Of Outties and Innies

I have a couple friends in town who are a photojournalists. Newspaper photographers. As many of you know, I spent more than 15 years doing that same job. My friends are good at it. Very good. I wasn’t. Not that I was horrible, mind you, but I lacked the requisite passion to be anything more than average. Adequate.

So, why was that?

Well, at least for me, being a photojournalist (and subsequently a university photographer) meant I was documenting other people’s lives. I was not part of the plot. I was on the outside looking in. A mere spectator peeking through the insulating and protective window of a lens. Relationships with my subjects were, for the most part, fleeting. I got the required photographs and moved on to the next assignment. There and gone. Quick click, thank you Dick!

Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for photojournalists and documentarians. Many have a deep and sincere passion for it and thrive within its limitations and possibilities. They play a crucial role in enlightening our understanding of the world in a way that words could never convey. For them, being on the outside is good. But for me, it simply wasn’t a good fit.

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Landscape photography (my brand of it, anyway) is different. I do not feel like a spectator, outsider, or an intruder. I feel welcome and relaxed, and the relationships I develop with my subject matter are long-term and affectionate. I feel as though I am a part of the scene and part of the plot. An integral part, and my presence is not only accepted, it is crucial. I belong. It is that acceptance, that connection, which fuels my passion and, if I may be so bold, elevates my photography beyond the average.

The time I spent in photojournalism was an amazing experience. I covered a couple Super Bowls, an All-Star Baseball game, World Series, Stanley Cup, an airliner crash (less than five miles from my home in Pittsburgh), a major flood, many minor floods, many dozens of accidents, fires, shootings, chases, breaks, sprains and scratches. I made hundreds of portraits, found hundreds of feature photos, and even helped rescue a collapsed firefighter and a dog who almost drowned. Mostly, though, I just covered life. From the outside.

Photojournalism may not have been my calling, but it created a pretty sturdy foundation for finding my passion.

I hope you are fortunate enough to find yours.

9 thoughts on “Of Outties and Innies”

    1. what? no complaining about the validation math? You must be getting the hang of it. Or, did your granddaughter do the math for ya?

  1. “I was not part of the plot. I was on the outside looking in. A mere spectator peeking through the insulating and protective window of a lens. ” is now in my quotes collection.

    The title also got a chuckle (pun intended).

  2. Interesting piece. I never thought of photojournalism/documentary as outside and landscape as inside…but I definitely see the point. Makes sense. Good distinction.
    Though I thought the post was going to be about belly-buttons, too.

    1. Thanks, Steve. That was just my experience, anyway. Sorry about the belly button misunderstanding 🙁

  3. Photography is a vehicle to express ones feeling (interpretation) of a subject. It is as much about what we see as how what we see makes us feel. Although I struggle to understand the difference between photojournalism, landscape, streetscape, waterscape, any other “scape” category of photography (its all just photography), I have a hard time with photojournalistic type photography because I find it difficult to isolate a single feeling from the multitude of sometimes overwhelming feelings I can experience when faced with those types of situations. I need to be able to sit down and feel what is around me and in front of me before I can recreate what I see and feel. I cant do that with photojournalistic type photography because the moment is often gone in the blink of an eye.

  4. I really enjoy reading your blog and it always gets my brain cells working and for that alone I am grateful. I enjoy your take on landscape photography and opening my eyes to new ideas. I keep thinking of my own landscape style and as yet I have not found it. But I will. Keep writing great articles and taking great photo’s.

  5. Hello Chuck,

    I can totally relate to your thoughts on being on the outside and looking in while working as a photojournalist, getting the required photographs and moving on and how you would feel more connected to your landscape photography, they are very insightful thoughts so thank-you for that.

    I have a similar background, I have been working as a newspaper photographer over a 39 year career, nearly 32 of those years at one newspaper ( small city paper ). The daily grind of photo assignments makes sometimes doesn’t leave much room for any kind of relationship with my subjects. For nearly 30 years on my time off and holidays I have been following my own artistic path of fine art photography, mostly landscapes including other subjects, and like yourself I feel much more connected with my subject in my personal work. One example would be my long term project of photographing the Cowichan Bay Shipyard on Vancouver Island, when I first started photographing there back in 2002 it I just went here once and left it at that, then I though why not go back? so usually once year or more I pay a visit to the shipyard to photograph, and over the years I have not only built a relationship with the owners and people that work there but the building it self, I feel like I am dropping in to visit an old friend ( and of course the people too ) while photographing there. I have tried hard not to wear my “photojournalist cap” while photographing the shipyard, focusing less on the people but more on the things that live inside the shipyard, boats, tools, ropes and all the other things that make up the shipyard building it self.

    Anyway very good post, I hope I didn’t say anything too disagreeable!

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