Pulitzer Prize finalist talks about photography career

By Gus Bode

For Shayann Kelley, an aspiring photojournalist at SIUC, viewing the work of Pulitzer Prize-finalist photographer Jim Gehrz was inspirational.

“There’s so many ideas out there that I never thought of,” said Kelley, a sophomore. “It was a really good example of what to do.”

She said the hardest part of being a photojournalist for her was capturing the moment, something Gehrz has made of a career of.


After 25 years at several different papers, most recently at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Gehrz said from students like Kelley, “I learn as much from students as they would learn from me.”

Gehrz, the 2005 Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, said toward the end of his college career, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.

“I had no concept of what I wanted to do, but I kind of fell into it,” Gehrz said.

While he has taken pictures almost all of his life, it took his experiences and education in college to see photography as a significant form of expression, Gehrz said.

“It’s a universal language,” he said. “It transcends culture. I’m surprised more people aren’t interested.”

Having a photographer accomplished as Gehrz speak at the University is a great opportunity for students, said John Henry, a senior studying photojournalism. Though he enjoyed Gehrz’s speech, Henry said he was looking forward to meeting the famed photographer.

“Definitely the one-on-one is by far the cooler,” said Henry, who planned on asking Gehrz to review his picture portfolio while in Carbondale.


Bruce Thorson, an assistant professor in journalism, worked with Gehrz in the past and asked him to give a presentation for students.

“I think after they see his body of work and talk, they’ll have realization that good photos start with good ideas,” Thorson said.

He said exposing students to professionals in their field is not only crucial but also mandatory. Gehrz will be visiting some of the photojournalism classes to speak and to look at student’s portfolios.

Many of the professors in the Journalism Department try to bring professionals because the more exposure students get with these individuals, the better off they are, said Phil Greer, the SIU photojournalist-in-residence.

He said his students are always wanting to show their work and talk to the speakers.

“These guys, when they come here, they give up so much of their time,” Greer said. “It’s not an easy thing for them. It isn’t a day out of the office.”

Bringing photojournalists to the school does more than expose individual students to professionals in the field, associate professor of photojournalism Jim Kelly said.

“They get a better feel of what our program is like,” Kelly said.

Reporter Destiny Remezas can be reached at [email protected]