I want to share some background, highlighting an event or two which may have been the wakeup calls I didn’t want to pay attention to.
From either late summer or early fall of 1980 for nine, long miserable months, I worked as a photojournalist at the Walla Walla (WA) Union-Bulletin. Talk about ID10Ts! The managing editor was a nightmare.
One incident there involved a riot at the state penitentiary. We knew about it the day before because one of our reporters had obtained info it was going to happen. The morning of the riot, I climbed a sort of fire escape near the prison which would allow me to see over the top of the prison and shoot anything newsworthy. I got some great pics!
When I returned to the paper, late for my shift, the ME was furious. Now, understand, the paper didn’t give much play to the penitentiary because the towns persons, the subscribers, didn’t want to read about it. I pretty much ignored his ramblings and went to the darkroom to develop and print my photos. The ME calls me down to his office and chews me a new one. “We are not going to be running any of your photos!” he proclaimed. Pretty calmly, unusual for me at 28, I said, “Well OK. But I want you to understand we are an AP (Associated Press) and UPI (United Press International) affiliate paper. As such, we are under obligation to share what we have to those organizations. It’s going to look a little funny when our photos appear all over the region, but not in our own paper, don’t you think?” He became even angrier. Red as a beet, he yelled at me, “Give me your best two photos!” They ran front page.
Ultimately, I was fired in Walla Walla, a week after I’d quit, because I’d been using the company phone to call my girl friend in Missouri. I think I ran up a $500 bill one month.
I had quit the Union-Bulletin to take a job in Cedar Rapids, IA. One I didn’t really want. When I was interviewed there, I thought I had nothing to lose by telling the ME at that paper what my reputation was like. “I want to be clear with you, John. Probably within the first six months, most of your staff will hate me and the photo staff (the short term guy on the photo staff had already been there 12 years) may get stirred up before that.” The ME said, “Good, this place needs some stirring up.” Still apprehensive, I asked, “Will you stand behind me, then?” He responded in the affirmative and he did….for three years.
Almost immediately in Cedar Rapids, I started pissing persons off. Towns people in addition to the staff. The ME didn’t understand the part about the towns persons, and called me in one night to discuss it. “You told me there’d be problems with the staff, you didn’t say anything about problems with our subscribers.” I tried explaining there had been situations where someone I was photographing, or their child, was attempting to direct how I was making my picture. In no uncertain terms, and with no sense of being polite, I told them to get out of my way and let me do my job the best I knew how. Those folks didn’t hesitate to call the paper and give someone an earful of how rude the new photographer was. Incidents like this continued for the duration of my tenure in Cedar Rapids.
The straw that broke that ME’s back came in December of 1983. I was shooting a University of Iowa football game. It was raining cats & dogs and Iowa had astroturf on the field. Perhaps you don’t know about astroturf and rain, but when it rains hard, astroturf just collects the water on the surface. Eventually, it’s like wallowing through a deep puddle.
The University sports department had a rule for sideline photographers. While shooting, we were supposed to go down on one knee to allow the fans to see the game more clearly. Well, when it rained, no one on the sidelines went down because it would have been like taking a bath in cold water.
Here’s where it gets good (or bad.) I’m standing on the sidelines in the middle of a play and a small, stocky Iowa Highway Patrol sergeant on the sidelines grabs my jacket and grunts, “Get down!” at me. I missed my shot. And I was now wet. Or wetter. Take your choice. I got up, turned to the guy and said angrily, “If you put your hands on me again, I’ll sue your department for assault!” It’s probably not to difficult to imagine the scene which ensued. Unfortunately for me, one of the University’s Sports Department officials witnessed the whole thing.
The following Monday, I was called into the ME’s office, with my boss, the photo editor and the sports editor. “Donny, I’ve backed you for three, long hard years. I just can’t do it anymore.” I was fired on the spot.
For most of 1984, I sent out more than 30 portfolios trying to get another newspaper job. Whether it was my Peck’s Bad Boy reputation, or the fact the economy wasn’t in the best of shape and the papers I was applying to could hire two “cub” photographers for what they’d have to pay me I don’t know. Fact is, I couldn’t find another photojournalism job. And never did. I miss being a news photographer almost every day.
This was the fourth newspaper I’d been fired from. I firmly believed it wasn’t me. It was all the ID10Ts around me. It would be another 16 years before I heeded what the Universe had been trying to teach me.
How Am I Changing? Not!
This is the beginning. Before I started getting tuned in to realizing if I really want to live the life I was meant to, some changes are needed to begin the transformation.