On September 11th, 2006 I started a journey. A journey of growth, a journey of stress, and a journey of sadness that unfortunately can not be told to it’s fullest deserving extent in just this blog post. That was the Monday almost 7 years ago that I started in my full time position as a staff photographer at the Indianapolis Star Media group. (Also known as the Indystar, Metromix, InTake, Indy.com, Careerbuilder, HomeFinder, Cars.com, and many, many others). The position would be a stressful one with a highly fluid schedule that pushed me to the brink of failing myself, my family, my friends, and newspaper clients alike. As a coin always has two sides, this job also gave me an incredible opportunity to become what I am today. A decent photographer, and friend to so many people including having met my wife working together at the Star. That being said that era is coming to a close as the Indianapolis Star has informed me that they are no longer in need of my service full time thus ending my 7 year tenure as what is most likely the last “Advertising” based full time newspaper photographer in existence.
(Photo shot to promote using Indy.com from September of 2007)
When I started at the star in 2006 I was as green as Mike Wazowski when it came to photography. I knew enough to get me started, but I didn’t know 1/100th as I needed to be what I needed to be. It only took me a few weeks to recognize the opportunity that I had been presented with though and that was the ability to practice without having to do the really hard part; finding the subjects. Nobody knew that I really could have only spent 10 minutes on a job to get what I needed and instead I spent an hour if not hours working on making things different; messing them up even. Things that didn’t need the time or attention, got the time or attention because I was allowed to do such a thing. Things that didn’t need to be lit, didn’t just get lit, they got over lit. I did this for as many as 13 assignments in a day. The most assignments I ever had in one day was 13 and I still pushed to give each of those the most of my attention. In doing this a funny thing happened too. I got better.
(Portrait for an article on dentists in Indianapolis in the healthy living section in 2010)
It started out as using reflectors, and then big lights, and transitioning to small ones. Push that through to mixing big and small, and then to using small lights in situations where you would assume that only big lights would do. Light was my thing, it was my paint brush and I wanted to paint everything. Everywhere I went, it was adding a speedlight to this, or a big light to that and I’d get the craziest of looks from some of the other photographers at different venues. One I even put up a speedlight to shoot a concert, just to prove it made a difference to use my speedlight in a situation where there was already a ton of other light. I loved, no I love it. It was my thing, learning to get better in every way. Along came video and a trip down to Nashville Tennessee with who is now one of our Vice Presidents. Learning how to operate these big clunky way more expensive than they should have been Sony Camcorders that shot in HD on Tapes in order to produce advertising video content that people would get excited about! Funny part is that not many did get excited about it, and really any videos that we got for advertising were submitted. Most companies didn’t want to duplicate the work they did on TV so they would send us existing commercials that I would edit down to our 15 second spots. On some occasions though I’d still head out and shoot video items under the same pretense as before; borrowing gear, or trying new things to give each client that little bit different look that they wouldn’t have expected from the paper. From me. Things like this one from not long ago:
I have no regrets in working at the Indianapolis Star. Not one. Ok, well maybe just one and that’s that the news industry isn’t doing better so that I may have continued this proper tradition and legacy of putting photographers with newspapers. The Chicago Sun Times seems to have forgotten that people like to look at photography, beautiful photography inside of the physical newspaper. Even the very literate, sophisticated, and wordsmithy types like to look at beautiful photography. I hope that the newspapers don’t get away from that fully, because in essence the way things are going the newspaper industry is going to take a chunk of the photography industry down with it; assuming it goes. That’s just not right.
(Photo for a Pierce Jewelers ad in the now defunct Carmel magazine from 2007)
Towards the end of my job at the paper it got tough. Not the work, but the conversations. I still have a sense of pride in having worked at the Indianapolis star. Usually the first thing anybody says when I tell them what I do (or did) is “cool! That’s awesome!”. The second thing that anybody I’ve told where I work says is, “how’s the newspaper doing? Aren’t newspapers dying?”. I guess that is two things, but it was pretty equal as to which of them was said after the initial statement. Looking at it, I truly do believe the newspaper will always be here. It just won’t be here as we all know it. It’s happening fast too. I’ve seen the way thing are done, and I know where my fair share of skeletons are buried inside that building but at the same time there is no right or wrong way to answer either question. No, I don’t think the newspaper is dying. It never will. It’s just changing; but it doesn’t know what its changing into. I could go on all day about the differences and pluses to minuses of Digital vs Print in the industry and better yet, different ideas that have been proposed to get us there but that doesn’t do anybody any good. Fact of the matter is that the paper is still in its growing pains like a toddler teething. It hurts, and it’s not going to get better before it gets worse. Still. The Corporate office keeps trying though. Gannett Stock Prices jumped 30% a few weeks ago with the purchase of Belo, yet at the time you are reading 20 or so of the Star’s employees were deemed unnecessary despite having hit the quarterly revenue goals. Some will say it’s unfair; others will be incredibly bitter after many years of service. Frankly I’m honored and humbled to have been lumped in the group of photographers that I was for the 7 years I spent there, and I wouldn’t do anything to have changed that time learning everything I could from them.
