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Jon’s Postlife Crisis: Photographer Ken Jarecke - Helping Others Find Their Vision

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The state of photography is pretty poor right now. What can be done to change it?

Taylor Martinez against Oklahoma
Copyright 2019 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

Ken Jarecke is a highly accomplished, world-wide known photographer. This is from his Wikipedia page:

Ken Jarecke is an American photo journalist, author, editor and war correspondent. He has worked in more than 80 countries and has been featured in Life magazine, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and others. He was a White House photographer in the Ronald Reagan years, covered demonstrations from Tiananmen Square, the first Gulf War and shot nine Olympic games since 1988.

I’m not sure how you get a better resume than that.

Oh yeah, you create a fantastic photography book about Nebraska football!

In this episode, Ken and I talk about:

  • Why you’d better think really hard about whether you want to be a professional photographer.
  • Why sports photography is generic and boring.
  • War photography? Conflict photography?
  • Can you really change the world as a photojournalist?
  • Ken has a new youtube series interviewing photographers, photojournalists that you should really pay attention to.

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About the Transcript

Keep in mind that the following is a transcript. . I use a service that automates the first draft. As much as “artificial intelligence” is included in the description of every bit of technology these days, it’s clear that computers understanding human speech is more artificial than intelligent. The transcript has been edited to take out human speech bites, you know, um, okay, uh, but it’s not been edited to be an “article”.

Transcript

Jon Johnston Welcome to Jon’s Postlife Crisis. I am your host Jon Johnston, founder of CornNation.com, your Nebraska Cornhuskers site for SB Nation. Today we’re talking with photographer Ken Jarecke. How you doing today Ken?

Ken Jarecke

Doing well Jon, how are you doing?

Jon Johnston It’s been a fun day. I’ve already tried to get into one accident, but I did solve a really difficult problem for a customer. So they were happy with that.

For people that don’t know who you are I’m going to read something from your Wikipedia page. First of all, you have a Wikipedia page. Ken Jarecke is an American photo journalist, author, editor and war correspondent. He has worked in more than 80 countries and has been featured in Life magazine, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and others. You were a White House photographer in the Ronald Reagan years, covered demonstrations from Tiananmen Square and the first Gulf War and you’ve shot nine Olympic games since 1988. That’s a pretty impressive resume. I mean, can you get any more accomplished than this?

Ken Jarecke

Well, I, I don’t know. I just I, I don’t I just I never I never stopped to look, look back at my resume, I guess you’d call it I just I don’t know I’m hungry to do the next thing to be honest.

Jon Johnston

So you’re still you’re still active and working in doing stuff now?

Ken Jarecke

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I was basically retired by the industry, you know, we the photo, the editorial photography, the photo journalism business has you know, I didn’t leave it, it left me. And it did that by doing things like, like forcing photographers to sign work for hire agreements to turn over their copyright of their work. So I was I was a contract photographer was one of the last contract photographers for Life magazine. After that I was a contract photographer for Time Magazine. And then after that I was a contract photographer for US News and World Report. And so what a contract photographer The reason there is such a thing under US law, if you’re, if you’re under contract, you retain ownership of your copyright. If you’re a staff photographer, you know for the Omaha world Herald or Lincoln journal star, you have retirement, they pay for your equipment, they give you a car, whatever, you’ve got these these benefits that come with being a staff photographer, but they also own the copyright of your images. It’s basically their images. So every every picture I’ve ever made belongs to me. And when that started to change in the editorial photography, the magazine world, that’s when, you know, I just couldn’t sign those contracts.

Roy Helu in a beautiful use of light against Mizzou in 2010
Copyright 2019 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

Jon Johnston

It makes sense. I shot Minnesota volleyball in the last couple of months and before one of the matches, there was a bunch of photographers standing around in room talking about what they were doing. And one of my talk to was like, working for the Pioneer Press. I believe it was in St. Paul. And he said they only had three photographers left. Another guy did say so then you know, the Super Bowl was in Minnesota, what was it two years ago? I’m getting old, all the years run together. But one of them did say sold the photo to the NFL, and you know, outright sold it so he doesn’t have the rights to it anymore. But he did apparently get a fair amount of money for it. I’ve been around Getty photographers at events and I’ve talked to them what about what they’re doing? And they’re just basically selling these things on a nickel and dime basis, right. If somebody uses their photo, they get like two bucks on a website or something.

