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August 10th, 2009

AFTER STAFF Group Therapy – Where were you on staff and what are you doing now?

Posted by liveBooks

We asked a wide variety of former staff photographers the same question, and here’s what they told us. Please share your own stories — as you can see, you’re not alone. Follow the “more” link to see all photographers. Click here for more “After Staff” posts.

  • How long were you a staff photographer and where? Did you think you’d be a staffer for life? What is the biggest difference between what you’re doing now and what you were doing as a staffer?

Jason Arthurs
If you combine my 2 years of internships with 4 years as a full-time staffer, then it’s a total of 6 years I was in newspapers. I don’t think I could ever see myself doing it forever. It was an amazing time in my life but it was so much of a roller-coaster ride I never really felt totally in control of what I chose to focus my energy on.

This summer I have been given several opportunities to teach that I would not have had if I were still at the newspaper. I taught a week-long workshop for North Carolina high school journalism students, and helped coach two documentary projects through the University of North Carolina. For one class I spent one month in the Galapagos Islands helping edit a multimedia project shot by students and it was an amazing experience and I would not have been able to get the time off work to do something like that at the newspaper.

David Walter Banks
I was a newspaper staff photographer for a year and a half, before which I interned for a newspaper for eight months. When I began, I planned to stay in the newspaper business for an indefinite amount of time, but I did hope to work for myself at some point. However, as I spent more time in the newspaper world, it became evident that not only was it not the place for me, the industry itself seemed to be falling quickly into turmoil.

I now shoot for a number of national and international magazines; I’m part of a successful wedding photography business; I helped found the photographic cooperative Luceo Images; and I’ve begun to move toward more commercial work. I would say that the biggest difference is that I now feel that I’m controlling my own destiny in relation to the path my career is taking, as well as the images I produce.

Kendrick Brinson
I had two internship and two jobs at newspapers from 2005 to 2009. Once I discovered my love for photojournalism toward the end of college, I thought I would work at a newspaper for life. My mother worked as a writer at The State newspaper for more than 20 years so it seemed like an exciting yet solid career. After about a year and a half working for newspapers, my attitude toward them slowly shifted as I watched friends lose their jobs and their enthusiasm.

I am very busy now. I work with some of my favorite photographers in Luceo Images, doing personal projects and editorial work for major newspapers and magazines. I also photograph weddings with my partner David Walter Banks under Our Labor of Love. Now I am spending more time working on marketing and researching stories that I want to tell, and less time looking for heat features to fill holes in an-ever thinning newspaper.

Bob Croslin
I was a staffer at the Tampa Tribune from 1996 to 1999, a multimedia producer at from 1999 to 2001 and a picture editor and staff photographer at the St. Petersburg Times from 2002 to 2006. I didn’t think I’d be a newspaper staffer for life because I saw first-hand how much the business of journalism was changing when I went to work at MSNBC. I didn’t think there would be newspaper staff positions by 2004 or 2005. Turns out I was about 5 years off.

I’m an editorial and commercial photographer specializing in produced portraiture based in the Tampa Bay area. The biggest difference is that I used to be one part of an organization and now I AM the organization. I’m the photographer, the marketing dept, the accounting dept, the IT dept, the archivist — and I do it mostly by myself.

Pouya Dianat
These days my work schedule is whenever the Braves play. I had a great working relationship with the team while I was at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and they’ve allowed me a lot of creative freedom thus far. The night’s they’re out of town, I’m firmly planted behind my MacPro, editing away.

I don’t think my photography has changed, but I am enjoying my photography a lot more since going freelance. I’m exploring every outlet that I’m interested in, while still applying the same vision I have to the work I did at newspapers. A lot of the ideas I have won’t work, maybe my idea falls apart in the studio, but I learn from the experience.

Not everyone affected by the newspaper decline is in their mid-40’s with a family to support. For those of us fortunate enough to be free from those more important responsibilities, this is a prime opportunity to do whatever we want. I’ve told a lot of students that I’ve spoken to that the next phase of photography is finding something you LOVE and applying photography to it.

Deanne Fitzmaurice
I was a staff photographer for almost 20 years, most recently at the San Francisco Chronicle. Now I spend a lot of time running a business, which translates to “behind a computer.” But, in the end, I have a lot more control over my work and my life — and when I make images, I retain the copyright. I also am involved with many aspects of the camera bag company, Think Tank Photo, my husband, Kurt Rogers, and I co-founded.

