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Images cut across language, capture unforgettable moments
Gazette photojournalists have had a front-row seat to history
Photojournalism is a universal language.
It can cross borders of language, culture, ethnicity — even literacy. A good writer can describe a scene to put the reader into the moment. But the reader still needs to be able to read — and understand the same language — as the writer.
Images have the ability to transport viewers to the moment and place where it was made, often taking readers to places they have never been or seen.
“A photograph freezes that moment,” said Paul Jensen, a former Gazette director of photography.
“In most ways a photojournalist puts it out there. It’s in print and they don’t necessarily see the impact on readers,” he said, recalling one time when readers did get to interact with a display of photos from the historic flood of 2008.
“When we put together that gallery display (at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art) and invited all those people to come and look at it — it was just really powerful,”Jensen said. ”To see people standing in front of those photographs, maybe with tears running down their faces. I remember, particularly, one guy standing in front of a giant photograph and he was pointing at his house. That’s powerful.“
Jensen, who started at The Gazette as an intern in the summer of 1975, counts the photo coverage of the Flood of 2008 as one of the most memorable stories during his tenure as director of photography.
Liz Martin, former senior photojournalist and photo editor, echoes Jensen’s sentiment.
“So many years later, it all feels like a blur: Photographing people evacuating their homes in Czech Village and Time Check overnight and into the next day, coming back after the floodwaters receded with the search and rescue crews, and continuing my coverage as residents returned to their homes … and yet, I remember every single face, the pressure of floodwaters on my leaking waders, holding back tears as one homeowner searched for their pets and as a mother bent down to hug her daughter,” Martin said.
“I also remember the generosity and openness of so many, who let us into their homes to share a brief glimpse of their lives, and then returning to those same families five years later, and then 10 years later,” she said.
Gazette photojournalists have had a front-row seat to history — whether that was Pope John Paul’s 1979 visit to Iowa, or then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama announcing his presidential candidacy for the 2008 election, the Flood of 2008 and the 2020 derecho.
Photographers have captured moments in time and delivered them to inform readers.
“That would be a neat ticket to ride at Disneyland because you do get a front-row seat to history,” said Jensen.
Jensen points to the installation of a Goss Metro printing press in the early 1980s and its capability of printing color photographs, taking The Gazette into a new realm of regularly printing color instead of black-and-white photos.
“The Gazette invested in taking their readers along for the ride. When we got that Metro press downstairs, that was capable of doing significant amount of four-color work, that was the point in time when we added people to the photo staff,” he said.
With the new press came travel to Brazil and Argentina for stories on connections to Iowa agriculture, covering the war in Bosnia, an eight-page special section on missionaries to Haiti.
“We had it. We needed to use it and we could do it,” said Jensen.
Current senior photojournalist Jim Slosiarek recalls photographing the Sueppel family in 2016 gathering around a Christmas tree, with patriarch Paul Sueppel singing “O Christmas Tree” at a tree farm in Solon. The family had been singing the Christmas carol and dancing around their chosen tree for more than 35 years at the time the photo was taken.
“It’s a moment the family has performed for over 35 years and probably has become commonplace to them. A curious photographer on a routine Black Friday assignment happens upon the scene of at least 15 Sueppel family members singing and dancing and records the moment. The photo is printed on page one of the next day’s newspaper.
“Fast forward six years to the same tree farm and the same photographer. He happens to meet some Sueppel family members. He learns that patriarch Paul Sueppel passed away in early August 2022. A grandson of Sueppel points to that 6-year-old photo, and says, ‘That’s me!’ with a smile.”