By Jim Colton
So you won a Pulitzer Prize...nice...but what have you done lately? Well, if you're Deanne Fitzmaurice, you've followed and photographed the subject of your Pulitzer for almost 10 years; created a camera bag and accessories company; launched a website that looks deeper into compelling published photographs; donated your time to foundations and nonprofits; and lectured around the globe.
And, Oh yeah, did I mention that she's been on assignment for almost every major publication in the world? Her work has been published in TIME, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, The Economist, Stern and GEO to name a few. She's also created multimedia pieces for the ACLU and MSNBC and has done commercial work for clients such as Target, Mazda, Avon and Microsoft. So I think we get the picture...literally. This is one rolling stone that has gathered no moss.
I've had the pleasure of working with Deanne both as a client and as an instructor. And I am continually amazed at where all of this energy comes from. On the outside, she is quiet and unassuming, never frazzled and always greets you with glistening eyes and a radiant smile. But don't let that calm demeanor fool you. She can work the elbows, as well as her charm, with the best of them at the sidelines of any football game and always comes back with the goods.
But it is her passion that I have always admired. She commits herself 100% to whatever project she is currently working on and is constantly evolving to stay current with industry needs. She is...the ultimate multi-tasker.
Jim Colton: You got your start as a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle. What year was that, and what happened prior to that which steered you into a career in photography? What was your first introduction to the medium? Who or what were your early influences?
Deanne Fitzmaurice: Since I was a teen, I wanted to be as close to the action and excitement as I could get. I was a big fan of music concerts at the time and was living in Boston. Bette Midler was playing two sold out nights at a club and as I stood in line to see if any tickets were left, I noticed the wait staff, dressed in their black pants and white blouses walking into the back door. So I returned the next day dressed in that same outfit, my camera hidden in a bag and simply walked in the “Staff Only” door straight past security. When nobody was looking I ducked under a table in the front. Hours later, just before the show was about to begin, I slipped out from under the table and sat in a chair in the front. You better believe that initial success went right to my head! Years later, I moved to San Francisco and I discovered clients would actually pay me to shoot concerts from up front.
I studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and began in a program on painting and drawing. I quickly realized I was better at photography. I loved using my camera to tell stories which drew me finally to photojournalism. I was drawn to the excitement (there’s that word again), the unpredictability, being thrown into a new situation and learning to understand it and to distill it into a compelling photograph that communicated the story. I found my art and it was photography.
I became friends with the Academy’s Director of Photography, Paul Raedeke while working in the Photography Department office to help pay my tuition. He had just started a local magazine called Photo Metro and he had landed an interview with Ansel Adams. Paul asked me to come along to shoot portraits of Ansel for the story. While Ansel was giving us a tour through his darkroom and around his Carmel home, I started to shoot a few photos with a used Yashica Mat twin lens reflex. It was new to me and I really didn't know how to work it.
Ansel noticed I was beginning to photograph him, so he reached to get a pair of glasses that looked like the ones he normally wore but they had no lenses. He said he wore them when he was being photographed to avoid any reflections. I was fumbling with my camera and suddenly he looked at me, stuck his fingers through the rims where the lenses would have been and made a funny face. I shot the photo and was later horrified to find that it was out of focus and unusable.
So I screwed up my great moment with Ansel Adams, a photographer that did what I am always trying to do to this day; humanize someone or some issue. He let down his guard and gave me a moment and it is forever gone. I learned my first big lesson in photography and now I double check everything and try to always be ready for any kind a moment that could happen.
I was hired full time as a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1989. It wasn’t until later that I started to understand the real power of photojournalism; to tell stories and effect awareness and change.
I have been influenced by so many people in the business. Seriously, I am influenced daily. Just to name a few, I love Elliott Erwitt’s work for his humor, I love Eugene Richards’ work for his depth and emotion and I love Ed Kashi’s work for the way he is evolving with the industry. I could go on for a while with this list.
JC: In 2005, you were the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography (See link below) for your story on Saleh Khalaf, a 9-year-old Iraqi boy who was severely maimed by an explosion. Can you tell our readers a little about that story, how it came about and how long did it take to photograph?
