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|| News Item: Posted 2007-07-05

Gray Matters: Giving Thanks
Jim Merithew and some young photographers would like to thank a few of their mentors.

By Jim Merithew, San Francisco Chronicle

Photo by Mike Kane / San Antonio Express-News

Photo by Mike Kane / San Antonio Express-News

Musicians take a break during a slow night in boystown, a cluster of bars and brothels outside the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, in January, 2006. Doug Sehres and Anita Baca at the San Antonio Express-News helped Kane make pictures like this.
While I was still in high school someone gave me a stack of Region Four NPPA magazines.

As I looked through those magazines for the first time I was in shock. I had never seen such wonderful photos, and they were being taken in places I had heard of, places I had been. In particular, I remember looking at photographs by Steve Mellon, who at the time was working at The Herald in Jasper, IN and pictures by Lance Wynn and Rex Larsen who were both at the Grand Rapids (MI) Press. Day and night I pored over the pictures by those three photographers and quickly figured out that I had to be a photojournalist. It was the way they brought the everyday to life. They had the ability to see little, revealing moments that communicated to me. These were not photographs from far away lands or famous people or big events. They were photographs of events I had attended, rituals I knew and people who could be my neighbors. They were seeing the same things I was seeing, but they were capturing them with their cameras in an almost magical way.

Even though I have never met them, I have always wanted to thank Steve Mellon, Lance Wynn and Rex Larsen for their pictures. But I never got the chance. And then a funny thing happened. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Rex Larsen in regards to this column. I responded to his email, unsure if it was actually the same Rex Larson and not knowing what to say. I literally felt eighteen again, so I pretty much said nothing. And then I thought, what a wasted opportunity. So here it goes, take two.

Thanks Rex, your pictures meant a lot to me and I am glad to hear you are still fighting the good fight. It took me a long time to understand the lesson those magazines were trying to teach me and I still struggle with it everyday, but it was a gift to have you and the other Region Four photographers as my first mentors.

There are photographs everywhere, if you just keep your eyes open.

I reached out to some young photographers to see if they had similar experiences and what follows are their stories.

Kristina Barker, San Francisco State University:
Adam Amato from The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash., definitely made my internship experiences more memorable. Adam was never hesitant in reminding me that taking photos could be fun, while still being informative for readers. He reinforced how important it was for me to explore the community with my camera and to not hold myself back creatively. Photography can be a really liberating art form for a young journalist, and Adam never let me forget that. My camera, my creativity and my curiosity are a tool to guide me through this part of my life and these experiences. Adam taught me the importance of that.

Bob Yosay of the Youngstown Vindicator took me under his wing and treated me like I was one of his kids. He gave me confidence in my shooting. Maybe he was crazy, but even sent me to a Steelers game and I had only shot football once before. During my last days at The Vindicator when Bob and I were editing a photo story of mine, he said that I had taught him how to see things differently with his camera. I couldn't help but feel proud of that. But the truth was that Bob encouraged me to be creative and explore my personal vision, so long as I also came back with the shots that our editors and designers would be happy with.

Andrew Henderson, Western Kentucky University:
I was thrown into this internship without much time to think about it, but said yes because of the great reputation that Dan Habib, director of photography of the Concord Monitor had for developing young photographers and mentoring them. I would get a few community based assignments a day left on my desk. Dan and I would usually talk about the assignments a bit, I would go shoot them, ingest the take, and do an edit. From there Dan and I, and if other staff photographers were around, would discuss the pictures. The discussion ranged from what picture worked best for the paper to what picture pushed my photography and journalism forward. On good days both these criteria's would be met with one picture. The staff was really an egoless group of four including Dan as the picture editor, which helped me to develop and learn.

Photo by Mike Kane / Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Photo by Mike Kane / Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Patty Hernandez, right, a friend of Cameron Johnston, who was killed in a car crash, is comforted at a vigil by Haley Spencer in Seattle. Doug Sehres and Anita Baca at the San Antonio Express-News helped Kane make pictures like this.
Mike Kane, Hearst Fellow, University of Texas:
Of all the folks I worked with as a lowly intern, and then as a slightly less-lowly Hearst Fellow, Doug Sehres and Anita Baca at the San Antonio Express-News were really the ones. I started there not knowing anything about newspapers, but their patient hands, encouraging words, and challenging assignments took me from barely hacking my first assignment as an assistant to John Davenport on a sports portrait assignment, to finding myself chasing and being chased by Mexican cartel thugs on the Tex-Mex border, making pictures all the while. I will forever be thankful to them, and to the rest of that staff, for their guidance and inspiration, and for the confidence they gave me. I left that city quite sure that my best was pretty good, and that as long as I keep bringing my best to the table I'll be alright. If you can finish an internship armed with that knowledge, then both you and the paper you worked at were a resounding success.

Shaminder Dulai, San Jose State University:
Shmuel Thaler of the Santa Cruz Sentinel was great in that he'd tell me everyday if something I was doing worked or didn't work, and he was always up for helping me with anything, such as giving me the sports assignment when I said I wanted more practice and throwing a portrait my way when he saw that I needed more opportunities to be in lighting situations. He also gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him anytime I needed something, on assignment or off. And when I did call he was very helpful.

On the job, he'd sometimes look over my shoulder and make helpful suggestions (the value of a good crop is a big lesson I learned from him) and in the beginning he took the time to teach me how to tone images for their paper and more importantly how to get my clips from the press the next day. Plus when I wanted to show him work or have a sit down to talk about my progress or techniques he never said no.

Jakob Schiller, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism:
During my internship at the Albuquerque Tribune, I knew what kind of pictures I wanted to make but wasn't quite sure how to get there. After almost all my takes, the photo editor Mark Holm used to sit down with me and we used to go through them, picture by picture, editing it down and talking about my seeing, my thinking as I made the pictures, etc. On one four picture story, we must have spent three or four hours. It hurt my stomach sometimes because I was so nervous, but after three or four of these marathon editing sessions, I could literally feel myself learning. Mark was so patient, and so thorough, that I used to walk out of work feeling like a better photographer each day. And I can't say that I've ever had kind of learning curve anywhere else. His ability to break it down as we went through the edit was incredibly enlightening, and I could barely keep up.

Julia Robinson, San Francisco State University:
I'd have to say it was the people in the stories I worked on that made the internship special. I spent my days off with Jeannine Randolph, a nun with a massage ministry at nursing homes. By opening her daily routine to my camera and audio recorder she pushed me to dig deeper, to keep coming back. More than any editor, my connection with her helped me grow into the role of a documentary storyteller.

Back in the newsroom Bill Zars, a staff photographer and designated "video-guy" at the Daily Herald in Chicago, IL provided patient training with equipment and software, as well as long discussions about narrative story-telling and the future of video in newspapers. I can remember several chats around the video editing station that drew in other staffers and editors as we debated our future in the brave new world of multimedia. It was nice to have a conversation that went beyond the gloom and doom of dedicated (stubborn and cynical) still shooters. It's our future after all, it's nice to look it in the eye.

If you have someone you would like to thank please email me a short paragraph and remember to include the 5 Ws.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of his employer, co-workers, friends or family.

(Jim Merithew is a picture editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Jim invites you to direct your questions and comments about this column and other issues involving photojournalism ethics to him through his member page:

Related Links:
Merithew's member page

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