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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jay Dickman: Far Afield

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Jay Dickman has spent more than three decades on the road capturing subjects from the meager to the momentous

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A Yupik hunter about to hurl a harpoon at a seal that has just dived beneath the middle mouth of the Yukon River.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” explains Dickman, “nor am I really capable of doing anything else. There are times when the last thing I want to do is leave my home, my family, my life built with those people I love. That’s when I’m almost on the edge of ditching the career because I don’t want to “hit the road” again. At those times, I’ll reach into my camera bag, pick up a camera and wait. It always happens: holding that camera, an electricity courses through me, an overwhelming feeling of ‘I can’t believe I get to do this for a living.’ If that feeling doesn’t surface at one of those times when I’m questioning my profession, then it’s time to leave.”

A Day In The Life Of...

Ironically, Dickman hadn’t always planned to be a photojournalist. He had begun college as an English Lit major, but his high-school days taking pictures of his friends had made him particularly excited about the medium. He got his start shooting local portraits and then working as a sports photographer for an agency in the Dallas area. There he made an explosive $5 a game (which included the cost of prints). Slowly, he built his portfolio until he felt confident enough to approach newspapers and news services. The photo director at the Dallas Times Herald liked a few of his football photos, and Dickman says he probably “felt sorry for this scared, skinny, long-haired kid.”

Members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club submerge themselves in 35º water as part of their winter ritual.
The Herald ended up being an incredibly gainful training ground. (One of the first photographers who he met on staff was Bob Jackson, who had shot the Pulitzer-winning photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby.) Dickman was shooting three to five assignments a day, anything from sports to editorial features and news stories. He notes that he had to produce imagery no matter what. The editors would accept no excuses, whether it be creative malaise or outright fatigue. Dickman thanks this brutal pace for shaping him as a successful photographer while furthering his capabilities.

“I remember reading some years ago that the majority of National Geographic photographers come from newspaper backgrounds,” he says, “and that makes sense as the newspaper photographer is working with some sort of visual narrative on a daily basis.”

Dickman was on assignment for three months in this unexplored and uncharted region of the Papua New Guinea rain forest.
The Herald had been doing well, and it was soon expanded into a major newspaper with international coverage. Through this, Dickman was able to cover some major events, such as the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, as well as his first foray into the tumultuous El Salvador region in 1982.

“Don McCullin, Susan Meiselas, John Hoagland, Richard Cross—these were a few of the names of photographers who had covered conflicts before I went to El Salvador and whose work had a major impact upon me,” Dickman explains. “Their work was stunning and was part of the catalyst that drew me to the area. Central America was a draw to many aspiring photographers; it was easy, and cheap, to get to and “bang-bang” was seen as a necessary part of a photographer’s book. You could be shooting hot and heavy action after a morning’s flight from Miami. I thought I had enough experience at that time, having covered riots and other out-of-control events. I felt I was ready to cover an event that was dangerous beyond my experiences, that I could bring back images of my style while photographing in a ‘red zone,’ where everything is possibly out of control.


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