Homer, Alaska is sometimes referred to as "The Cosmic Hamlet By The Sea". On a day like this, earlier this week, it does indeed look otherworldly. We're having a "real" winter this season, with continual snow, dipping temperatures in the single digits, and that unspoken sensation of comeradery that residents feel towards one another.
We're in this together, say our open-faced looks as we greet each other at the local mom & pop stores, at the post office, at our favorite coffee shop. But there's no sense of displeasure that we're in the grips of another long, cold, dark winter. Look at the place we live! It's cosmic.
It just can't get any more exciting than this.
On my trip back across Kachemak Bay two days ago, I saw some big splashes head of me as I piloted Skookum home from a day of charter fishing.
It was two humpback whales fishing together and fluke-slapping the surface of the water to signal one another. After sounding (deep dive), the whales breached the surface, coming more than two-thirds out of the water, spinning and crashing back down.
Whale biologists hypothesize that this is a feeding technique in which the whale stuns schools of small fish they're feeding on. Whatever the reason, it's an amazing show!
Here's proof positive that I'm no longer a legend in my own mind!
Doug Kelly, a writer who has visited Alaska, and Homer, many times has just published a historical accounting of Alaska's Greatest Outdoor Legends. Don't ask me how I got on that list.
All joking aside, I'm flabbergasted that I would be included with such real Alaska legends like Sydney Huntington, Jim Rearden and Jay Hammond.
All I can say is that my three decades as a staff photographer at the former Anchorage Daily News gave me such incredible opportunities to roam Alaska's great outdoors and bring back photographs from many great assignments.
Every budding photographer's greatest dream is to work for National Geographic. Well, I DID work for NG, because the Daily News offered their photographers constant opportunities to get out into the great wilds and return with images to show our readers the beauty of where we lived.
Throughout Snap Decisions I talk about the evolution of my photography as it related to my maturity as a young man. Early in my career, because I was learning photojournalism on the job without any formal training, I lacked the understanding of journalistic ethics that comes with a college field of study.
Many of my fellow colleagues came to the ADN with an educational background in which they were taught the ethics of journalism. I can point to Erik Hill and Bill Roth who have journalism degrees (Erik has a Masters), who understood the ethics of honesty and understanding towards the subjects in their photos.
At the beginning, I saw chasing police and fire events as a way to capture raw emotion, make great photos, and I had very little consideration towards the people in my photos and what they might be going through.
Jeff Floyd, hugging his wife Terri (right) as they watched their apartment go up in flames in 1985, tried to get me fired for using this photo in the paper. To get his name, I had lied to him about which photo we would probably use. When he saw this one on the front page the next day, he called the assistant managing editor Mike Campbell, who was not happy about the lie.
Mike called me in for a conversation. He told me that when you work in the same town, day after day, year after year, you can’t afford to lose people’s trust. “Their trust is not worth a photograph,” Mike told me.
It was advice I took to heart. As I say in the book: "Very quickly I came to understand the events I photographed changed peoples’ lives. And the people changed me."
I was a pioneer of cameras in the courtroom in the 1980's. Cameras were not allowed in any courtroom in the state, but in 1985 a three-year experiment began, and I worked with judges and court administrators to help get easier access for photojournalists.
Unlike the days when we had to chase down defendants in “perp walks,” now at least we could show the public what the defendant looked like and document how the courts worked, which gave greater weight to our reporting.
There were smiles and tears in the courtroom October 6, 1988, after Kirby Anthoney (left) was convicted of the rape and murders of his aunt Nancy, and his nieces, Melissa, eight, and Angela, three. Smiles for spectators in the gallery, and satisfaction for APD detective Joe Austin (right rear). Tears for the victims’ husband and father John Newman (center, in glasses), hugged by family members who supported him through the trial of his nephew.
This photograph won the 1988 Joseph Costa Award for Courtroom Photography, awarded from Ball State University, for the best courtroom photo taken that year across the U.S.