I started my life as freelance photojournalist pretty early. I had just turned 15 when I had my first paying and published gig in September of 1980. To call me a cub would be to diminish the maturity of an actual cub. But through a combination of luck and determination I was on my way to producing passable community photojournalism.
During this first year of journalistic photography, the only way I could get to my assignments was my mother’s car with my mother at the wheel. While my friends were being driven to piano lessons and baseball practice, my mom was driving me to news assignments.
My first year of photojournalism output was exclusively for the weekly paper in my hometown of Alton, Illinois. The Alton Citizen soon came to rely on me for all their sports photography. This happened for two reasons. First, I was pretty good and second, the single staff photographer hated shooting sports. My pay was respectable considering that I was not obligated to do any darkroom work and that my chauffeur never sent me a bill.
I was always keen on doing different kinds of assignments but I could never break out of the sports mode at The Citizen.
This meant that my first foray in photographing a presidential candidate was more as a spectator than as an accredited journalist. Still, I worked my way into candidate John Anderson’s event that took place in Godfrey, Illinois in 1980 as you can see in the photo above with a barely passable 50mm perspective.
Luckily this wasn’t my only opportunity to photograph presidential candidates. My coverage of Walter Mondale in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1992 rendered significantly better results.
In hindsight, a very valuable observation about this moment in my life is that I didn’t let something like “approval” or “accreditation” keep me from being in the auditorium with John Anderson. That is a trait that has served me well for my entire career.
The most valuable lesson in this story is that my mother saw who I wanted to be and did everything she could to make it happen. I’m pretty sure that community photojournalism subject matter like softball tournaments, chili suppers and ribbon cutting that she drove me to were tedious and boring for her. But for me it was the start of a magical life of adventure and exploration through photography.
About the author: I am Stephen Kennedy, an experienced photographer specializing in creating environmental on-location portraits and corporate photo libraries for blue chip companies.