Text and photographs by Douglas Graham
A transition is a change from one thing to the next, either in action or state of being—as in a caterpillar making a transition into a butterfly, or in my case, a change of jobs. Last January, I was about to face a huge transition in my life.
I had been a full-time staff photojournalist for 35 years, with the last 14 covering national politics and the Washington political scene. And I was about to be unemployed.
I carried White House and Capitol Hill press credentials, could come and go as I pleased, and covered the biggest news stories that came to Washington. Me, a kid from a paper mill town of coastal Virginia who was told by his high school guidance counselor to forget about the silly idea of becoming a journalist and get a job fishing or working at the mill. In spite of that, there I sat covering events that very few get to witness. And I was in a front row seat.
I was on top of the world and I knew it. Part of the Economist News Group, Roll Call was my kind of place, with editors and a publisher with balls. We drank whiskey in the newsroom, yelled and fought over stories, cussed like sailors, and were rough around the edges. It was a real newsroom with soul. The Economist had deep pockets, and with real money flowing in, we had money to produce real journalism. We kicked ass, regularly broke stories that the “big boys” could only follow, and won tons of awards. We printed big bold photos daily and allowed the photo staff time and budget to work on long-term projects.
For about five years Roll Call’s newsroom was pure bliss. But the handwriting was on the wall. Online publications were beginning to take a bite out of our advertising, and print journalism was starting to go down an unrecoverable slide. Rather than face another round of inevitable management changes, budget cuts and layoffs, I accepted a buyout. In what seemed like a blink of an eye it was over, and I was on the way home to the Blue Ridge for the last time. I was 54. I had to come to grips with the fact that being a staff photographer had run its course and I needed to find my way into something new.
I began making plans to help open a bicycle shop with my wife Dawn. About that time, Mike Kacmarcik, a friend and former photojournalist who had once been on staff with me at the Loudoun Times-Mirror in Leesburg, challenged me to make 52 photos in a year and post them to a private Facebook page as a way to reconnect and have some fun.
I’m not sure if Mike sensed something was up with me or if he just had good timing. Either way, his challenge was exactly what I needed. It has turned out to be some of the best and most important work of my career.
In fact, years ago at my first job, a great mentor taught me to cover things that mattered to me and the work would always be fulfilling. But I had forgotten this wisdom as time passed.
This has been an immensely personal project. When I accepted Mike’s challenge, I had no intention of publishing the results, and I feel somewhat vulnerable in sharing them here. It’s pretty clear who I am and what I love when you look at this collection of photos.
I’ve spent the last year on this self-assignment to find out whether I wanted to continue shooting. Now, 12 months removed from Washington and free to shoot what I want, I’ve discovered a whole new way of seeing. I’ve found joy in photography again and my work is going in a direction that I’m really excited about. The camera is once again a tool and not an anchor.
I set out to photograph nearby subjects that meant something to me. In the end, this project has become more than just a set of photos. It has been a process of discovery. A transition. The success or failure of my 12-month effort is here for you to see and judge.
Douglas Graham’s career as a staff photographer spans more than 35 years, and he has been in the middle of some of the most important news stories of the past three decades publishing photographs in dozens of national and international publications. The last 17 years has been in the hyper restrictive world of national politics. Graham, now retired for a full year, has changed his focus from Capitol Hill to the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge and has spent the last year documenting his own back yard, one photo a week for an entire year, to create his new book, Transition of a Shooter, available here: http://blur.by/1F0zFDh
For more photos, pick up our Spring 2015 copy or order one online.