Gary Gardiner
I began on The AP photo desk in Atlanta in 1977 finishing in Columbus, OH, in 2004. Called it 28 years. Wanted to give it a few more but circumstances prevented it.The new AP became more about management and less about good news photography. Now I run a small stock agency, SmallTown Stock, highlighting Midwest values and small-town perspective. It’s a long way from presidential campaigns, plane crashes, Big Ten sports, and government agency news conferences.

Robert Giroux
March 2000 to August 2008, but technically I wasn’t a photographer the whole time. I was hired by Getty Images mostly to perform managerial and technical tasks and to do photography only occasionally. Since GI’s editorial business was all new (we built it from the ground up) and the wire business was tough to break into, I didn’t have any long-term expectations at first. Over time, given the accomplishments we made and the fact that I’d been promised (from the highest authority) that I’d “always have a place at Getty Images,” I did expect to be there a little longer.

I’m actually back in D.C. working on the same kind of stuff I used to photograph in the 90’s. For me, the interesting comparison is between my first round as a freelancer (1987-2000) and this current round I began in mid-2008. Digital has made it easier to make better pictures, but editing skills have largely disappeared and good moments are apparently optional. Photographers are required to get a lot of pictures from a lot of different angles now to satisfy the industry’s insatiable appétit for quantity — Bye-bye decisive moment!

Barry Gutierrez
I served at the Rocky Mountain News for ten years and I never thought newspapers would die. I never looked beyond three-to-five years because I promised myself that I would only do something I had passion for. If that passion ever died, I would leave. I still have that passion today and can’t wait to continue my mission as a contract photographer.

Today I am shooting a wide verity of things, including documentary-style weddings, portraits, editorial freelance, sports, stills for movie in California. I’m also teaching two college level photojournalism classes. Some photographers want to be know for specializing or a very particular style. I want to be know for my versatility, light, great attitude, and passion for what I do. The biggest difference is that I am shooting less and I am doing it for me.

Nanine Hartzenbusch
For 25 years I’ve been a newspaper and wire service photojournalist, working in New York for Newsday, in Philadelphia for the Associated Press and most recently in Baltimore for the Baltimore Sun. Before arriving in New York I was a photo editor for Reuters in Washington D.C. I began my career as a writer, editor, designer and photographer at three small newspapers in Virginia and Tennessee. Photojournalism is in my blood – since my father was a life-long journalist.

My newspaper years were focused on building a body of work – telling visual stories of the human condition. By the time I reached the Baltimore Sun, the newspaper industry was experiencing downturns in readership and revenues. Staff reductions were soon to follow.  Two years ago, when my husband was offered a job as the director of photography at the Charlotte Observer, I chose to leave newspapers and start a business, taking my skills in a new direction as a child and family photographer. I’m specializing in portraits in a photojournalistic style, and I work with national and regional editorial clients. I’d say my biggest business challenges are managing my time and keeping up with technological advances. My biggest joy is creating visual keepsakes for my clients — and being able to spend more time with my own family.

Heather Hughes Ostermaier
I was a staff photographer for almost three years for Times Community Newspapers in northern Virginia and a staff photographer at the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia, for almost six years. When I started in 2000 I did think I would be a staffer for life. After working for the school newspaper and yearbook in high school, I knew I wanted to work for newspapers. I truly enjoyed photographing regular people and their communities and thought I would be covering local fairs and football games until my back or knees could no longer handle the weight of a 300mm lens.

I left the paper last spring to do weddings full time and still get a few editorial freelance jobs each year for magazines, PR firms, and other publications. For four years before leaving the newspaper, I was shooting 6-to-15 weddings a year.

One big difference is that I spend most of my weekdays on the computer editing and toning, rather than taking pictures five or six days a week. I love to be outdoors and meet new people, so I take breaks to eat lunch and dinner outside and participate in volunteer organizations in town. The other big difference is I have a lot more responsibility as the owner, treasurer, secretary, and employee of my own business. Handling everything, from the emails to the taxes, means I often work longer hours than I did as staff photographer.

