By Steven Thurow, RIT Class of 93
Story Cleared by MSgt Greg Holmes, NCOIC, News Division AETC Public Affairs
In the Air Force the “Texas Mafia”, photojournalists at Airman, Torch and Recruiting, take a ribbing. “You guys only hire your pals. You only print pictures from your pals. You only talk to your pals.” Working at Torch I can tell you this can’t be farther from the truth.
When I was an E-3 at the Air Force Academy, I heard the above comments from others that had come from Combat Camera units and had no idea this world of photojournalism existed. Not knowing I wasn’t allowed to talk to Airman because “I wasn’t in the club,” I submitted photos for two stories. The nerve you say! Well, I did and they were published. Not bad for a two-striper who wasn’t in Texas, wasn’t a PJ, and didn’t even know there was such a thing as a PJ.
This caught the interest of my section commander and led to an introduction of my work to Ken Hackman, the director of Air Force Photojournalism, he gave me lots of feedback. I sent Ken more pictures throughout the years for his opinion/abuse and started shooting better — good enough to make the list. The 92-93 class at RIT transitioned from 10 weeks back to a full year and due to contract problems there was no time for a formal selection. If Ken hadn’t known my photography, I wouldn’t have gone that year.
At RIT I met Andy Dunaway, now shooting for Air Force Recruiting Service. He’s a motivated PJ whose only interest was and is getting published. He kept his ear to the ground and heard Ken say if you want to get published, you have to submit your stuff. Luckily for me, Andy listened.
Armed with his list of contacts, Andy sent out end-of-exercise packages to the Air Force magazines — Airman, Flying Safety, Torch, Combat Edge, to name just a few. That’s all it took he started getting published. Observing this, I too sent packages and started getting published. I had my photos in Air Force, sister service publications and civilian magazines, images released through the Pentagon, earning awards in publications I’d never heard of. A PJ on the road shooting and seeing his pictures in print? Life is good!
The 2d Combat Camera was closed, and I was sent to Nellis AFB and set out to start a little Doc. shop of my own. No PJ should be forced to sit behind a desk. I had the NCOIC’s backing because he recognized I could generate good publicity for his lab. With this new freedom, I documented exercises, went on deployments and sent out packages. I even had requests to shoot assignments and was published in Rolling Stone; with the photos cleared by PA.
My break came when Val Gempis, then working at Airman, told me Dave Nolan, now director of photography at Airman, was leaving Torch and suggested I put in a portfolio. A week later Dave called asking for my application. I applied and got the job. I was contacted because I was known; my portfolio got me the job.
So here I am, a PJ in a one-man shop working for a monthly magazine with a worldwide readership. But I haven’t stopped there. I still shoot for and make submissions to other magazines, because this isn’t my last job and I still have to be known.
Do research, different services and commands have different requirements. Military magazines list editors, designers and photographers in the masthead and we’re all happy to take submissions. Events are happening all around the world and staff photographers can’t be every place at once. We need your photos and will give feedback; we all need feedback to improve. Work closely with your local PA shop, they’re the ones that have direct contact with the media and can clear your work. The tear sheets help prove you can shoot for publication. Follow my advice and when a job opens and people are asking for recommendations, believe me we do, your name will come up. -ST-