Jay Dickman: The camera is his passport Page 2

A Change of Pace
After he won the Pulitzer, the Times-Herald wanted to send Dickman to Beirut, but he felt it was time to make a decision. "I turned them down," he says. "Although war photography is powerful and it still draws me, I decided it was time to try something new."

Lava fields where bodies were dumped by death squads during the war in El Salvador in 1982. This image was part of Dickman's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, photographed for the Times-Herald in Dallas, Texas.

For some time, he and Becky had discussed the possibility of moving, as they enjoyed their travels to Colorado and New Mexico. In 1986, they made Denver their home, and Dickman got a job with the Denver Post. Unfortunately, the timing was bad. One of the newspapers' major advertisers closed their doors because of the declining economy in the mid-'80s, and the Post soon imposed a hiring freeze. Two months after Dickman started working for them, the Times Mirror sold the Post to Dean Singleton, who had also recently bought the Times-Herald. Originally Dickman was hired as a special projects photographer for the Post, "but when the paper was sold, that all disappeared."

He remained an full-time employee of the Post for the time being but also met Barbara Sadick, who headed up Matrix, a new photo agency that assigned photographers to news-based stories. "I was still working full-time at the Post while she was busy trying to get me work in New York," he says. Sadick got a job for Dickman photographing several members of the U.S. Olympics team around the country for U.S. News & World Report. After some exhausting travel back and forth between Denver and New York in an effort to do both jobs, Dickman quit the Post.

The Top of His Game
Dickman was invited to World Press Photo's 30th anniversary celebration as a spokesman at the International Center for Photography in New York. After the WPPA dinner, he was approached by Tom Kennedy, the director of photography for National Geographic, who suggested that Dickman do some work for the magazine. He was understandably excited. "I had actually photographed Peter Jenkins walking across the U.S. in 1979, with the idea of submitting the images to National Geographic," Dickman says.

The American C2 team in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

His first assignment for the venerable publication was in 1988, photographing the wildfires in Yellowstone National park. This was followed by an assignment in Papua New Guinea, "where we lived in a stone-age village for three months." Dickman works on a contract basis for Geographic, and has done numerous photo assignments for them, including one on the Yukon River that spanned a year's time. "I love working for Geographic," he enthuses. He works closely with the magazine's photo editors, and says that photographers are even involved with the final editing and layout during a session called "the Wallwalk." He says, "It's such an amazing process in helping develop the final output, knowing that 20 million people around the world will see your work, and that you have input."

Dickman says that the first roll of film he shoots for a Geographic assignment can be the scariest but, "The magic is always there to define my view on a subject. When that's over, forget it--I'll go to work for McDonald's," he laughs. Although many of Geographic's assignments are gruelling, he asserts, "I want to do this job until I physically can't anymore."

About 21¼2 years ago, Olympus America sponsored A Day in the Life of Africa, and supplied the contributing photographers with E-20 cameras--the company's first all-digital assignment. Dickman participated in this project, which was headquartered in Paris. He says that Olympus sought advice from professional photographers, and "The E-1 was highly impacted by input from the pros." In 2003, Dickman was asked to participate in the Olympus Visionaries program, which was established to "provide a venue for professional photographers to realize their creative vision through digital photography--and to provide Olympus with input from the professional photographic community," according to Olympus.

Two swans on a volcanic fissure lake in Iceland, which Dickman photographed for a National Geographic book called Beyond the Horizon.

Shooting Film & Digitally
The Olympus E-1, with its accompanying lenses and accessories, is Dickman's digital camera system. He uses 11--22mm, 14--54mm and 50--200mm digital lenses, "and when the situation calls for it, a 300mm f/2.8." He also uses the Nikon F5 and F100 when shooting film, with an FM2 as a backup. On assignment, he brings 20mm and 85mm lenses for his FM2, and 17--35mm f/2.8, 80--200mm f/2.8, and 60mm macro for the F5 and F100 bodies. Dickman comments, "Everything can be covered with those lenses." He still hand-meters lighting for accuracy, rather than relying on TTL metering. "I try to simplify things and use what I know will work for me."