Eric Larson & Jen Sens
ERIC: I was a staff photographer for 20 months at the Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale, with several internships before that. After college, Jen’s staff job at the Loveland Reporter-Herald in Colorado pushed her into grad school, where she did internships at the Roanoke Times, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and the St. Petersburg Times.

We both knew there was more to photography than high school football and sleeping with an ear on a police scanner. I always knew I wanted to be self-employed, especially after the newspaper staff job shattered my naive thoughts about the industry, which even in 2000 was rapidly changing into something I didn’t see myself being involved with for the rest of my life. I met Jen after I had started freelancing. She was still doing internships and I more or less convinced her go freelance, too. We started working together in 2003 and never looked back.

Our work is about 1/3 location portraiture and feature stories for editorial clients, another 1/3 for corporate and advertising clients, and the remaining 1/3 is wedding commissions. We’ve always had high standards for our work. Our current clients value that and treat us less like a commodity filling a news hole and more like creative partners.

At a paper with limited resources, you have no time, no assistants, no real lighting gear, plus you have to shoot video and gather audio, then transmit it all from your car. There is only so much you can do under those circumstances. Eventually that kind of thing wears most people down to a state of apathy. So, the biggest difference between freelance and staff work is that you are doing less actual shooting but generally working at a much higher level.

Craig Lee
I started as a staff photographer at the San Francisco Examiner in 1983 and then the San Francisco Chronicle when the two staffs merged in November 2000. I was ecstatic to get hired at my dream job among newspaper photographers I greatly admired. It was an exciting time for me to be in that environment; I learned so much.

There were always rumors of one of the newspapers buying the other one out when I started, I never had any idea that the newspaper industry would be in serious danger in my lifetime. Back THEN, I did think I would be a staffer for life.

I am working on learning how to succeed in the business side of photography. As a staffer, I didn’t have to worry about the business, I just needed to concentrate my efforts into making the best photography I could.

Nick Loomis
Out of college, I started as a staff photographer at The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus in the Iowa/Illinois Quad City area after doing an internship there. I left because I realized, after hearing a lot of things and a couple of unsuccessful applications to larger papers, that it would be difficult to ascend in the industry as “just a photographer” (which is a term I heard many times and resented in a different context and which I started to understand, ironically, in the context of multimedia skill sets).

I’m now a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which is not a photo school by any stretch. I applied to and was accepted by those, but I chose this school because it’s doing exciting things in the realm of new media that other schools aren’t doing right now, in addition to offering exceptional core journalism training (so I can finally become a writer and never risk being called “just a multimedia journalist”). As far as the differences between what I’m doing now and what I was doing as a staffer, I don’t think the two are comparable. I was in the real world as a staffer and now I’m operating in the very artificial world of academia (even now, I wouldn’t be able to do an unpaid internship overseas without a stipend from the school).

Michael Mulvey
I was a senior-staff photographer of 13 years and the sports photo editor for two of those. I was part of our Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered Hurricane Katrina in 2006. And yes, I thought I would either be a staffer at the Dallas Morning News for life or would be working at an equal or possibly bigger newspaper. I am very actively involved in starting up my business at the moment. I was officially laid off in April and the rest of this year will be spent mostly building up what looks to be a very successful wedding business.

Michael O’Bryon
I started at The Miami Herald as an intern in 1971. I worked there till 1986; when I left I was the chief photographer for the Broward ( Fort Lauderdale ) Bureau. We had about 10 photographers just in Fort Lauderdale…times have changed.I really thought I’d be at the Herald forever. We had a few staffers who had been there for 10+ years and one of my colleagues just retired after 43 years. After 15 years, I knew I needed a change. I had been freelancing for Sports Illustrated for a few years, so in ’86 I made the leap.

My work today is about 60% consumer and 40% commercial. So 60% of my freelance work is now directed toward “consumers,” that is, the subject of my pictures is often the client. That was never the case as a staffer — when someone is coming out of the courthouse in handcuffs… you’re not really too concerned about getting his “good side.”

Dan & Amelia Phillips
We were both staffers at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 3 years, and interned for a year each before that. DAN: I didn’t know whether I would be able to maintain a staff job for my entire career, but that was always my hope. I didn’t just want to be a photojournalist, I wanted to be a newspaper photographer. AMELIA: I thought that I would have a staff job for at least 10-15 years, but I figured at some point I would transition into something else that I would be equally happy with.

