Two Random Thoughts: Rich Clarkson and the photographer’s mask

I have two random thoughts from reading the last two issues of “News Photographer” published by the National Press Photographers Association.

One: As I was looking at the image of Brian Lanker hugging Mr. Clarkson in the recent issue of NPPA it reminded me yet again just about this time twenty-six years ago how accessible this man was as a visual editor, coach and mentor.  Not just to his staff but to a young photographer from Redding, CA who had freshly mounted black and white images on boards and a new 16×20 portfolio box.

With a letter in hand and wife and daughter in tow we headed to Denver for my meeting and portfolio review with Mr. Clarkson and I was terrified having read stories of the expectations he placed on his photographers.  Those were the days when staying at the Denver Howard Johnson’s for $55.00 per night was a few days salary.

I waited in the outer office where there was an awesome amount of commotion when Clarkson called me in at the appointed time and apologized for all the office furry.

They had just been notified that staffer Anthony Suau had won the Pulitzer.

 “Now where’s that portfolio you brought?” He was honest, tough and patient, more importantly he could articulate where I was as a photojournalist and what I needed to do to improve.

At one point he waved off an interruption of champaign and congratulations coming from all parts of the  world.  He was intent on giving me my time.

As we parted he invited my wife and I to the Pulitzer celebration that was being held later that night.  We didn’t attend, fear, I guess.

Four years later I accepted my first position as a Director of Photography and the traits that I learned from Mr. Clarkson were those that I tried to remember daily.  Admittedly some days better than others.

Be accessible; show patience; demand excellence and show respect.

Two: The fact that most photojournalists use the camera as a mask to hide their emotions and the fact that most are introverts, uncomfortable when approaching strangers without a camera to hide behind.

I’ve known many who would not look past their naval in a crowded room at a social event but given a camera could command a hundred party goers into five lines, smiles and not a closed eye during a group portrait.

It was not unusual to see a photographer break down with emotion as an image taken at a fatal accident appeared in the developer.  “I don’t remember shooting it?” were the words.

Exposing those raw emotions is immediate with digital photography and maybe there is more of a need for the mask?