DF: The Saleh Khalaf story started out as just another daily assignment for the paper. The assignment editor told me there was an injured Iraqi boy brought to the Children’s Hospital in Oakland so a writer, Meredith May, and I went out to do the story. After we met Saleh we told our editors we wanted to follow the story until he was well enough to return back to Iraq. From the Managing Editor Robert “Rosey” Rosenthal, the Director of Photography Randy Greenfield, to my photo editor, Kathleen Hennessy, I was given the time and resources to do the story right. It was a real collaboration and all the photo editors helped and the other staff photographers picked up the slack so I could work on this.
I spent over a year photographing the story through all Saleh’s ups and downs as he recovered. The story took an unexpected turn when Iraqi insurgents mistakenly believed that Saleh’s Dad, Raheem must be an American spy and that was why his son was getting medical treatment in America. So they ransacked the family home and Saleh’s family had to go on the run. At this point Raheem and Saleh knew they had to stay in America for safety and eventually they were granted asylum. Subsequently the rest of the family was able to come to America. We went to Iraq to document the family traveling to America and reuniting with Saleh and Raheem. People reacted strongly to the story and wanted to help, which was heartening and humbling. The story showed a side of war Americans weren’t seeing.
JC: I understand that you are continuing to photograph Saleh as an ongoing project. Can you give us an update on him and what he's up to these days?
DF: I continue to film Saleh’s story in video and stills and to let him tell his story in his own words. He is 19 now and a remarkably up-beat young man with a kind heart. He will be graduating from high school this spring. The other day he told me he wants to get prosthetics for his hands. He has always resisted the idea but now has come to the realization that having hands would make it easier to eat, to write and draw and to play basketball. We were at an In-n-Out Burger earlier that day and I noticed people staring at him as he tried with difficulty to eat his double-double cheeseburger.
MediaStorm has expressed an interest in collaborating with me on continuing Saleh’s story. My hope is that we can help Saleh and others, by highlighting how war affects every individual caught in the violence. It’s not abstract, it’s personal.
JC: You photograph a lot of sports. Why sports? Is it a favorite subject of yours or part of a mix of topics you like to cover?
DF: I am curious about athletes as people, what makes them tick, and who they are off the field. I tried asking for access from the teams, from their agents, but had no luck. So instead, I asked the athletes directly, and honestly explained why I thought their personal story was important. Sometimes the player would agree. After I did behind-the-scenes photography with Barry Bonds and Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants, it became a niche and editors started to come to me for that kind of documentary style work.
But I have to say, the work I did on the sidelines of football games really helped me become a better photojournalist. Just as I had to figure out where to position myself on the sidelines of a 49ers football game, photographing sports has taught me how to anticipate moments which is useful in all my photography, anticipating what might happen next and where it might happen.
JC: One image you shot last year for Sports Illustrated has gotten some attention. It shows two young men kissing in a gay bar after the San Francisco 49ers took a fourth-quarter lead in their NFC Championship game. Can you tell us a little about that image?
DF: I am proud of that picture because it got people talking about the LGBT community, sports and acceptance. It was an assignment for Sports Illustrated for a story about the diversity of 49er fans. I hung out behind the bar of a popular gay sports bar in San Francisco during the play off game and was rewarded with that wonderful personal moment. Sports Illustrated ran the photo in the Super Bowl preview issue that hit the stands the same week the sports media reported on homophobic comments in the NFL. I recently learned the image won in POYi and American Photography (AP-AI) in addition to Communication Arts in 2013. I hope the awards help keep this conversation in play.
JC: Has gender ever played a role in any of your assignments...being in locker rooms, access, acceptance, etc.?
DF: Gender really hasn’t been much of an issue for me because I never made it an issue. I think we all need to play to our strengths and our own comfort levels. Sure, as a photojournalist I’m a woman working in a male-dominated field especially when I’m shooting sports. But being female may have also saved my life.
I was photographing from the sidelines of a 49ers game and I was trying to photograph John Taylor running to catch a pass from Steve Young. I watched him get closer and closer and as I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder I saw (too late) that he was running full speed directly at me. I struggled to rise from my kneeling position all the while thinking, this is it, he’s huge, I’m small and I’m going to die right now. But instead of crashing into me, Taylor just slipped his arms under mine, picked me up, and continued running all the way to the sidelines. I later heard the announcer on the playback had said, “Whoa, John Taylor just picked up a lady photographer.” A number of my male colleagues around me said that if it had been them, they would have been run over.
