By Jim Patrico, AAEA Awards Co-Chair
Writer of the Year Joe Link and I share some history. We both studied photojournalism under Angus McDougall at the University of Missouri, we both worked for Larry Harper at The Missouri Ruralist magazine, and we both worked for Jack Odle at The Progressive Farmer magazine.
I’m older than Joe, so I was long gone from Mizzou by the time he got there, and my college memories won’t be the same as his. But McDougall (“Mac” to his friends and graduates; “Mr. McDougall” to his current students.) was probably the single greatest influence on my career.
He was a practitioner of a tough love philosophy for photojournalism students. Public critiques of assignments were the order of the day, and Mac spared no one. His comments could be withering and humbling. But he knew how to give praise, too, and he understood that his students came with all levels of talent and expectations. If Mac sensed you were trying your hardest, he would critique your work as harshly as anyone’s but somehow pat you on the back simultaneously. If, on the other hand, you didn’t evince effort on a photo or project, you earned a stink eye from him that left you looking for a place to hide.
Photojournalism was a passion for Mac–a discipline and a calling. In his eyes, it was the marriage of words and photos, a storytelling form more complete than either writing or photography alone. He did not brook slights to the profession and railed against journalists on the writing side who treated to photographers as mere accessories to their own craft. A reference by a reporter to “my photographer John Doe” would set off Mac’s Scotsman’s temper.
The purest form of photojournalism for Mac was the photo story. It was the form that put the marriage of words and photos to the greatest use. He insisted that his students strive to excel with (in those days) the typewriter and the camera. In so doing, a photojournalist would come to understand how the two forms complemented each other and became much more than the sum of their parts.
To this day, photo stories are the most fun and the most challenging assignments for me. I seek them out because they continue to stretch my limits and help me hone my skills.
Mac made photojournalism a cherished profession for me. He instilled a pride in work, a joy in accomplishment and a drive to improve. Forty-plus years on, I can still see his steady gaze on me as he asks, “So, are you going to go back and get a better photo this time?”
Larry Harper and Jack Odle were not teachers so much as enablers. When I went to work for Larry, I was fresh out of a stint at a daily newspaper and looking for something less hectic and stressful. Mac introduced me to Larry in 1980, and my career in ag journalism began.
Larry and The Missouri Ruralist offered me the opportunity to polish the tools Mac and the newspapers had taught me. When I came back to the office from a reporting and photography trip, Larry offered both critiques and encouragements. Significantly, he also gave me space in the magazine to display the results. When thousands of readers view your work each month, it’s almost as much pressure as having Angus McDougall looking at your latest assignment.
Twenty years ago Jack Odle hired me to be The Progressive Farmer’s Machinery Editor, even though I was functionally illiterate about the subject. Jack told me that didn’t matter. He mainly wanted me for my writing and photo skills and the machinery beat would work itself out. Two decades later, I’m still the machinery editor. But Jack—and later Editor in Chief Gregg Hillyer—gave me freedom to pursue other types of stories and photos. They also let me know they valued my contributions to the magazine and found room in its pages to play that extra photo or two or three or sometimes more. For that, I am grateful.
Jim Patrico won the 2017 AAEA Communications Contest Photographer of the Year Award. Click here to view his winning portfolio.