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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Say "Cheese"

By Chris Lee

On March 23 1994, Presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was in Tijuana giving his presidential speech. His speech roared at the crowd, explaining the factors to why he would be well qualified to be the next President of Mexico. In middle of Colosio’s speech, shrilling shots rang, and a bullet perforated his skull, leaving him and the scene with utter chaos and panic. While most were running and screaming in inevitable terror, photojournalist Robert Gauthier, though apprehensive, maintained his ground, unveiled his 37mm digital camera, and began to shoot every crevice of the fatally macabre scene.
“I was late to the rally and began taking pictures as he was giving the last few minutes of a campaign speech,” Gauthier said. “There were more than a thousand people crowded in a hillside neighborhood near Tijuana. After his speech, he waded into the crowd to shake hands. I was excited because it offered me an opportunity to make some nice pictures of him. I followed closely behind, shooting what are known as “Hail Mary” shots of him and the crowd. When I figured I had enough of those, I put my camera down with intention of moving in front of him for close up shots. Instead, less than a second after lowering my camera, two shots rang out and madness ensued. I looked down and he was lying at my feet. Instincts took over and I started shooting the scene as it unfolded. I captured the last image of his face before an aide wrapped his bloody head in a jacket and carried him away to a nearby ambulance. I saw a scuffle for a gun nearby and photographed that scrum. Eventually, officials corralled the shooter and had to walk him through a hostile crowd to their vehicles.” Incidents like these are one of the many situations Gauthier follows in order to offer the world with current, controversial, and essentially, significant news.
Gauthier is a photojournalist at the La Times, and has been for nearly 17 years now. Prior to exploring his aptitude and compassion for photojournalism at the La Times, he spent six years pursuing photojournalism at the San Diego Union Tribune. He received his B.A. in journalism at Fresno State University in 1983, and never tires from him prolonged series of photojournalism endeavors. Gauthier’s dark brown eyes are glazed with artistic ambition when they are not covered with his jet black Ray Ban aviators. He wears a beard thick enough to keep a new born child warm, and retains quite an affinity for a nice Heinekin. When the naked eye views Gauthier, his garb and disposition appears quite conventional, nothing too peculiar, or out of the ordinary. However, in fact, he has persevered and accomplished what most individuals in the field of journalism wish to acquire. Gauthier won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for a story he photographed called “Failure to Provide: Los Angeles County’s Child Support Crisis.” Always a little coy when speaking about his Pulitzer Prize, Gauthier said: “The King/Drew Medical Center was founded out of the ashes of the Watts race riots in the late 19760’s.” “It was built on the idea that poor people deserved good healthcare and a place where African Americans would be treated by doctors who came from neighborhoods like theirs. It turned out to be a place where corruption, graft and bad patient care festered and became the norm. I was the photographer with four reporters who spent the better part of two years investigating those allegations.” Gauthier does not continue his career in photojournalism to be recognized, rather, he is glued to his line of work because he simply enjoys it.
“I picked up my first camera when I was nine years old,” Gauthier said, as he was climbing into his 2006 Honda Element to cover his next assignment. “I’ve always had some interests in photography. The fact that you have the power to freeze a moment in time – it still gives me the chills, whether it is a moment of happiness or tragedy. And I am grateful every single day that I get paid to do what I’ve enjoyed all my life. It’s near impossible to do what you love, and earn income” Gauthier was on his way to cover a story on a Mexican parade in Los Angeles called “Day of the Dead.” On the way there, the 57 North was plastered with back to back traffic. Though stuck in traffic, Gauthier had a placid look stretch across his face; he would periodically picked up his camera and start taking snapshots on the road. He seemed quite mired in his profession, whether he was actually at scene, or stuck in traffic. . In the car, Gauthier put on his Ray Ban Aviators shaded with jet-black lens and gold rims. Then, he turned on the radio, and the music played with a calming frequency, the speakers gently seeped the sound of ambient keyboards and light percussion, creating a seductive soundtrack to the drive through the curtains of traffic.
Gauthier arrived at the Parade, fully equipped with his 37mm camera, and a prodigious video camera he kept standing beside him. “Day of the Dead” is a Mexican tradition, where they celebrate to honor their deceased. The men were dressed in intimidating skeleton costumes, and the women wore face paint to make themselves look like the dead. The drums pounding sounded malevolent, the roses being tossed on the floor looked withered, and the hymns they sang sounded solemn and sad. Despite everything going on, Gauthier was focused on one thing and one thing only – taking photographs. He was taking photographs faster than the speed of light.
If one were to spend a day with Gauthier, they make speculate his job is boring and trite. Most of Gauthier’s time as a photojournalist is spent in his office at the La Times. Gauthier’s office is lackluster and it reeks with the stale smell of cardboard. He spends a substantial amount of his time in front of his computer with a cup of hot coffee. He sits there researching and finding leads for stories he has been assigned, or one he personally would like to cover. Though he does go on exhilarating assignments, and has traveled as far as Iraq, Somalia, and France, majority of his work is based on the foundation of research. Albeit Gauthier’s line of work seems quite exciting with traveling, witnessing monumental events, and being able to utilize the most advanced technology, it is still required he deals with tedious and stressful aspect of his job as well. “Gaining the trust of people at large who don’t understand my mission as a photojournalist” Gauthier said. “People often lump me in with photographers who are looking to profit of someone’s misfortune or fame.” Gauthier is constantly misinterpreted by others when he is trying to solely get the truth out in whatever story he is covering, which is an endless struggle he is faced with as a photojournalist. In order to alleviate such strenuous difficulties, Gauthier stated: “Normally, I will talk to them initially and let them know my prerogative, and that I do not intend to castigate them in anyway, because journalism is about letting the world know what is happening, not to put it down. It’s a real difficult aspect, no matter what, when the story is taken and published, people tend to believe we are out to get them.”
Since Gauthier has been around the field of photojournalism for such a stretched period of time, he has also experienced the vast alterations in technology as well. An adjustment in ones profession requires time because change is always difficult in a field like this; however Gauthier seems very proud and pleased with the changes. “The advent of digital photography has had a profound effect on our department. When I first started, we would shoot film, run back to the office, develop the film, scan the negatives and make prints. Now, we have the ability to shoot a picture and immediately transmit the image to an editor as I continue taking pictures. The digitalization of images has created a myriad of ethical issues that has forced us to consider more the integrity of how and why we take photos.” He also does not possess any resentment nor does he seem disgruntled with the factor that the internet is slowly taking over the newspaper industry. “It has sharpened my skills as a story teller. For the print, we would be looking for a single, impactful image. The web offers a chance to group photos together with audio and video. The possibilities are seemingly endless and it's been a lot of fun learning how to best use the emerging technology. Many say newspapers are dead and that seems to be true. I disagree. The newspaper industry is in a real state of change and is suffering a great amount of growing pains as it tries to monetize the emerging technologies during one of the worst economies in U.S. history.”
Though Gauthier loves his profession and will continue to take photographs, when he isn’t at work, he is a loving husband and a father of two kids. Gauthier also owns two rambunctious Pit Bulls he enjoys walking around the serenity of his quiet neighborhood he currently resides in, Diamond Bar. Robert Gauthier is not just a photojournalist, not just a husband, or simply a father; he is a man of strong ambition who genuinely enjoys what he is doing with his life. He not only takes photographs for the world, but he offers us with the idea that it is possible to dream and do what you love. Essentially, Robert is a hero who teaches that there are still genuine, passionate workers out there, and it is quite consoling to see passion still exists in the terrain of “work.”


- One hr interview with Rober Gauthier


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