one of his biggest points was to “OWN YOUR WORK”. In his career, he’s made a lot of money from photos that he’s kept the rights to. He told everyone in the audience to always remember to shoot what you love, and perhaps more importantly dare to be different.

Next up was Jean Shifrin, who got her start at a paper in St. Joseph and then went on to work at a studio in Kansas City. She worked for a while at the Kansas City Star, and then at a paper in Atlanta until 2005. One of her photojournalism stories was a piece about grandparents raising grandchildren, and what was so striking about it was that she made pictures incredibly intimate. After working for newspapers she decided she wanted to start her own business where she could focus her work on what she loves: documentary photography and children. Her goal is to capture personal moments in people’s lives. She photographs and binds “day in the life” and “year in the life” coffee table books filled with pictures of children and their families, as well as doing studio portraitures. She also does pro bono work in India, photographing the lives of people in a leprosy camp in India for a non profit organization.

Jennifer Loomis was next, who has had a very diverse career. The common thread through her presentation was the idea that you always need to figure out why you care about a story. While working for a paper in Evansville, Indiana, she independently researched and wrote a story called “For the Love of Jeffrey”, which was about a grandfather taking care of his disabled grandson who was having difficulty with his Medicaid. Her story ended up uniting the community, and many people donated time and money to help him and his grandson. She wrote a story about Japan about life for the elderly in nursing homes, and has also worked in East Africa. Today she takes family and maternity portraits, and continues to believe that “good photography is about making connections”. She says what moves her most about taking nude or semi nude maternity photographs is that the women often leave feeling much more beautiful and confident than they’ve felt since the start of their pregnancy. She concluded her presentation by reiterating her point that all photographers should remember to make photographs, not just take photographs.

Last up was Mark Perry, who entitled his portion of the presentation “Photojournalism, Museums, and the Long Haul”. The main point he kept making through his talk was that photojournalists should always be aware of “how time changes photographs”. He explained that ten, twenty, thirty, or more years after you took a picture, it’s meaning may be totally changed. The example he gave was of a photograph of a group of old men sitting in front of what to us looks like an old car. Thus, we see it today as a picture of old men and old cars. But when the photo was taking, that car was the hot thing on the market, so to viewers back then it represented the relationship between the past and the future. He also discussed the importance of holding on to all of the pictures you take, because what may not be usable now could be extremely valuable in the future. Years ago, he photographed life at a leprosy colony in the Midwest, but found that he couldn’t get the pictures published because the story was too real and hit too close to home. But now, years later, those same pictures hang in a museum. He then proceeded to give advice about how to get your pictures into a museum. He said the first step is to recognize that “museums treat their collections like their children”. Secondly, he said to “do everything possible to make yourself worthy of inclusion in that family”. And finally, he said it was important to develop relationships with individuals in power at the museums, who can vouch for you and your work. He concluded by saying that throughout your career, always remember to “make your assignments possible”, and not just see them as yet another piece of work.

The entire session lasted almost an hour and forty-five minutes, so as you can imagine when walking out of the auditorium my mind was crammed with advice, anecdotes, and new information about photojournalism practice and the profession itself. I hope I’ve done all the speakers justice with the little amount of space I had. If at all possible, I would REALLY recommend that whoever is reading this Google the images of these individuals!

-Lauren Breckenfelder

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