I wrote this blog in the fall of October 2013, after the Chicago Sun Times fired its entire staff of photographers. Yesterday, the Sun Times laid off its video staff. I thought that it would be a good time to repost this blog, about the value of what a professional photographer brings to photography and to our lives.
The who’s who of photography gathered last night, at Carnegie Hall to honor the “masters” of their trade at the Lucie Awards. The Lucies are like the Oscars of the “photographic industry”.
I had been asked to step in to present the “2013 Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year Award”. on behalf of the ASMP when Executive Director, Gene Mopsik and President, Ed McDonald couldn’t attend.
I don’t usually get nervous about things like this, but I was last night. As I stood in the wings with photographer John H. White, who was waiting to go on stage to accept his Lucie, for Achievement in Photojournalism, I was mesmerized as I watched John. He seemed to glow and I felt his grace, his humility and his gratitude. It was a moment in my life that will stay with me forever. It was calming. I watched and listened to his acceptance speech on the monitor backstage, and I was deeply touched. So was the audience, as evidenced in their standing ovation.
John H. White is not a “rock star” type of photographer. His images don’t “shock and awe”, not in the way a war photographer’s images do. John’s photographs capture the subtle moments of the human experience. His legacy of images show us life as it really is.
This past spring, after 35 years with the Chicago Sun Times, John and the rest of the newspaper’s photographic staff were fired. It was a huge blow to the photographic community, magnified by the fact that even John H. White, the “chairman” was “let go”, without even as much as a thank you. John wasn’t bitter about it though. Michelle Agins wrote a wonderful article for the New York Times where she quoted John: “A job’s not a job because of labor law,” he said. “It’s just something you love. It’s something you do because it gives you a mission, a life, a purpose, and you do it for the service of others.”
All he had wanted to hear from the executives who let him go was two words that never came: thank you. But even then, he did not respond with anger.
John spoke more about the Sun Times’ firings in an interview with NPR where he said: “I will not curse the darkness. I will light candles. I will live by my three “F” words: faith, focus and flight. I’ll be faithful to life, my purpose in life, my assignment from life. Stay focused on what’s really important, what counts.” He repeated those three “F” words last night as he accepted his award. The audience was humbled. John had shed his light.
I have been thinking a lot lately, about the value of photography and the value that a professional brings to this craft. John H. White and his archive of work is a stellar example. His images, capturing the subtleties of life stand out amongst the noise. They make us take notice of what is often over looked – the quieter moments of life.
As far as what a professional photographer brings to the world, I think John stated it best: “Every day, a baby is born. Every day, someone dies. Every single day. And we capture everything in between. You think of this thing called life and how it’s preserved. It’s preserved through vision, through photographs.”
As John walked off the stage and back into the wings, I felt enveloped by his glow that had seemed to magnify. I caught his eye for a moment and said “thank you”. He nodded, and flashed his wonderful smile and in that moment, we connected and shared our understanding, of the “value” of photography.