By Donald R. Winslow
CHICAGO, IL (August 27, 2013) – When photojournalist John H. White checked his eMail on the free WiFi network in a North Carolina airport, he had no idea that what he was about to read was going to make him cry.
"Certain awards have more meaning in life at certain times, and when it just comes out of the sky ...," his voice trailed off.
"In life, when we're doing our mission, our work, we never look in the rear view mirror. We never stop to think that maybe someone appreciates our work or what we've done. It came at a time ... with all the things we've been through lately, I really needed this. I guess I'm still emotional about the whole [Sun-Times layoff] thing, and it brought tears to my eyes. It made me think, 'Someone cares.' And for that, I'm thankful."
What White discovered in his eMail was a letter telling him that he's the 2013 Lucie Foundation's Achievement in Photojournalism honoree. The award will be presented on Sunday, October 27, in New York's Carnegie Hall.
"It's taken me about three months now to land, emotionally and mentally, after the layoff," White told News Photographer magazine today. In May, the Sun-Times management shut down the entire photography department and gave 28 staff photographers their walking papers, planning instead to use reporters and editors with iPhones to provide the visual report.
The layoff came as a huge shock to the photography staff, the photojournalism community and to White, who is known for his positive mental attitude, his faith, and for his motivational and spiritual slogan, "Keep In Flight."
"In this time, I've realized that my whole life has been 'in-flight' refueling," White said today. "I've never landed, until now. So right now, I'm kind of like the Hubble telescope."
White has a small model of NASA's Hubble telescope hanging above his home desk to remind him of his new analogy.
"In 2009 the Hubble telescope, orbiting earth, was reaching the end of its mission. Soon it was going to stop sending back images," White said. "It was near the end. But NASA sent up a crew in the Space Shuttle and they took the Hubble lens into the Shuttle's cargo bay. For months they worked on it, they fixed the mirror, they fixed the lens. They put it back together They gave it a new mission. And the refurbished Hubble started sending back spectacular images."
"That's me, right now," White said. Later this afternoon he's taking a leisurely drive to take part in a new program, to begin a Life Retreat, to help him figure out what he's going to do next in his life after the Sun-Times.
"All my life, I never landed. But now, I've landed," he said. "I'm going into the cargo bay, and I'll come out with a new mission. Right now, there's a certain silent excitement," he said. "Now is a time for me to refurbish. All my life, I've been trying to figure out 'God's syllabus.' And maybe, maybe this will be the next chapter."
The Lucie Foundation's mission is to celebrate master photographers and to promote the appreciation of photography worldwide. Past Lucie winners include Eli Reed, Bill Eppridge, and Rich Clarkson (2011), Howard Bingham (2010), Gilles Peress and Reza (2009), and Susan Meiselas and Josef Koudelka (2008).