It dawned on me how being a "newsphotographer" was all about winning. Getting a better photo than the Associated Press and seeing it on the front page. Getting a photo on the front page on my first day at a paper was my goal. I've always managed to do it. (Later changed my goal to simply getting on the front page of one of the newspaper sections.)
Above is a picture from my first assignment at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. An assignment to cover a class visit to the medical college, where they were going to learn how the body ages. To illustrate what happens to the body the kids stuffed cotton in their ears, put on yellow tinted glasses, pinched their noses and breathed through a straw. One student thought this was funny. The reaction made for an eye-catching photo and ran on the front page of the Metro section. For me, it was winning a game.
My first day at the San Francisco Examiner was to tag along with a veteran staff photog, Fran Ortiz, who had shot for LIFE magazine and other magazines. With a two-way radio linking him to the photo department, it suddenly came to life when news of Marin County Sheriffs call for reinforcements. They were confiscating house boats claiming they were polluting the S.F. Bay. We rushed across the Golden Gate bridge and found the police arguing with someone on the boat. He pulled out a long knife and fortunately I had my camera ready with a 180mm lens. I got the picture and it ran the next day on the front page. I'd won.
On this Super Bowl weekend it occurs to me that one of the draws to being a photographer, a newsphotographer, is having the challenge not simply to come back with a photo. But to make the front page.
I'm the runner-up if they run the AP photo or the photo runs on an inside page.
I've talked to others who tell me how they liked being a newsphotographer because they got to go to historic events, or were attracted to fires, sports, or pretty girls. I like the competition of getting a front page photo.
Granted there is a bit of luck, involved, standing in the right place at the right time. Where some photographers felt it best to stand together so everyone got the same photo and avoid getting beat out. I felt that since the paper was going to get the wirephoto anyway, I needed to see/find/shoot something different. I'd always have a couple of cameras: one with a wide-angle (21mm) and the other a telephoto (180mm). I'd try to shoot every way I could, get the over-all, move to the right, go left, shoot down, shoot up - - - what would make a nice slide show today was simply an effort to get the one photo that said it all.
I liked newspaper photography because you never knew what assignment you'd get on that day. I wasn't interested in simply coming back with a usable photo. I wanted it to be a front page photo.
What's a front page photo today? Go to Yahoo or MSN and you watch a slide show of images to quickly click to get more information. Has to be a horizontal and room to insert a headline. It surprised me hearing Annie Leibowitz say how she shot for the inside pages, the Rolling Stone cover was standardized and they had to insert all the text. It's different for a printed newspaper the front page grabs the reader, has to show the reader something different, pull them into buying the paper and reading the story.
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