(Photo of the local competitor from the Indianapolis Tennis Championship held at the now non existent IUPUI tennis center in 2008)
For years any number of us photographers at the paper have joked that it was not a matter of “if” but when, and for me that time is here. I have no regrets with this. Shannon is genuinely excited about it to be quite honest and actually bought me a “congratulatory” gift certificate to play golf next week. I’ve witnessed both the wonderful and the terrible working at The Star and anybody who has seen what I have seen in the last 7 years would wonder about the sanity of some of the folks out in McLean Virginia, or even locally in some cases. (What HR department in the world keeps two employees engaged in a Sexual Harassment investigation sitting next to each other for six months while the investigation takes place? True. Story.) Frankly I’m surprised that the show “The Newsroom” hasn’t been doing better while it was on TV. The producers must have never set foot in a newsroom ahead of time.
(Fireworks on July 4th over the downtown in 2012)
About two years ago while Shannon and I were only dating it was her idea to start writing down some of the ridiculous things that I have seen and done for my job and so I did. That night I started working on a book, that I’ll most likely get back into once the dust clears from this a little bit. It’s mostly pictures (duh) and the stories to go with them from strange assignments to just plain cool ones. Things like the time I had to wear a bullet proof vest to a very seedy mall in Indianapolis because I had $300,000 worth of Jewelery to photograph on a Friday night. The Jewelry store owner kept a shotgun behind his counter just in case because of what he liked to call “Friday night Fights” which we stopped to watch as they started that particular Friday; like clockwork. Guys and gals in gangs, or thug wannabees would manage to start screaming at each other and get into a fight at about the same time every Friday night. The jewelry store no longer exists, but I’ll never forget the 8 hours I spent there on several Friday’s over the course of their existence. Nor will I ever forget being part of the team covering Superbowl XLVI with the paper, or going with Dave “Gunner” Gunn from Q95 and the Bob and Tom show to hit a 400lb pumpkin with a car. This is not to mention that without the Star I would not have met my now wife, whom I owe everything as she supports me in the good times and the bad, whether I am failing miserably or managed somehow to succeed in whatever it is that I’m working on. I love her more than anything, and without the Star that love would never have been found. Those are the stories that I’ve got to tell and I suppose it’s time to tell them the way they deserve to be told. Especially since I’m (from what I can tell) the last of my kind. I’d like to challenge anybody who reads this to call their local paper and ask if they have a dedicated “Advertising/marketing” photographer. A photographer that shoots ONLY Advertising and Marketing. Many people didn’t realize it, but I never generally covered the News.
(Photo for promotional materials at Crestwood Village Independant senior living community by Justus Homes from 2010. My photos can still be seen on the side of this community’s buses around Indianapolis)
So As I sit here and write this, I can only think about the future and that I am not scared. I’ve done some awesome things and I plan to continue to shoot and grow. I don’t blame the newspaper or find the decision makers at fault for this decision. (Yes I do know who they are). I don’t think that any of my time or life was ever wasted working for the Indianapolis Star organization, but instead feel a sense of relief that this chapter in my life has ended in a reasonable and sensible; yet somewhat sad way. I am excited about future opportunities, as well as the different avenues I am now able to explore. I am excited. The Indianapolis Star has made me the photographer that I wanted to be, and it was the only way that I could have gotten to where I am today. Getting to the next level is going to be the only way it can be; and that’s on my own. I want to thank everybody I have worked with at the star for a wonderful 7 years. Without any of my fellow employees (past and present) I wouldn’t be where I am today, who I am today, or with my lovely wife today. The photographers that I have worked with are some of the most incredibly talented shooters to be in a group with as proven by all the awards they win every year, and being a part of that team has been a highlight for me in my life and career thus far. Thanks to them for pushing me to push myself to become better at every assignment, and for all of the help they have given me when I have messed something up. While this is the end of this era, it’s not the end of photography for me by a long shot, and I look forward to bringing more stories and photos to the internet through this blog while on this new adventure very soon. Thanks again to Gannett and the Indianapolis Star for all the memories and the love. More soon.
(Shot on 07/28/13 Brickyard 400 for the Indianapolis Star at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My Final Assignment as a full time staff newspaper photographer. It was a good weekend. I have no regrets.)