Now we are doing weddings/portraits/event photography. Photographically, it’s similar to the work at the paper, but we don’t shoot every day. We’re also learning how to run a business (which is a full time job in and of itself). AMELIA: I am starting on a couple of documentary projects with some non-profit organizations that will all be long-term. It’s great to have the flexibility and freedom to pursue those kind of things on my own. DAN: I have tried to challenge myself to shoot photos that are totally different from the ones I shot for the last three years. I got a little 35mm pinhole camera as a gift, and shoot one roll a week. It’s a total departure.

Christopher Record
I actually spent time at three newspapers, but my longest stay and the most recent was the 14 years I worked as a staff photographer at The Charlotte Observer. I first fell in love with photography while working as a reporter at a small paper in Pennsylvania. And yes, when I started I thought I would spend my entire career in newspapers. I also did some picture editing and thought that might be another thing I would pursue later in my career.

My wife, Betsy, is my partner and I enjoy working with her. Although she doesn’t take pictures she handles all of the important work that goes on behind the scenes. We do documentary wedding photography as well as portraiture and corporate and editorial work. We have a website for each genre, and our blog has a bit of both. The versatility I gained as a newspaper photographer has been such an asset, since I’m able to handle almost any assignment that comes my way.

Stuart Thurlkill
I was a staff Photographer for Sun Publications in Chicago, Illinois. I thought that I would be a staff photographer for many publications for many years before pursuing magazine and book publishing. When I started my own business, I never thought that the opportunities for newspaper photographers would disappear as quickly as they did.

I have been developing several businesses over the past six years. I have a commercial/editorial photography business, as well as a busy wedding photography brand that has recently expanded to multiple teams of photographers. We are also in the process of opening a boutique portrait studio that will cater to families, kids, and pets.

Now I am the boss. This has it’s pluses and minuses. The change has been great since I set my own schedule and can be involved in personal projects when time allows. The down side is that I am responsible for making all the decisions on what we shoot and who we hire. I spend 90% of my time working on business development and networking instead of just being primarily a photographer.

Annie Wells
I was a newspaper staffer for 21 years, most recently at the L.A. Times. I knew i did not want to retire as a photographer in the newsroom. They get marginalized. Assignments become less and less interesting. My boss had just hired a lot of young people and I was beginning to feel marginalized. I knew I was going to ask for the buyout. But I got laid off in October instead. It’s insulting. I was just numb. Even though I knew I was going to be leaving it was still really awful. I intend to go to graduate school and get a Masters of Divinity and I’m planning on becoming a chaplain. The week after I got laid off, I already had plans to visit Harvard, Yale and other seminaries.

Sometimes I’ll get to the end of a day and say what did I accomplish today? To lose your profession, it’s mind boggling, even though I knew I was going to be moving into something else. I’m also such a work-oriented person, not having a job is so hard. I have covered events with friends, and it’s good to know you can be moral as well as physical support. We’re all struggling. Just to know there’s someone out ther who is willing to lend a hand is huge.


  1. August 25th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Shane Kelley

    I was one of the first two female photojournalist working at a large daily newspaper in Canada….it was a lot like invading a guys locker room (which I also did on the pro sports level). I had two older brothers so most of the good-natured abuse by all the other (male) photographers felt familiar and I just laughed back (locking me up in film dryers, filling my film cans with disappearing ink..they knew I pulled off the lids with my mouth, picking me up and carrying me around, mooning me, etc.). I started full time freelancing at the Toronto Sun after taking the city editor spec photos every day for 3 months. It was a great initiation to the world of newspapers and I loved every minute of it. After a few years I accepted a contract invitation from the Toronto Star because the new Sun photo editor told me it “wasn’t proper for a girl to be shooting hard news” and wouldn’t give me any decent assignments. My husband to be (now ex) was in Montreal so I made the move to the Montreal Gazette where I worked as a freelance photojournalist for 18 years (while raising 2 sons…now 18 and 22). While at the Gazette I also wrote and photographed a weekly Style column which was fun as I had complete freedom to do what I wanted. Like a lot of papers the Montreal Gazette has made huge cutbacks..there are no jobs….no budget, so these days I’m freelancing (mostly business photography) and doing a few shots and theatre reviews for a small weekly paper. I’m also back at university taking some courses. The reality is that you have to be so much more than a great image maker these days.

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