I have a guitar shaped USB drive that my students know well. Every week in my Photojournalism class at Medill they put their images on it (if they can’t get the damn FTP to work) and I was pulling off a great story last night and somehow, found a folder that I copied the second to last time I was in the Sun-Times newsroom. Ironically for video training. The images were from the camera of John H. White. I saw them and it brought back that feeling of not knowing what lay ahead. And how it seems like a lifetime ago. It made my chest get heavy.
November of 2012 I wasn’t a photojournalist. I was just a father with a camera. I was on paternity leave from my job at Sun-Times Media and I wasn’t shooting much. So when I got the opportunity to get out of the house and take my family to a gallery show at Columbia College I was pretty happy to be out seeing work. I was going back and forth with my wife about returning to a job that wasn’t really making me happy, and I really enjoyed being a father.
That day we walked in to the gallery show and the “picture taking man” John H. White was clicking that shutter as we walked up to him. I’m assuming it was the two ladies I was with that caught his eye, and if you know John seeing him light up is a treasure. I’ve talked a LOT about how John has changed my life and when he handed me his camera (I didn’t have mine at the time I had a dang baby to bring on the EL!) and I got to make a photo of three people that all changed the course of my life for the better, in ONE frame. That’s the power of photojournalism right there. The single moment that means everything. The moment that will never exist again. It doesn’t need to be an amazing image to bring someone to tears.
A year later so much has changed. Parker’s still beautiful and amazing, she’s big and makes animal noises. She kisses and hugs, that makes me smile. John and I are no longer co-workers, that makes me sad but we look above the clouds. I’m so happy for what came from the disaster. I’m reaching more people on a personal level with my work, and I feel I’m better at challenging my students to do great stories.
I’m trying to thank John every day by keeping in flight, and always doing for others. Check out the work that are being done by MY students. http://medillphotojournalism.com When a reporter asks me about “photojournalism dying” or “how you can teach people to go into journalism?” I show them the work my class is doing. Covering tornados, glass blowing, weirdness, bears fans, nature, fire, and each other. Seriously poke around on that site. They’re doing amazing work.
I’m so glad to have Parker photographed by a 2 Pulitzer winners in her first year of life. Next year is going to be an amazing ride too! KIF.
Photo by John H. White
my class minus Martine.November 24th, 2013 by Rob Hart
The last few months have been a lot of football. The awesome thing about my new client(s) is they send me to shoot the best games. Not just whatever fits best into the schedule with 4 others assignments. I have time to stay the entire game and just shoot. My final game of the season was Loyola Academy playing Stevenson in the IHSA Class 8A semi-final. It was a thrilling game with some amazing light and brutal cold. Great way to finish the season.November 19th, 2013 by Rob Hart
The last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time standing on sidelines for the Chicago Tribune. Some nice days, some rain, some cold, but it’s been a fun few months. It’s nice to get back to doing something you’re good at for someone who wants your work. I’m having a blast and there’s one more week to go!
November 19th, 2013 by Rob Hart October 31st, 2013 by Rob Hart
I was recently hired to shoot video of one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ employees having their day with the cup. Of course I took some stills when I could. Man it’s really cool to see grown men cry around the cup. Being that it’s the greatest trophy in any sport and hockey does it right by letting it loose on the world it has created a unique connection that none other has.
Wow, so I had an awesome Monday. Not only did this little blog do a ton of traffic, which I pay for soooo there’s that, but I got to talk for six minutes to a packed crowd on the stage of the House of Blues! What? Yea, people actually paid money to come see photos and hear stories. How about that for monetizing content? The good folks over at the Chicago Tribune invited me to show my work and talk about life after the layoff, my hero John H White, and show tons of photos of my kid. Did anyone else show photos of their baby? Nope.
But just as important, I got to take the stage with photojournalists that I looked up to ever since moving here in the 90′s. Scott Strazzante, Tony Perez, Terrance James, Chris Walker, Zbigniew Bzdak, Alex Garcia, and photo editors Erin Mystkowski, and Meg Theno.
PechaKucha Chicago is a quarterly even held here and give the speaker 20 images to show for 20 seconds each. It’s fast, and the perfect amount of time to hear someone talk. It leaves you wanting more and forces you to really boil down your ideas like a great poem.
