Being There; Kevin Fleming’s “Heart Of America”

"Ninety-nine percent of what makes good photography is being there," Kevin Fleming says. "Some supplement the lighting with a flash, use filters, or touch things up on the computer. But my way is the opposite--being there at just the right moment, at the instant when color, light, and shape come together."

For a decade, Fleming worked for National Geographic, then spent the next decade as a free-lancer. He's amassed more than a half-million of his best images in his file cabinet, with thousands on file at Corbis, an international stock photography agency. His clients include most of the world's leading magazine and book publishers. Some of his more unusual clients are "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "Oprah," and "Jeopardy."

Red Barn In Snow

A snowstorm near Denton, Maryland, blurs a red barn and outbuilding.
All Photos © 2007, Kevin Fleming, All Rights Reserved

Fleming's ability to be there and to seize the moment launched him to worldwide fame in 1981 when he made the only photographs of the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. These photos appeared on magazine covers in more than 15 nations and earned him the runner-up Magazine Photographer of the Year award from the National Press Photographers Association.

Georgia Logger

Jim Kelley checking log quality on an 80-foot-tall stack at Tolleson Lumber Company in Preston, Georgia.

His most recent work is The Heart of America (Portfolio Books, 2004), a compilation of years of travel, crisscrossing our country to capture the heart and soul of people and places seldom seen. Part of Fleming's inspiration was the "On the Road" pieces with the CBS Evening News. "I needed to remind America about the quality of life and what we are about as Americans," Fleming says. "Charles Kuralt reminded us about the good things. This book is about redefining pride in America." The impressive book is 360 pages of tribute to the power of the American spirit, and was featured in the May 2005 Reader's Digest article "America's 100 Best."

Horse And Dog By Barn

A Vermont farm horse oversees the laundry on the clothesline while the family's dog browses through nearby buckets.

Finding Photos
Fleming's favorite method of scouting out his images is simply parking his car and walking around. "Sometimes I stop in a place because it just feels like there will be a picture there. I'll pull into a small town and sort of blend in, let people get used to seeing me with a camera."

He points out a photo he'd never have found on his own, one from Texas in "the next town over" where he was sent to look for a man with a windmill collection in his backyard. It turned out to be 50 miles to the next town, but well worth it to see 13 functioning windmills, still maintained by a spry 90-year-old man.

Of course, some things people told him to look for just didn't pan out. "I got led astray a few times, but it was okay."

Dover Air Force Base

US Air Force's C-5 Galaxy cargo planes at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware undergo routine maintenance.

He shrugs philosophically. "There would usually be something else interesting there. One good thing about a book like this," he adds, "is I never got lost. I wasn't going anywhere."

He also wasn't in any particular hurry, so he had time to turn around when something caught his eye, like a 12-foot tall head and neck of a giraffe popping up from behind the clutter in front of an antique store. "My life is full of U-turns," he says. "You just never know what you might see and have to go back for."