POINTERS ON DODGING mortars and avoiding land mines may not have too many practical applications for photographers living in Utah, but the advice and stories are something participants in the fifth annual Women in Photojournalism conference won't soon forget.
The two-day session in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attracted about 250 people (approximately 230 women and 20 men). The conference, centered around a national juried exhibition, offered workshops and speakers, including Corinne Dufka, a former Utahn turned war photographer.Dufka was raised in Brigham City but left at age 10 with her traveling family. While a social worker in El Salvador she turned to the camera in order to document human rights abuses in El Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua. She has also photographed the Bosnian conflict for the Reuters news service since 1992, with brief interruptions to cover Somalia and the Sudan. Dufka awed her audience with tips on listening for hissing missiles and spotting land mines.
Dufka was just one of the many accomplished and recognized photojournalists in attendance this year. Another was Carol Guzy, staff photographer with the Washington Post, a Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time News Photographer of the Year. Guzy, who has been described as "one of the great photographers of our time," is a draw to any group of shooters, or photographers.
Guzy admitted she is often asked about the problems she faces being a woman in photojournalism. With a shrug she confessed that she has more problems being short than being female.
The wife-and-husband team of Michele and Joe McNally talked about making a marriage work in their demanding and successful lives. Michele is picture editor for Fortune magazine and Joe a free-lancer for National Geographic, Life, Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. The couple, who hadn't seen each other for three weeks before they arrived separately in Fort Lauderdale, laughed about the fact that they were there speaking on "making it work" when they weren't sure that they were. The McNallys have two children, two nannies and a gardener and can't remember the last time they took a trip together. Joe jokingly confided that they would probably save a lot of money in therapy after airing all their problems in front of a conference audience.
Grace Saenz, a staff photographer with the El Paso Times, confessed this was her first crack at public speaking - she had face coloring and voice inflection to prove it - but her enthusiasm about photography and her concern for her Mexican homeland quickly drew participants into her pictures and away from her nervousness. Saenz concentrates her energy on self-generated picture stories from Mexico when she can find time away from day-to-day assignments. One of her memorable accounts of being the only woman photographer on the staff was when she came back from a baseball game with a great shot and the sports editor looked at her with surprise, saying he didn't know women could shoot sports.
Rounding out their experience, the conferencegoers heard from Sharon Collins, a television journalist for CNN's Earth Matters, and Swanstock picture agency director and founder Mary Virginia Swanson. Collins expressed concern about "one-man bands" - the growing trend at news stations and newspapers of having reporting and photography for a story handled by one person. She says she is seeing more and more of this and believes the product is suffering because of it.
Swanson, who is not a photographer, says she loves working with pictures, not cameras. She is dedicated to creating a market for personal, interpretive imagery and self-generated projects.
The conference photographers also attended workshops and received portfolio reviews from top photo editors and photographers from around the country. The workshops included practical lighting situations and equipment; diversity in sports; knowing legal limits as a photographer; a hands-on approach to getting funded for photography projects; and teaching documentary photography to children.
The workshops were interesting, but the main attraction for many participants was the portfolio review. Reviewers included picture editors from National Geographic, the New York Times, Newsweek, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald, among others. Soon-to-be-graduating seniors and in-between-jobs professionals scrambled from light table to light table hoping to learn and impress. Others just wanted to meet and talk one on one with some of the great "eyes" in the country.
Whatever the attraction at this year's conference, the veterans and the young women photojournalists agreed they were not a group that planned on being held back by stereotypes about being female (one in eight photographers are women) in a predominantly male profession.