And it was a school night so all my students got to come for FREE! TribNation was super cool about that. Like them on Facebook and check out more photos on their page.October 25th, 2013 by Rob Hart
I was going to keep this between myself and Ferro, but after a STM freelancer told me he wasn’t working for them anymore because he was so insulted by the comments in Chicago Magazine I had to share it. I’m trying really hard to be zen about this, but sometimes you just gotta be a journalist and tell the truth.
Dear Mr. Ferro,
I just realized it’s been almost five months since I was liberated from my job at Sun-Times Media and I never sent you a thank you note. And since no one would take credit for my sudden departure, I wasn’t sure who to thank. That said, I’m sure this letter will be as well read by you as your paper is read by other people my age.
I wanted to express my heartfelt gratitude for not only laying me off and helping launch my career, but for giving me an opportunity to fight for the community that I love—Chicago, its people, its visual journalists and its news consumers.
I was out walking with my daughter when one of your Wrapports employees sent me a link to Chicago Magazine’s recent story on you. I can’t say I’m surprised by what I read. Last fall, this same person came to me after hearing Craig Newman say he wanted to “get rid of all the old guys like John (White) and shake up the photo department.” (Later, after we were let go, a second person corroborated this. This person works at a competing newspaper and told me he heard the exact same thing from Newman in a job interview. How crazy is that?)
I was on paternity leave when I first heard this, and honestly, I didn’t want to come back. Not because I didn’t love my job. I was trusted by both the company—but more importantly, by my community—for more than a decade. They counted on me to bring back great stories every day. I considered staying away, given the track record of how your company treats people. This is evidenced by the number of great leaders in both the newsroom and advertising that you’ve lost over the years. As Chris LaFortune, an Illinois Reporter of the Year, put it when he left: “I don’t want to work for people that treat their workers inhumanly.”
I was the first person to get any kind of multimedia work on the CST websites, even after the head of the web department told me “Flash is incompatible with the CMS.” We embraced video in 2007 and began taking viewers into incredibly, quirky places, such as the last pinball factory in North America and the competitive culture in Chicago surrounding pinball leagues in private homes. I told the stories of volunteers who would drive cancer patients to their appointments, polling places in a boat showroom. All the while, I was willing to find real people to help illustrate stories for reporters, to help bring their words to life with visuals. We wanted our images and videos to be the hook that drew readers into stories. Reporters need(ed) our help and we loved offering unique ideas at story meetings—the kind of ideas that can only come from people who spend 100 percent of their lives engaging others.
So I guess this is where I was most confused: “It would be like you’re a carriage driver and the cars come and you’re really upset that you can’t have your buggy whip and hit your horse anymore.” Did you really not know what your employees were doing in the newsroom? Or did it not matter? Or are you being flippant and insulting?
That puzzled me for my entire walk. I don’t see it as disrespect because not only is it just flat out wrong, but it shows complete ignorance. Being a person that sometimes says stupid things, I do sympathize. But I’ve given a few interviews and always know that my main goal is—as John H. White taught me—to always be doing for others. Always make every action and interaction with other people or the public a great experience. The ethics that I learned in 12 years at STM was the same my parents taught me—always do unto others. I bet John would have been a great person for you to have as a mentor. Instead, he was fired.
Then it hit me. We just have divergent ideas about your newspaper. I want it to do great journalism, and you want eyeballs to monetize. Maybe it’s because I teach at a journalism school or have really high standards, but I’m a content person, not a money person. I’ve seen my neighborhood paper, the Oak Leaves, chock-full of sponsored content, submitted content or aggregated content. And I guess that’s why I don’t subscribe. The product isn’t what I want or need. So I get why you don’t need a photo staff that produces great content that costs some money. Your new business model is low cost-low quality.
Today, half the photos in the paper read ”Sun-Times Library.” Not too long ago, there was a photo in the Oak Leaves that I took in 2004. The kid in the picture was 2 at the time. She’s now 11. So as long as you don’t care that the faces in the paper never age, who needs new stuff? There will always be people with their own agendas with press releases ready to send to the new Aggregro employees who will run anything, without checking to see if it’s true. And I’m thankful to not be one of them.