Ken Jarecke

No, it’s worse than that, Jon. So you know Getty The NFL has their own contract. So when you pick up say you’re shooting the Super Bowl, the NFL has their own contract that basically if you use those photos for anything besides the editorial journalistic publication you’re shooting for. You could get in trouble so if you if you shot 10 Super Bowls, and then wanted to do a show of your Super Bowl photography, the NFL lawyers would probably shut you down. On the other side of that coin so say your say you have a unique shot. And Nike wants to use your your NFL photo from the Super Bowl for an advertisement. Getty is the official photographer of the NFL, and there’s official photographer the NBA and the PBA what their their official photographer, most of the professional sports in the country. So, if Nike wants to use that photo of yours, they’re under, they’re obligated under NFL rules to go to Getty first. And if Getty has a similar image, they’re obligated to license that image from Getty. So say, say it’s, you know, the licensing fee for an advertisement could be, it could be 100 grand, it could be 200 grand depending on billboards, what kind of usage you’re getting no licensing is complicated in that way.

Well, the Getty photography, so so the photographer that wasn’t shooting for Getty, that Nike first wanted to use their image, he doesn’t get to that licensing fee, because Getty has a similar image. So then the photographer under contract with Getty, he doesn’t get that licensing fee either. Getty gets that entire licensing fee. So the photographer who signed the contract with Getty, there’s two different contracts or what I’m don’t quote me on this is contracts change all the time. But if you’re shooting at a sporting event for getty, more often than not, you are giving them you’re working for a flat fee. And then they get all the licensing money from this, the resale the read licensing of that image. So, whatever gettys fee is $300 a day. If they license that image to the NFL, you know, they’d like they license that NFL image to Nike, or you know, a watch company, whatever it could be anything. You see that those advertisements get he takes the lion’s share of that. If you’re under the other contract, we get to share some of the licensing fees so you don’t get that, that huge, you know, $300 paycheck up front, whatever it is. You will get a tiny percentage and how they do that is they go from you get these, they have these weird subscription models. So say you have the shot from the Super Bowl, and it’s used in every European publication. Well, those European publications might subscribe to get a sports feed. So you get a percentage of all the images they use during that month. From Getty sports feed see my get that’s how you get these checks from Getty for 43 cents. You’re getting the percentage of your percentage of the usage for the entire month. From the subscription fee, if that makes sense.

Jon Johnston

It does. SB Nation, our site, has contracts with USA Today and Getty. And really what it what it sounds like is why would anybody do this anymore?

Ken Jarecke

Well, what I tell sports photographers, it’s very simple. You go to, Lensrentals, one of these rental, you know, borrow lenses what.com, whatever they are. Look up the gear you’re using to shoot that football game. So you got your 400 2.8, you got a 70 to 200 2.8. You got a short lens. You’ve got two, maybe three bodies and just figure out what it would cost to rent that gear for one day to do that shoot. That should be the minimum that you ever charge for a shoot. And you know, when you do those numbers, you’re going to find out Wow, that gear that that I paid for my own personal gear, not only did I pay for it, but I’ve got insurance on it if it breaks, if it gets stolen, it’s on me. You’ll find that you know you’re working for whatever to you know, USA Today sports I think they pay like two and a quarter a day right? You’ll find that you couldn’t even rent that gear you’re using that you need to shoot that game. You couldn’t even get that gear for less than $1,000 for that day.

