LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dallas Kinney, Part 2: The Defining Moment

Today I'm concluding my interview with Dallas Kinney, Pulitzer-Prize-winning photojournalist, writer, director of graphic arts, and Sunday features editor. He has also worked in computer-based multimedia, 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: In 1970, you won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. How did that experience affect your career and your life?

Dallas: I’ve been blessed-of-men in my journalism career: a writer/photographer for the Washington Evening Journal, Washington, Iowa; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Dubuque, Iowa; Miami Herald, Miami, Fla.; and the Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Director of Graphic Arts at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Penn.; and Sunday Features Editor, with a return to the Palm Beach Post.

During the turbulent ‘60’s, I covered the assassinations of two influential Americans: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. I was in Memphis the day after Dr. King was assassinated, and I had an exclusive interview with Kennedy on the campaign trail the day before he was assassinated. In that same year, I also covered the infamous Democratic Convention in Chicago, Ill. But nothing compared to the opportunity I was blessed with in observing, fellowshipping with, and being given the opportunity to memorialize the life of migrant workers in an eight-part series, “Migration to Misery.”

In addition to the Pulitzer, I also was awarded the first annual Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award for the “Migration to Misery” series. Needless to say, “Migration to Misery” was the apparent highlight of the journalism career of one Dallas Kinney…farm boy from Buckeye, Iowa.

And yet…until after being informed I’d won the Pulitzer, I was unaware I had even been nominated for the prize. As my peers in the Palm Beach Post newsroom celebrated the award, I snuck away to my executive editor’s office, closed the door, and thanked God for what I had just learned. I then broke into a cold sweat with a classic “fear-of-man” reflection: “What do I do to top this?”

Bottom Line: My Pulitzer moment was not a positive, life-changing event. What was life-changing was an encounter I had had with one of my migrant subjects, Lillie Mae Brown. Lillie Mae had been a migrant worker since her youth. When I met Lillie Mae, her body was “broken.” She was living in a 10 by 10 foot shack, with no running water and no electricity. She was all but destitute. In her own words, she was “waiting to die.”

And yet, during our conversations in her humble environment, I discovered this “broken” woman, this classic “victim,” had more than I had ever possessed. Lillie Mae Brown was far richer than I, with all I had thought important: my upscale Palm Beach suburb home, sports car and valuable cameras.

In her humble abode, Lillie Mae talked about God like He was right there with us. And guess what? He was! When Lillie Mae talked about the imminent end of her life, she wept. Yet hers were not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy as she contemplated an eternity with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It was not the Pulitzer Prize, but Lillie Mae’s conviction, Lillie Mae’s confession of Jesus Christ, that was the defining moment for this journalist.

LM: Recently you've been focusing on nature photography. Tell me about one or two of your favorite locations and why.

I returned to my “Ansel Adams days” with the advent of quality digital. For the past five years, I’ve been working on a series of nature photographs entitled “God has a Great Imagination.” I’ve made pictures for the series in environments that represent much of God’s best work: The Atlantic and Pacific coasts; the grandeur of the Grand Canyon; Burr Trail, Monument Valley, and Bryce Canyon, in southeastern Utah; Appalachia, in all of its mystery and majesty; but I would have to say my favorite place was on the Sol Duc Falls trail in the Olympic Peninsula National Park in Washington State.

The Sol Duc trail winds through a rainforest environment, culminating at a spectacular three-channel waterfall. On the morning of my first encounter with the trail, my wife Martha and daughter Yubiana had walked on ahead, as ever, impatient with my peripatetic picture making choreography – walk ten paces, stop, set up camera and tripod, make pictures, walk ten paces…stop….

As I was making a picture of a pristine stream, dropping through a series of mini-falls in this lush, green rainforest, I stopped looking through the camera’s viewfinder, backed away from the tripod, and said out loud: “Lord if my ‘coming home’ is near, this would be a grand place to ‘launch’ from.” Bottom Line: If I don’t encounter an area comparable to that one on the Sol Duc trail, in paradise, I’ll be surprised.

LM: You’ve already touched on this a little, but I'd like to hear more about how your faith has affected your photography and vice versa?

I find it impossible to look, through the viewfinder of my camera, at person or place without thinking, “What hath God wrought?” Psalm 111:2 says it well: “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”

I am doubly blessed. Not only am I privileged to observe, up close and personal, His creation, be it person or place; I also have the use of a tool, the camera, that allows me to isolate and capture that moment, and then share that visual wonder with the world, prayerfully to His glory!

Since my salvation, thanks to the death and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ, I don’t think I’ve taken on a communications task, be it making pictures, writing a story, or designing a page for print, without praying, in essence, a paraphrase of Proverbs 16:3: “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”

As I said earlier in the interview, I’m blessed-of-men! Thanks be to God!

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