I was out shooting for the Chicago Tribune one night and overheard one of your reporters say, “I’m sorry; we’re doing the best with what we have.” I immediately jumped in and told him when you’re not working for the Sun-Times you don’t apologize for the content anymore. You show up for a shoot because you are the best. And your client values you, they thank you, they treat you like a decent human being treats another. It’s awesome!
So for that, I give you a million thanks. My life is so much better. I’m happier. I spend more time with my wife and kid, and because of the awesomely moronic way you handled my layoff, my webpage’s SEO is through the roof. I’ve had sympathizers and fans buy me a lot of beers in the last few months. I’ve had people approach me in the grocery store in Oak Park and say they love how the photographers have responded to your shortsightedness. And because of that, they won’t read your paper anymore.
It was an honor to spend 12 years on the streets telling stories for your publications. I’d be up for having a beer at the Goat and giving you some more ideas about improving your paper. I’ll even buy the first round.
I’ve included a signed picture, since I hear you love having photographs in your office.
All the best,
In Chicago we have PJ Love, at SIU it’s Photo Love.
If there’s one thing in this world that is awesome, it’s taking pictures. If I was forced to give that up for anything it’d be teaching people to take great pictures. So last April Southern Illinois University Assistant Prof. Mark Dolan said I should come down to his “South of 64 Workshop” and bring some of my Medill students I was pretty excited to join in on the fun.
Nearly 40 students armed with cameras are split into teams and sent out to make great images, while the coaches sit around and look at photos, give feedback, and send them back to tell more stories. It was a complete blast to get to know some really great shooters and have them take your advice to heart. Then go shoot the kind of images you try and talk them into achieving. Sometimes it’s driving students to a house, or talking them into just going up and knocking on a door. It really was a treat to be a part of such a cool group of professionals and students. I saw a lightning strike, a few cats, a student get trapped in an elevator, more cats, more elevator problems, ate lots of cheese and looked at way too many photos. It was amazing. And like Jack on Lost, I just want to go back.September 22nd, 2013 by Rob Hart
I recently did a quick portrait of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf for the Chicago Tribune. It was a really fun shoot as I got to hang out with the cool PR folks and we scouted numerous rooms in the Fairmount Hotel, then settled on a pretty great room in a sushi restaurant. Stumpf was personable, a good subject and really has a knack for making different photographs. And I just had to work the stagecoach in somehow.September 10th, 2013 by Rob Hart
I was laying in bed at the Commons Hotel at 6AM. My roommates Julia Robinson and Sol Neelman were still sleeping. Running on 4 hours of “sleep” and ready to get Geekfest started. I was so excited to be spending Day 100 with the very same photo community that changed and nurtured my visual trajectory.
On my first fathers day I was out in the neighborhood at 6AM with my baby. We were walking to get coffee and pastries from the bakery. I got an email from John H. White congratulating me on that special day and it read in part “THANKS, THANKS, THANKS for all you are doing for soooooo many…. A MILLIONS THANKS for all you are doing for me…. Keep doing great things for OTHERS! Peace & PJ Love, KEEP IN FLIGHT ~~JHW~~” *For context this was only about 2 weeks post layoff*
It was like I was given an assignment from above. Literally. Sol and I had been talking about resurrecting Geekfest since last year. We’ve both been on record saying Geekfest changed our lives and it was time to give that gift of inspiration and inebriation to a younger generation of photographers. Melissa Lyttle had grown this tiny little gathering into one of the greatest communities of visual storytellers. But it’s too much work for even one superwoman.
Then 3 days later Sol and I are talking Minneapolis. Speakers, locations, dates. Would anyone show up? Would we break even on this? Then my new friend and former local Eve Edelheit joined the team and it was off. For weeks I had done nothing but talk about losing my job and now we were going to plan our favorite weekend of the year. The University of Minnesota jumped on board right away and I couldn’t believe they were going to give us space and feed us, I know right?
It was such a great experience to meet so many great photographers and see my old friends. To have beers and nacho cheese and laugh. If there was a way to celebrate my 100th day of being #laidofffromthesuntimes, to do it with the community that gave me my visual wings, was such a treat.
Thanks Cousin Sol.