I cover major news, sports and entertainment stories mostly in the United States - both planned events and spot news as it comes up. Some examples were 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Space Shuttle launches and the Space Shuttle crash, the Academy Awards, many winter and summer Olympics, the Super Bowl, forest fires, multiple mass shootings and presidential politics. Before transferring back to the United States from Europe I covered the civil wars in Bosnia and Lebanon. In addition I do documentary pieces on the topics of the day – the latest example is a two-year project just completed on obesity in America.
When I was about 12 or 13 a neighbour showed me how to make photographic prints in his home darkroom. I was fascinated by the process and promptly bought my first camera – an Argus C3 “brick”.
On one of my forays around town on my bicycle I discovered an ancient abandoned stone monastery and shot some pictures of it. On a whim I decided to send them in to my local small-town paper and when the paper published one on the front page, much to my surprise, I was hooked on photojournalism.
I am completely self taught as a photographer. I went to college to get a radio-TV major thinking I wanted to be a disc jockey. But I never put down the camera since those early days and learned a lot by trial and error over the years. So I decided when I graduated I would try to “make it” in photojournalism.
I was working for a tiny, free newspaper when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. There was a protest in the downtown area where the local bar owners banded together and, in protest, poured all their Russian vodka into the street. I shot pictures of that for my own paper, but one of my editors suggested that the local United Press International office might want to put it on their wire. I drove it the 45 miles to their office and a night editor sent it out. The next day it was large on the front page of many major papers across the United States and I had been given my first big break.
There is no doubt that living through and covering Hurricane Katrina for weeks has scarred me for life. That’s scarred not scared. I had covered plenty of hurricanes prior and this was no different in the early days after the storm. But when the city flooded and descended into total chaos and anarchy, that was a different story. Only in the third world had I witnessed dead people laying out on the street just from neglect and it was shocking to see it here.
I love the challenge of what we call enterprise photography, rather than set piece events. Dropping into a raging front-page news happening and finding the important storytelling images without someone telling you what to do is an example. Natural disasters, likewise.
I like stories that will be never be front-page news. These are usually on individuals’ lives – I’ve done stories on a family with 15 kids (and trying for more), a family of “little people” or dwarves where the children are taller (much taller) than their parents and a one-person town in the middle of nowhere.
I think of my audience as being anyone in the world who is interested in history. I think my work is not just for people to know what is happening today, but almost more importantly, for generations to come to learn from this generation’s mistakes and our successes.
When you have a front row seat on history in the making you learn quickly that life is short. Very short. Never take anything or anyone for granted and never, ever give up.
In my work my subjects get my utmost respect. Without my treating them that way, I can hardly expect them to trust me and let me into their lives to tell their sometimes very personal stories.