As Geographic mandated that assignments be shot on transparency film in the past, Dickman has used mostly Fujichrome Velvia 50 (and recently, Velvia 100) film. "What I love about this emulsion is that it renders colors the way you remember them." When he photographs people, Dickman adds that he uses less color-saturated films like Fujichrome Provia 100F. Addressing the digital vs. film issue, he notes, "Whether you capture a subject digitally or with film, it's still photography. You use what's necessary--that's the exciting thing about imaging."

New Avenues
Olympus is one of the sponsors of Dickman's workshop series. He's conducted workshops and seminars for Maine Photographic Workshops and the U.S. Navy, but FirstLight Workshops is his own project. His first workshop, held in Auvillar, France in 2003, was "a raging success." The next one is planned for September, 2004, in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Participants will spend five days with two notable photographers, an Adobe Photoshop expert, and a top Geographic photo editor. And, as an added bonus, "FirstLight prints a magazine that features only the students' work," Dickman points out, "and it's laid out by a National Geographic photo editor."

Dickman concludes, "I feel that I'm incredibly fortunate to work in a business I love." He retains a fresh enthusiasm about photography and about life in general: "The camera has been an amazing passport for me."

Adventure Travel Photo Advice
For those adventurous souls who love shooting travel pictures, Jay Dickman imparts some words of wisdom.

1. Convey a sense of place in your images. You want to make the viewer long to be there. "You must be hugely interested in learning about a new country, place or culture, and capturing it on film or digitally," he says. When he travels on assignment, part of his job involves researching an area before leaving home. Learning about an area, he says, is also a good idea for you to do via the Internet, travel guides, and maps. Take a tour bus when you arrive at your destination to get a broad, general overview of the places you may want to photograph later. Photograph whatever it is about a particular place that attracted you to it in the first place.

2. Study images that other photographers have taken. You don't want to copy what others have done, he says; you just want to learn where the photogenic spots are. Look at postcard racks, photography books, and anything you can find pertaining to the area you'll be visiting. When you arrive, you can explore new angles and perhaps some new views of your own.

3. Create a travel calendar, but be flexible. Dickman says that some attractions that you want to shoot may prove to be "non-events," and you'll discover something more worthwhile to photograph once you get to your travel destination. Allow time to get great shots. Some activities, like kayaking or hiking, may be fun for you to photograph, and for your non-photographic travel companions to participate in. But if you want to set up your camera gear to shoot a beautiful scene at dusk, for example, be willing to separate from your friends or family temporarily to allow them to do something else, like going out to dinner.

4. Know your equipment.
Dickman says, "You should be so familiar with your camera that you can use it quickly and easily in different modes." An exotic travel destination with fleeting photo opportunities is no time to be fumbling with new, unfamiliar camera equipment. He also advises travelers to keep gear clean: "Clean your camera equipment as you go."

5. A word on photographing people. "A camera allows you to enter someone else's world," says Dickman. If you see somebody on the street whom you'd like to photograph, wave and be friendly, he advises. Don't be sneaky and shoot pictures when you think your subject isn't looking. If you're going to a foreign country, it'll take time to learn the language. But if you smile, point to your camera, and a person sees that you're taking an interest in them, says Dickman, he's found that many are pleased to allow you to photograph them. He suggests getting pictures of people engaged in activities or their trade--like jewelry-makers at a bazaar--rather than posing for the camera. On the other hand, if someone doesn't want you to take his/her picture, "you can sense it a mile away." He always honors a person's wishes.

6. Avoid Dangerous Areas. Especially with the problems in the world today, Dickman asserts, "Be aware of your surroundings. Photographers in third-world countries or other areas can be targets." He advises traveling photographers to "whittle down your equipment and be less conspicuous. You can carry some cameras inside a coat. The camera equipment shouldn't be the most important factor here--it's the safety of the photographer." He also advises getting a certificate of registration from customs for camera gear.

7. Take lots of film or memory cards.
You may shoot some images that you'll want to enlarge. If you'll shooting digitally, you'll need to allow space on your card for RAW or TIFF files for highest quality. As Dickman point out, "CompactFlash cards are getting cheaper."

You can see more of Jay Dickman's work at www.jaydickman.net or check out his workshop schedule at www.firstlightworkshops.com/scotland.