LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, March 31, 2008

Dallas Kinney: Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist

Pulitzer Prize-Winning photojournalist and student of Ansel Adams, Dallas Kinney is a photojournalist, writer, director of graphic arts, and Sunday features editor. He has also worked in computer-based multimedia and television and film production. Kinney's communication skills have been utilized by many of the nation's prominent newspapers and magazines, by major profit and non-profit corporations and by national television networks. As a newspaper journalist he has worked for the Washington Evening Journal (Iowa); Dubuque Telegraph Herald (Iowa); Palm Beach Post (Florida); Miami Herald (Florida); and the Philadelphia Inquirer (Penn).

As a photojournalist, Kinney received the following awards: Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, World Press Association/Photojournalism, and more.

Kinney's photojournalism has been featured in exhibits at the National Geographic Society (Martin Luther King assassination); Pulitzer Prize Photos exhibits in Japan and Korea (current); Traveling Exhibit of Pulitzer Prize Photos to U.S. Universities and Colleges (current), and more.

Kinney has been a featured speaker and lecturer at the National Geographic/University of Missouri Visual Workshop, the Medil School of Journalism, Miami Communications Conference, the World Press Institute, and more. With his wife Martha, Kinney co-authored and presented eight daylong communication and marketing workshops for the international fine art industry in Miami Beach, Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta.

Kinney preceded his photojournalism career as a student of renowned nature photographer Ansel Adams in Carmel, Calif. He confirms his abiding love for and ongoing desire to create “Adams-like” photographs.

LeAnne: What draws you to photography?

I made my first photograph for money at 28 years of age, so I wouldn’t say I was drawn to photography as a profession, or a passion.

My first love was performing arts. I was a dramatic arts major at the University of Iowa and moved to Chicago and New York City, respectively, to become the next Gene Kelly, of musical comedy fame.

My first experience with photography, beyond the occasional snapshot, was with Maggie Besson, a noted professional photographer in Chicago. Maggie made a series of promotional photographs of me for my first professional gig, “A Night on Broadway, with Dallas Kinney.”

Maggie did a spectacular job. To my abject embarrassment, I didn't have money enough to pay her for her photographic services. Rather than having me roughed up by some of her seamier back alley acquaintances, Maggie graciously allowed me to work off my debt by assisting her in her studio. She taught me how to process film and make prints. She even allowed me to carry her camera case on some of her more notable photographic commissions for the city of Chicago.

I became intrigued by Maggie's profession, but with performing arts still my abiding passion, I moved on to New York City. Providentially, my success in show business was far from being spectacular. Probably the best thing I did in New York City was to buy my first 35mm single lens reflex camera. I soon found myself spending more time making pictures than practicing dance steps or musical scores. Wisely, I gave up my childhood dream and “moved on.” In fact, I literally moved on from New York City to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

One day, as I was walking the streets of Carmel, I came upon a gallery that featured photography. I walked inside, and within moments, found myself hyperventilating.

The gallery featured the photography of Ansel Adams, the icon of nature photographers. I had never seen anything quite like this man's work. Sadly, until that moment, I hadn't known that he existed. My ignorance didn't last long: I went to the nearest library and researched everything I could on one Ansel Adams.

I discovered Adams lived in San Francisco, a mere two hours and nine minutes away from where I was standing. With further research I discovered where his home was located. Within one week I sat in my car, in his driveway, planning to make a personal, impassioned appeal for the opportunity to study with him. For the first, and probably the last time in my life, I “chickened out.”

I drove back to Carmel and wrote Ansel a letter begging him to let me study with him. In the letter I enclosed a self-addressed and stamped postcard. On the card I had four declarations, each with the box beside it, one of which he was to check. The statements, relating to my desire to study with Ansel were: "Yes! No! Let's talk about it!; and...Get out of my life, kid!"

The card came back with the "Let's talk about it!” box checked, accompanied by a gracious letter from Ansel informing me he had just moved to Carmel and wanted me to join him and his wife at their new home for cocktails. Needless to say, I accepted.

You asked if I was drawn to photography. With my exposure to Ansel Adams, I wasn't just drawn to photography; I dove in and did exuberant back strokes.

LM: What would you say was the most important lesson, advice or technique that you picked up from Adams?

DK: Adams taught me three major and memorable aspects of nature:

1. Light!
2. Light!; and
3. Light!

Ansel understood and proved – in his pantheistic way – what Genesis 1, verses 3-4, so dramatically declare: “And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good…”

You just don’t make photographs without light, unless you’re doing an esoteric study on “Black Cats in Coal Bins.”

Yesterday morning on my way home in the North Georgia mountains, I came upon a quintessential Appalachian Spring scene: A long lane, bordered by at least 20 trees, resplendent with delicate white blossoms. At night, no picture. At noon, borrrrring. But in that magnificent morning light, filtered through a high haze…it was a scene of glory.

I challenge your readers to search out some of Ansel Adam’s work. View it, with your Bible open to Genesis 1 as a proof-text. Then, try to tell me that “In the beginning God created…” is a fallacy.

Ansel also taught me, up close and personal, what French author Marcel Proust said so well: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Ansel Adams taught me to…“See!”

I know that statement sounds like I’m making the obvious profound, but to “see,” in the vernacular of an Ansel Adams, takes energy. Demands focus. And can only be accomplished successfully with an attitude of humility.

With gratitude and thanksgiving, I later was allowed to apply all of my Ansel Adams insights as I made a transition from nature photography to a career in photojournalism.

On Thursday, Dallas Kinney will talk about what it was like to win the Pulitzer Prize.

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