2010
07.12

EUGENE, Ore. — Some of the best photographers of their generation are gathered here this week to honor the man who taught them to become good enough to capture some of the most memorable images of the last 35 years, publish books, win Pulitzers and become leaders throughout the news business.

Rich Clarkson is the man they credit for their success — and with transforming American photojournalism.

From the editor-in-chief of National Geographic to a former president’s daughter to Eugene’s own Brian Lanker, the photographers started their climb to the summit of their craft under the guidance — and glare — of Clarkson.

They are rendezvousing for three days this week to celebrate Clarkson’s career and his contributions to their achievements and to journalism.  Lanker and Carl Davaz, deputy managing editor of The (Eugene, Ore.) Register-Guard, compiled a 250-page book of photographs taken by Clarkson and his photographers who are attending the reunion.

Dinners, winery visits, golf, a whitewater rafting trip and other activities will highlight the three-day event.  Clarkson’s legendary temper (“the worst staff I ever had” was heard by most every staff) may have cooled, but his passion for excellence continues to inspire the current generation of digital image-makers.

It all started at the Topeka Capital-Journal in the 1950s.  For the next 25 years, Clarkson led from the front in training a variety of shooters who went on from Topeka to leave an indelible imprint in photojournalism.

Lanker, for example, won one of four Pulitzers awarded to Clarkson alums.  Chris Johns, now the editor-in-chief of National Geographic, was an intern in Topeka the same summer as Susan Ford, daughter of then President Gerald Ford.  To this day, among the Capital-Journal cadre, Johns is known as “the other intern.”

Clarkson was named by American Photo magazine as one of the 50 most influential individuals in American photography. His career includes stints as director of photography and senior assistant editor of National Geographic, assistant managing editor of The Denver Post, director of photography at the Capital-Journal and as contract/contributing photographer to Sports Illustrated.

Now based in Denver, Rich Clarkson and Associates produces exhibitions and books and does all the photography for the 88 national championships of the National Collegiate Athletic Association; it also does all the original photography for the Colorado Rockies baseball team.   Seven of his photographs have appeared on Wheaties boxes.  In 2007 he won the William Allen White award from the University of Kansas.

Clarkson was an innovator.  His staff was one of the first in the U.S. to carry two-way radios and scanners in their cars with police and fire monitors in the darkroom.  He also took the first, or one of the first, photographs from behind a glass basketball backboard.  He used a remote-controlled Nikon taped to the glass at Allen Field House in Lawrence.  At a time when print editors ruled newsrooms, Clarkson consistently got whole pages and double-trucks for his photographers’ pictures to be displayed the way he insisted.

Graduates of the Clarkson School have also won six National Newspaper Photographer of the Year awards and one National Magazine Photographer of the Year award.

Many moved on to run darkrooms and newsrooms across the country.  Bill Snead, Clarkson’s first hire, became a prize-winning photojournalist in Vietnam and later became assistant managing editor for photography and graphics at the Washington Post.  In 1993 he was named White House Photographer of the Year and, 10 years later, returned to Lawrence, Kan., as senior editor in charge of the Journal-World newsroom.

Gary Settle worked for the New York Times, Chicago Daily News and is now retired from The Seattle Times after 21 years as assistant managing editor/graphics and photography coach there. Lanker left Topeka to become director of graphics for The Register-Guard and became a contract photographer for both Life Magazine and Sports Illustrated.  His book, “I Dream a World,” is one of the biggest-selling photography books of all time.

Perry Riddle shot for the Chicago Sun-Times and then for years with the Los Angeles Times.  Dave Peterson won a Pulitzer at the Des Moines Register, and Hal Stoelzle was a contributor to two team entries that won Pulitzers for the Orange County Register and Rocky Mountain News.  Susan Biddle, after a tour at the Denver Post, was a White House photographer during the George H. W. Bush years and now shoots for the Washington Post.

Along with Johns at National Geographic, are several Topeka alums: Sara Leen is a picture editor; Charles Kogod was director of illustrations for National Geographic’s book division for 19 years and now is the photo editor for Defenders of Wildlife. Jim Richardson is a longtime National Geographic photographer, as was David Alan Harvey, who’s now with Magnum Photos, the world’s premier photo agency. David Griffin is the director of photography at the magazine.

Mark Godfrey left Topeka to cover the Vietnam War for the Associated Press, Time and Life and then as a member of Magnum; he was also photo editor of U.S. News & World Report, did several books for National Geographic and is now director of photography for the Nature Conservancy.

Davaz became director of photography at the Missoula (Mont.) Missoulian and is now deputy managing editor of The Register-Guard.  Damian Strohmeyer has been a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated for more than 20 years and shot more than 50 covers. George Olson carved out a distinguished freelance career, was former director of photography for Sunset magazine and a frequent photo workshop contributor.

Barry Sweet is a career photographer for the Associated Press. Jim Ryun, once the world record holder in the mile and half-mile, later became a Kansas congressman; Berne Ketchum wound up as mayor of  Rowan, Iowa; Bill Kesler was chief photographer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for decades, and Jim Forbes now holds that title.  John Chao became owner and publisher of American Windsurfer Magazine, Media and Publishing.

Jeff Jacobsen has been on the University of Kansas Athletics staff since 1999, and before that was director of photography for the Capital-Journal.  He also served as a sports photographer for the Arizona Republic. Bob Graves became a successful corporate photographer, specializing in golf courses.

Even darkroom boys went on to distinguished journalistic careers. Mike Tharp was a darkroom boy for Clarkson and later worked as a foreign, war and domestic correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Far Eastern Economic Review and U.S. News & World Report.  He’s now executive editor of the McClatchy daily, the Merced Sun-Star, in Central California.  Ten years apart, he profiled Clarkson and Lanker on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

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