DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Picture Perfect

Don't think chance plays a role in career choice? Consider the cases of these 2 award-winning Washington DC photo journalists.

As a young woman, Nikki Kahn wasn't even interested in photography. A friend who wanted to take a photo course at a local community college called and begged Kahn to take the class with her because it wouldn't be offered if enough people didn't enroll. "I fell absolutely in love with it as soon as I saw that 1st image developed in a dark room," says Kahn, now a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Washington Post. 

Then there's Bill Clark, who shoots politics and Capitol Hill for Roll Call. Clark was a political science major in college. He gained an internship with U.S. News and World Report. As an intern, he was able to procure free gear, free film, and free processing. He was hooked.

Kahn and Clark appeared at the Newseum yesterday to discuss their work in a special Inside Media program scheduled as part of the annual Nikon Photo Day. Both photographers have award-winning work in the annual Eyes of History 2012 photo contest which is now on exhibit at the Newseum.

For Kahn, the trick to being a top photojournalist is always being mentally prepared. "You never know when the great assignment is going to be. It could be in your neighbor's back yard," she said. Kahn discussed an especially emotional photo image she captured of President Barack Obama in Iowa on the last night of his campaign. The shot shows tears streaming down Obama's cheek at the end of his final campaign speech in the state where his presidential aspirations began 2 campaigns ago. The picture appeared on the front page of the Post on the day Obama won re-election. "I try to find shots that accentuate the human moments," Kahn said. "This was a nostalgic moment for him"

Clark says he prowls the Capitol and DC looking for "found moments" that allow him to capture things that "are a little bit off." One of his award winning shots this year shows financial reserve chairman Allan Greenspan standing alone on a Washington street corner using his cell phone unaware that nearby is a protester with a sign bearing the slogan "Standard and Poors Gives Congress a YOU SUCK."  Clark came across the scene on a walk back to his office. "I quickly worked to frame the shot because I didn't want to spook Alan Greenspan," he explained.

Kahn was honored for both a series of portraits of Civil Rights leaders taken to be displayed as part of a series on the new Martin Luther King Memorial and shots commemorating the 25th anniversary of the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. "I wanted to see how people were coping and I found a haunting desolate landscape," Kahn said, an observation that was clearly supported by the eerie, chilling black and white photos she captured.

Both photographers agreed that new innovations have greatly changed photojournalism. For example, Clark said that when he started his career in Georgia, on a Friday night he would have to shoot 2 or 3 high school football games. But he couldn't stay at any game past halftime. He had to dash back to the office and process his photos before deadline. Today, those photos could be transmitted instantaneously anywhere in the world right up until the moment of publication.

But despite the technological advances, the human element still plays a role. ""Having a great eye and working to be good at what you do can make a big difference," Khan said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Inside Media program moderator John Maynard asked the 2 photojournalists what would be their dream assignment. Clark joked that he was trying to convince his editor to let him tour Europe doing a series on all the legislatures there. "So far, he's not falling for it," Clark said. "I'd like a little beach assignment," said Kahn with a smile, who won her Pulitzer for her work capturing the death and destruction of the last massive earthquake in Haiti.

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