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There’s Something About Robin

Photograph courtesy of Stanley Leary

I’ve always loved mornings. There’s something about the light and the freshness of opportunity with every sunrise.

I have fond memories of my years on a metro newspaper in Indiana.  There were three hardened  reporters working in a small bureau where I had been assigned, guys who smoked a lot and enjoyed their whisky. Two women who were free-lance correspondents wrote mostly feature articles. And there was me with my Nikons, jeans and boots — never really fitting in anywhere, but always happy to be out in the county making pictures.  

My focus was along the rural roads and in small towns, searching out the unusual for a story or pictures that could make the newspaper reader laugh, cry or yell. My goal was to touch hearts and get people to care,  because apathy is a horrible way to live.  I wanted readers to see what I did and feel what I felt. Sometimes my pictures and stories made a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes it was just a nice ‘Kodak Moment’ that was likely stuck on some family’s refrigerator door.

The crusty guys on the photo staff were constantly kidding me about my artistic ‘color outside the lines’ ways and my obsession for that perfect print in the darkroom.  ‘Today’s Pulitzer lines tomorrow bird cage,” they often joked.  I was different  in so many ways. I didn’t fit anyone’s boxes or definitions.

We all shared a passion for making compelling pictures that told stories. It’s a solitary thing, creating pictures — it’s your vision, your perspective, your decisive moment. No design by committee. Just you and your subject and the pictures you bring back to the newspaper. I was perfectly suited to the job. I never earned that much money, but I’ve heard it said that ‘an artist’s soul is never poor.

It was the best job in the world for a free-spirited, unconventional J-school kid with a camera who didn’t fit in society but had a desire to make a difference.  I  documented  life in the rural towns around me and was paid to do it.  My technology was Tri-X film usually pushed to the limits. I cared nothing for styles or fashion. My clothing usually smelled of darkroom chemicals.  When my Saturday night shifts were over I’d visit the pressroom  as the crew pulled the early edition off the line rather than head to the discos where the other 20-somethings usually  gathered. The smell of ink and newsprint was pretty overpowering. I didn’t care. It was the scent of journalism and I was in love. 


 Every morning was a fresh start to that day’s edition. There was a lot going on in the gritty urban areas to the north. Gary, Indiana had become the drug murder capital of the nation. The guys in the main office took care of most of those hard news assignments. I’d get some of the overflow work now and then as well as any breaking news in my area, but my primary job was to find those offbeat picture stories — real people, with their challenges, victories and tragedies that the other photographers weren’t all that interested in doing.

I  often got the space above the fold on Sunday morning for the deeper feature stories and pictures. I guess it helped that my friend Joe worked the Saturday night slot. Joe liked me a lot and made room on A-1 for my ‘enterprise’ pictures whenever he could. 

Those guys are gone now, along with the teletype machines, wirephoto receivers, paste pots and darkrooms.  I owe them a lot because they helped me become the journalist I am today.

I didn’t think of myself as a writer back then and I still don’t. ‘Reporting with pictures’ was a better description. For me writing is painful. My bureau chief Guy Slaughter often lamented, “Hate to write, love to have written.” He’d stare at the blank paper in the IBM Selectric for a few minutes as he collected his thoughts. Then he’d start typing furiously as he smoked those horrid cigarettes. Guy was a reporter, a real one, from another time.

My dearest friend in the bureau was Alan Doyle. We even lived together for a while. We often rode in his van to a murder or something equally grim with his 8-track EmmyLou Harris or Eagles tapes blaring and the two-way radio and police monitors squawking in the background.  Alan was the ‘tough guy crime reporter,’ complete with stained trench coat and cigarettes. I made the pictures that touched hearts. We made an odd couple but  a good team when the stories were so awful,  filled with tragedy or brimming with political corruption.

What I learned in Indiana has stayed with me for more than thirty yearsEveryone has a story if you dig deep enough.

I left newspapers and regular paychecks in 1984 to launch my career as a freelance photojournalist. Since then I’ve photographed hundreds of stories on assignment for Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Forbes, Christianity Today, Christian Living, Focus and Der Spiegel, to name a few. I’ve worked with several news photo agencies over the years. Two of them are now just faded memories but they were good times. These days I’m blessed to still work with agents, well-respected in the news industry, who are also dear friends.

People are people, with struggles and victories, beauty and warts, no matter where you go.  Often it’s the simple stories that make the biggest impact. Give me a salt-of-the-earth family to photograph instead of a high-rolling guy in a suit or celebrity any day. Folks I can share an iced-tea or a ‘Co-Cola,’ with and visit with their dog. Riches and status don’t impress me much. It’s character that counts. Real people and real life. 

I returned to my native Georgia 36 years ago and raised a special needs son. I’m now married to my best friend, living in the North Georgia mountains. I exchanged the black soil of the midwest farm fields for red Georgia clay. Midwestern accents had been replaced with Southern speak. It is a  language and a way of life I was much more at ease with, because Atlanta was my birthplace.

My editor, wife and best friend of 30 years, Kyla. Photograph courtesy of Stanley Leary

I still find mornings exhilarating.  A perfect day would find me in the car with my coffee and cameras close. And maybe a cinnamon doughnut.  Seamus, my Wheaten Terrier, might be along for the ride. We’d be headed somewhere to make pictures for an editor who allows me the freedom to do what I do best. If I were flying a desk somewhere I think I’d sink into a deep hole of depression.  

Along the way we’d enjoy the drive, staying aware of  picture and story possibilities. I always took time to explore what was over the next hill and make mental notes for another day’s adventure. 

That’s why I love what I do. There’s always another story to tell and an opportunity to use the skills God gave me.

That newspaper job was in another time. Technology has evolved into something unimaginable back then. It has made telling stories much easier and to a much wide audience, but the art of storytelling grows stronger with each year.

As journalists and as individuals, we become the sum total of our life experiences. They shape how we relate to others and how we tell stories.

55th anniversary of the infamous ‘Bloody Sunday’ civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Photograph courtesy of Bradley Watson

I’ve evolved quite a bit since those first days in this business nearly fifty years ago.

I still don’t care for trends.  I’m not a group joiner. My favorite quotes from a dear friend: ‘Be who you are, and dare to be great.”

I am passionate about telling stories that explore social justice, human rights, disability rights and gender diversity, because they are all personal to me.

My daily quest is much the same as it was decades ago — find someone with an interesting story and share it, in words, pictures, or both.  I haven’t really changed all that much. In my heart I’m still that young j-school grad, ready to explore the world, make friends, make a difference, and  create pictures that will remain long after I’m gone.

© 2020 Robin Rayne /All Rights Reserved



5 Comments leave one →
  1. Greg Crawford permalink
    October 5, 2010 9:43 pm

    So what ever happed to Alan Doyle? If he didn’t write a book about about ‘da region, he sure missed an opportunity. He and the crime reporter that preceded him at the paper would have had a lot of stories. I know barely a few. Great photos, but nothing beats the seamy side of the city. Like in 1974 when 12 cops were indicted. Nothing like Gary in the 70s. Drop me a note.

  2. LyNell Franssen permalink
    July 24, 2011 7:32 pm

    I’d be very interested in hearing more about your Doyle adventures.

  3. October 27, 2018 10:08 pm


  4. October 27, 2018 10:48 pm

    I rode along while your words painted the pictures. It was a comfortable ride. Thanks Robin, I really enjoyed it!

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