Meeting the Obi-Wan Kenobi of photojournalism

Chatting with Dirck Halstead at the photo exhibit. Photo by Beverly Spicer.

Chatting with Dirck Halstead. Photo by Beverly Spicer.

“You have to get out of your head the idea of being a photojournalist–you’re now a producer,” said Dirck Halstead, who holds the record for the most Time magazine covers shot by any single photographer.

He shot 49 of them, including perhaps his most notorious photograph, that of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky embracing President Bill Clinton during a fundraising even in 1996.

I spoke to Halstead at the reception for the LBJ Presidential Library’s latest exhibit, News to History–Photojournalism and the Presidency, discussing the impact social media has had on photojournalism for an article I had to write.

There’s been a paradigm shift in photojournalism, he said, and the days of when he got paid $750 a day to shoot for Time are long gone.

It’s now about producing–whether photographs, video or a written article–and delivering a project to whoever is your sponsor and being paid for the end product.

Scribbling away frantically in my notebook, I had the acute sense I was speaking to a master. Most of what he was saying was too complicated for the article I planned to write but you don’t squander a chance to hear advice of that calibre.

Halstead’s words seemed to touch on the great bittersweet comedy that enlivens all communication, and all art too: That we will keep on laboring to connect with one another–day after day and generation after generation–even though the viewer, reader or listener will never fully understand.

Another photographer there, Margaret Thomas, had a short reply to my question of whether social media has made any difference for emerging female photojournalists trying to succeed.

“Not really as there are no real barriers any more,” she said, “other than still having to deal with di*k head editors.”