JC: You are married to another photographer, Kurt Rogers. What is that dynamic like? Does travel and commitment of professional work ever interfere with your personal life? How does one adjust?
DF: We were both staff photographers at competing papers in San Francisco, the Examiner and Chronicle, so of course we would try to out-shoot each other on assignments. Then the papers merged and we were both on staff at the Chronicle and we naturally competed for the best assignments. I left the paper in 2008 and he left in 2009. Kurt is enormously talented and also happens to be easy-going and very funny, so he keeps me laughing. Being in the same business, he understands when I have to travel for assignments and we both know that the arts have wide arcs of success and slow times, so we work to be patient with each other. Right now we are working together to produce the About a Photograph series.
JC: Tell us more about that new series: About a Photograph. (See link below) What is the premise of it and how did it come about?
DF: About a Photograph is a new series we produce for the Think Tank blog. Essentially, we interview photographers about the story behind their photograph. It’s inspiring and sometimes humorous, but always insightful to hear photographers talk about their mindset while they made a great image. We recently interviewed John Stanmeyer about his World Press Photo of the Year, and the 20 we have published so far have included photographs by Joe McNally, David Burnett, Sara Lewkowicz, Ben Lowy and Nick Ut, to name a few. We are also grateful to Dave Driver for inspiring the series.
JC: You are the co-founder, with your husband, of Think Tank. (See link below) Tell us a little about the company and how it got started.
DF: As news photographers in San Francisco running from one assignment to another we often had camera equipment rolling around the trunks of our cars, so Kurt came up with a trunk camera organizer and created it by hand for a few of our friends. We were unsure how to produce and market our camera solution, so Kurt consulted with bag designer, Doug Murdoch. They became good friends and Doug began consulting with us on what photojournalists were looking for in a camera bag. Fast forward a few years when Doug wanted to start his own camera bag company and he asked Kurt and me to be part of it. Along with bag designer, Mike Sturm, we started Think Tank in 2005.
The response has been great. A couple months after we launched the company, our Beltpack was chosen as the official bag of the Super Bowl distributed by Canon. And Think Tank was off and running.
We take pride in the quality of our bags and our customer service. Our philosophy is to talk directly to photographers about what features they are looking for in a bag. We try to make bags that really solve the problems that all of us photographers face, like how to get our camera equipment onto airplanes and how to create bags that make it easy to shoot on location.
JC: Like many photographers today, you are making a transition into multimedia storytelling. How different is that for you? What excites you about the medium and do you think it's going to be something that all photojournalists must venture into?
DF: I’m really excited to have tools like DSLR video, to add depth and nuance to storytelling. Some stories are just better with motion & audio. I also love learning something new, challenging myself. I think it’s important to diversify, to grow as a photojournalist, explore the tools we have available and make ourselves more marketable. A lot of my freelance work now includes an element of multimedia. It’s smart from a business sense, but also smart from a creative sense, challenging us which keeps the creativity flowing.
JC: I know you do a lot of photography workshops and give back to the industry in many ways. Why is this important to you?
DF: I’m still very passionate about photojournalism I feel very fortunate that I am able to make a career doing what I love and I want that for others. Also, I learn and get inspired when I teach. Teaching and lecturing gives me an opportunity to get to know so many more wonderful and talented people in our industry.
JC: Tell us one thing about Deanne Fitzmaurice that a lot of people might not know?
DF: I once photographed an entire story while in the nude. (Okay, okay, it was at a nudist camp)
JC: Lastly, would you have done anything differently in your career and what advice would you offer to the up-and-coming photojournalist?
DF: I’m happy with the choices I’ve made but if I were to do it all over again I might also take some filmmaking classes and some business classes. I’ve had to figure out those things on my own.
As far as advice; shoot stories that matter to you. That’s where you’ll produce your best work. Find the human element and focus on that. Network; we have a relatively small industry so get to know as many people as you can, attend workshops and events and you will have an enriched community of friends and business relationships.
Do you have a story you think is a good candidate for Photo Journal? Email your suggestion to: [email protected]