When the LA Times was working on an article about our very own BrooWaha a few months ago, I had the chance to meet Glenn Koenig, one of their Staff Photographers, when he came to my house to take my picture. Because I have always had a passion for photojournalism, I had a great time observing Glenn at work. I was able to chat with him during the shoot and acquire a few photography tips!
We kept in touch and he gracefully accepted to grant BrooWaha an interview and share his thoughts on photography and the state journalism today. The interview is reproduced below:
When did you become a Staff Photographer for the LA Times? What did you do before getting this position?
I have been with the Los Angeles Times since 1984, first as a contract photographer and then as a staffer since 1996. I graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 1979, receiving my B.A. degree in Communications with an emphasis in Photojournalism. While attending CSUF I worked on the Daily Titan, the University newspaper.
My first job fresh out of college was with the Community Advocate, a small weekly newspaper covering the communities of Artesia, Cerritos, Cypress, La Palma, Los Alamitos and Hawaiian Gardens. I was making about $150 a week, working fifty hours a week. The Advocate was a good starting point for me. Image usage was great, featuring large pictures and extensive opportunities for photo stories. Assignments ranged from good to very mundane, including supermarket grand openings (known as grip and grins), high school sports, boxing, annual frog jumping contests and environmental portraits. At that time all images were black and white, which I printed and edited myself in an old, dingy, badly ventilated darkroom.
My next position was with The Southeast News, a small daily newspaper covering the greater South East Los Angeles area. Leaving there, I worked for the Orange County Register as a contract photographer before arriving at the Times.
What is your typical day like? How does the LA Times work with its photographers? (I noticed you were receiving updates from the LA Times on your blackberry.
There are thirty-eight L.A. Times photographers. We have shifts that start at 7:00 am and at 4:00 pm and everything in between. Some photographers might be working on long-term projects, which could include traveling, while others are shooting daily assignments.
For me, every day is different. I could be sent to March Air Force Base to cover the President flying in on Air Force One or to an elementary school in Garden Grove to shoot their Thanksgiving Day celebration, complete with a replica of the Mayflower and all the kids dressed up as pilgrims.
Feature stories and projects are planned in advance, so the photographers get some notice before the assignment. This includes all sections of the paper such as Calendar, Food, Business, California and Real Estate.
The editors at the Times love a good weather photo. Rain, wind, sunshine or the occasional snowfall is considered a weather event in Southern California. If there is a need for an A1 or B1 cover weather picture, all photogs are told to be on the look out during their workday.
Breaking news stories are entirely different. I might get a phone call or receive a Blackberry message, while still at home before the start of my shift, to roll on breaking news nearby. This could be anything from a large fire to a police involved shooting or even a business story about the selling of the Ontario Mills Mall. We may also get a call (usually a Blackberry message) to roll on some spot news either while working at the L.A. office or out shooting another assignment.
Responding to a breaking news event in Los Angeles traffic can be a time challenging endeavor. Recently, on a Friday at 3:00 pm, I was in the office doing lab work on another assignment when I was dispatched to Playa Del Rey to check out a report of a smoldering body in the street. Traveling through gridlock most of the way, I arrived at the scene an hour and a half later. The body was under a tarp (thankfully) and a murder investigation was in full swing. I got the photos I needed in about 15 minutes. I transmitted the images from my car using my laptop and a wireless broadband card. My photo editor was looking at my pictures by 5:15 pm.
What do you like the most about your job?
The variety of assignments makes each day different from the next, so I never get bored. Meeting different people from all walks of life, young and old, five days a week is extremely invigorating. My job allows me to experience and document the most admirable aspects of humanity as opposed to the very worst. Informing our readers through honest journalism is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a news photographer. Personally, when I create an image that expresses some emotion of the human experience, I consider this a success.
Do you have any tips for someone who would want to become a photojournalist?
Earning a college degree is the most important part of the learning process. Not just getting the diploma, but having the opportunity to hone your skills while working on a university newspaper and then securing a really good internship. These things are integral to gaining invaluable experience and building a solid portfolio. The job pool appears to be shrinking for newspapers and magazines but there will always be a need for creative photographers, whether in print or in electronic media. For me personally, one of the most important aspects of the job is having a genuine respect for everyone I photograph. Generally that respect is returned.
Do you have a favorite photographer?
Yes, Alfred Eisenstaedt, the Life Magazine photographer who documented a wide variety of people and events, including President John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and the V-J Day celebration in Times Square. His portraits were so simple and direct, yet he still was able to convey the unique personalities of his subjects. You did not ask, but my favorite news photo is Joe Rosenthalâ€™s rising of the American flag on Iwo Jima at the end of World War ll. The picture signified the end of a brutal struggle and spoke eloquently to all Americans.
For more information about Alfred Eisenstaedt:
... and Joe Rosenthal:
Did you get to shoot celebrities? Do you have any interesting or funny anecdote about that?
Yes, a few.
Several years ago, I photographed Little Richard at the Golden Horseshoe Theater in Disneyland. I was to take an environmental portrait of him, behind his piano, to promote an upcoming performance. We met and he was friendly. I started to shoot and after each frame, he changed positions and really worked the camera. When I shot my seventh picture he stood up, thanked me and walked away. I was surprised that the entire photo session had lasted less than a minute! It was really quick, but I did get one usable image. The situation was unusual because most people, even the very famous or those who are very busy, will give you at least ten to twenty minutes.
On another occasion, I was working a late night shift covering a charity event that featured comedian Milton Berle. I arrived early because I had another assignment to go to afterward. I was sitting in the lobby with my camera back open to load film, clearly not ready to start shooting. I had the feeling that somebody was watching me. I looked up and there was Milton Berle, standing right above me! He leaned down over me, saw my empty camera and struck a hilarious pose, holding a giant cigar and looking directly at me with a great big smile! I fumbled with the film, finished loading and lifted the camera to capture this wonderful image of the legendary comic. He immediately dropped the pose, turned and walked away! To this day, I still kick myself for missing a classic candid photo of one of the greatest American comics of all time; who was also, as I had unfortunately learned the hard way, a real jokester!
What do you think of the new wave of citizen journalism on the Internet? For example, Reuters and Yahoo jointly started You Witness News and accept submissions from the public.
This site is really cool. The tutorial portion supplies some good journalistic tools to help the citizen journalist tell a story. The professionals canâ€™t be at every event, so when a citizen gets a photo or some video footage of breaking news, the readers benefit.
Are you afraid it could threaten your profession or traditional news sources like the LA Times?
No, but the traditional print media business is changing. The new Editor at the Times has announced that www.latimes.com will now be our primary vehicle to deliver the news.
Is there anything else you would like to add to conclude this interview?
Working with the dedicated journalists at the Los Angeles Times has been both an honor and a pleasure. Interacting with some of the best photojournalists in the country on a daily basis has been educational and fulfilling. I learn so much from my colleagues; everything from how they approach an assignment to the best lighting techniques for shooting portraits and food. The Los Angeles Times Photo Department currently has three Pulitzer Prize winners on staff: Don Barteletti, Carolyn Cole and Annie Wells. It is really a very cool place to work!
Thank you for the interview Ariel.
Thanks a lot for your time Glenn, I will keep an eye open for your next pictures in the LA Times.
WORLD - CITY LIVING
Copyright © 2010 Ariel
Interview with Glenn Koenig, Photographer for the LA Times
Copyright © 2010 Ariel
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