DPP Home Profiles Larry Armstrong: A Beginner’s Mind

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Larry Armstrong: A Beginner’s Mind

Former L.A. Times Director Of Photography Larry Armstrong guided the newspaper through technological upheaval and radical, fundamental changes in photojournalism

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Actress Charlotte Rampling in her Cadillac at a yacht club in Cannes, France.
DPP: What’s your perspective on photojournalism today?

Larry Armstrong: I think photojournalism is alive as far as practitioners go in the United States, but mostly in the newspaper world. But newspapers are taking a real beating these days with all the online stuff that’s happening. That, combined with the economy going into a sinkhole. I read The New York Times and the L.A. Times every day. They have top-notch photographers. The L.A. Times has been cutting back on writers, critics and columnists, and investing a lot in their online edition, but they still find the money to send their photographers out on really good stories.

U.S. magazines tend to be a lot artier rather than photojournalistic. Their art directors come from design and contemporary photography backgrounds rather than photojournalism backgrounds. That has translated into some pretty odd photojournalism pieces. It seems in Europe that there’s still a lot of photojournalism going on. I saw a lot of examples of that while I was on the Selection Committee of World Press Photo.

Actress Mariel Hemingway at home in Westlake Village, California.
DPP: Who are some of the photographers out there that we should be looking at in terms of photojournalism produced in the U.S.?

Armstrong: From an L.A. Times perspective, I had a hand in hiring a lot of them. Carolyn Cole is just awesome. I hired her from The Sacramento Bee. She’s fearless and dedicated to photojournalism. I also hired Genaro Molina, who’s an incredible portrait photographer and conceptual photographer. Don Bartletti has made a specialty of covering border issues between the U.S. and Mexico. He won the Pulitzer Prize for the story he did about a boy named Enrique, which was eventually turned into a movie. Don just had a feature come out on narco-wives—all those women that end up in prison because of their husbands, boyfriends and brothers in the drug world. He pitches a lot of these stories and he’s also the go-to guy for border issues.

Before donning his editor’s cap, Armstrong covered stories with his camera on the warfront in El Salvador, the famines in Africa, the unrest in Northern Ireland, as well as domestic stories, from America’s ghettos to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

DPP: What are some of the challenges facing photojournalists today?

Armstrong: First of all, digital has changed everything. Fees started dropping like crazy. Some people were saying, “Why are you charging so much? It’s digital. That doesn’t take anything to do.”


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