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Black & White kick off photojournalism conference

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–People magazine on March 6 carried a story about a man who suffered from amnesia, disappeared from his home in New Rochelle, N.Y., and was eventually located by his family six months later in a Chicago church’s homeless shelter.

The photograph accompanying the story shows the man, 57-year-old Raymond Power Jr., sitting in the church sanctuary, wearing a clean suit, neatly knotted tie and a befuddled expression. Embracing him in a posture of utter relief and joy is the sister who had flown in from New York to bring Power home.

Bob Black, an award-winning photojournalist for the Chicago Sun Times, took that photograph, seen by more than 3.6 million People magazine readers. Black was among the presenters at the 2006 Southwestern Photojournalism Conference hosted annually by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and supported by Christians in Photojournalism.

Black’s co-presenter was John H. White, another Chicago Sun Times photojournalist with a national reputation, having won a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 1982.

More than 200 professional photojournalists and photojournalism students came from all over the United States to see Black and White show a collection of their favorite photographs and hear the stories behind them -– and to get the duo’s tips on how to take the best photographs in any given situation.

What sets this conference apart from other photojournalism conferences is its Christian emphasis, said co-organizer Matthew Miller, director of photography at Southwestern Seminary.

“This conference was very focused on how photojournalists can use their talents to bring glory to God,” Miller said. “Overall, it was a tremendous success. The diversity of participants, the increase in students attending, and the quality of shooters is increasing each year.”

Black drew on his 40-plus years of professional experience to urge participants to be patient and persevering.

“Capture good, concise and correct images,” Black said. “Simplicity is the best bet. Be there, be observant, be alert, open and receptive…. Serendipitous things will happen.”

Black showed pictures he took of Coretta Scott King, Jesse Jackson, Muddy Waters and other notable public figures.

“These are pictures I forgot I took until someone pulled them out of an archive,” he said. “Don’t hesitate to take a shot that makes you feel good just because you think it might not run [in the newspaper]. At some point, it might be used…. [T]he shot in the [March 6 issue of] People magazine was one my newspaper didn’t use.”

White, who has more than 300 awards and taught workshops in 14 countries during his four-decade career, told the March 3-5 conference that success in photojournalism involves “faith, focus and flight,” paraphrasing Proverbs 6:6 as an example of what he meant: “Check out the ant, consider its ways and be wise.”

Photojournalism done with practice and alertness provides unparalleled opportunities to “put feet to your dreams,” White said. Photojournalists have to “be there” where and when something happens, “even if it’s just for 1/1000th of a second,” he said.

“While there is life beyond the deadline, you can’t publish an excuse,” White said. “You have to be doers. Every day you have the opportunity to go out there and capture something that will last longer than you.”

Black and White were not the only nationally recognized photojournalists featured at this year’s conference.

San Francisco Chronicle photojournalist Michael Macor presented his collection of single photographs that won first place in Pictures of the Year International’s “Newspaper Photographer of the Year” category for 2005. Macor underscored the need for a photojournalist to be patient by noting that it took at least “20 minutes” for him to wait for right moment to take most of his single photographs.

David Leeson of the Dallas Morning News, in an animated and passionate session, demonstrated the approaches and techniques he used on assignments, such as being embedded with a U.S. Army unit in Iraq. Leeson’s coverage in Iraq earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

Kenny Irby, visual journalism group leader & diversity program director of the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., spoke on the ethics of photojournalism. Irby is an accomplished photographer and photojournalism educator who has worked as photo manager for two Olympic Games and was photo editor on two Pulitzer Prize-winning projects at Newsday magazine.

Naomi Lasdon, a trailblazer for women in photojournalism with a career spanning more than 40 years, came from her home base in Virginia Beach, Va., to share tips and stories from her career.

Reactions to the conference were positive. Eric Kluth, who came in from New Mexico where he is a staff photographer with the Clovis News Journal, said the conference gave him “a great deal to think and pray about in photography and in life. What an amazing thing to mix photography and the Lord and watch the Holy Spirit move.”

“My heart was open and I received many blessings” Kelly Jordan, a photojournalist from Jacksonville, Fla., said. “God puts us in the place we need to be to receive His Word, I know that now more than ever. I arrived with a troubled heart and left fulfilled and re-focused on my mission.”

Gary Fong, one of the co-founders of Christians in Photojournalism and a veteran photojournalist, comes to Fort Worth every year for the conference from his post as director of editorial graphics technology with the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I make it a priority to make it to the SWPJC,” Fong said. “It’s a special conference, where the fellowship of Christian photographers blend their photographic talents with their spiritual walk…. It’s where like hearts seek to serve the Lord.”

Next year’s conference has been set for Feb. 23-25, 2007. For more information, go to www.swpjc.org or www.christiansinphotojournalism.org.

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  • Brent Thompson