Kobe Bryant in the Olympics
Copyright 2019 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

Jon Johnston

Yeah, I’d last year I’ve rented a Fuji 200 F2 for 300 bucks for a weekend. To shoot, I think it was the spring game or something. But I mean, that’s next one lens and one weekend and I don’t think people realize how much money people are carrying around in their hands when they’re on the sidelines

Unknown Speaker

[Phone Breaks Up]

Ken Jarecke So sorry that there was a there was another agency that that that bought usa today that was bought by USA Today. So now it’s USA Today sports. I don’t remember the name of that agency. But what they figured out is, you know, you can find a dentist in Omaha, Nebraska who is a is a Husker fan and he’ll shoot the game just for the press pass to be on the sidelines. And so they figured out they could pay this guy $100 and he would sign away all rights to the images he made. And he’s just happy to be there because he’s on the sidelines and he’s a dentist. So he’s making a living doing something else. And then, you know, they’ll license those images over and over again. It’s a great business model. That’s why, you know, USA Today. And so then you have USA Today, contract photographers, and you throw them into the mix. And all of a sudden, it’s very hard. That’s that’s why it’s sport illustrated that that’s why you don’t see any Sports Illustrated photographers around anymore. They’ve all been run out of the business.

Jon Johnston

Well, honestly, that’s what I do. In my real life, I’m an IT consultant and I happened to run a website for SB Nation and they certainly are not paying full time salaries to people running the majority of their websites. And you know, we’ve gotten a lot of crap for that, which I guess I understand but at the same time, I’m one of those cheese bags it’s like I want to go do this.

Ken Jarecke

I certainly I don’t blame anybody for wanting to do it.

I blame sports illustrated. It’s in their name. They’re known for being the best sports photography that’s ever existed in the world and if you look at their look at their pedigree look at their history, Neil Leifer, you know, co webmaster. These guys made images that we couldn’t even imagine before it was even in many ways, technically possible to make these image of these guys are, were incredible. That’s the legacy. And so what the publishers at Time, Inc, time life whatever it was called, they they made a they made a bet, and their bet was that We don’t have to pay guys like Neil Leifer anymore because a sports photo is a sports photo. And they bet that nobody would notice. And that’s why Sports Illustrated is basically you know, they’re not Time Life publications and Sports Illustrated was bought by branding company. Time was bought by an internet guy. I mean, they’re not. It’s one of the things that killed them. Because if I can go to CornNation for free and look at your photography, why am I going to buy a subscription to Sports Illustrated to look at your photography there? It’s a business thing.

Jon Johnston

Do you don’t you think people that are end users that are not photographers, and they’re just consumers? They take photography for granted. People can name sportswriters, right? You’re a photographer, you can name photographers, I bet if we went out, and we just I don’t know called random 100 people who would happen to be sports fans, they wouldn’t know the single name of a photographer would they?

Ken Jarecke know they don’t, they probably wouldn’t. But they would certainly know it when they see it. There, you know, this is the thing. It’s funny how how the whole thing works. I was working out a sports illustrated to office in during the Beijing Olympics. And at the time, all the Sports Illustrated writers were getting poached by ESPN magazine, ESPN The Magazine. Okay. So ESPN had all those TV dollars and Sports Illustrated didn’t have the TV dollars. So A writer for Sports Illustrated. You know, he signed a contract for two and a half, $3 million a year. These Sports Illustrated go to ESPN. So ESPN had this brain drain as far as the writers that you know you’re talking about. And at the same time, they were, were they were moving away from using their resources on the photographers on good photography are great, not good photography, great photography. And so not only did they lose their best writers, but then they stopped spending money on the best photography. So it’s like, how can you stay in business doing that? It all adds up and people, people realize that they’re like, Why am I spending you know, whatever, $29 a year for Sports Illustrated. You know, when that when the football phone, I don’t even have a phone to plug into the wall more. Just like, What’s the draw? And this new this new? Look at look at what’s this new website that it’s all subscription based.

Jon Johnston

Oh, The Athletic.

Ken Jarecke The athletic, right? Yeah. So they just came out. They’ve been in business for what a year. And their valuation came out two or three days ago and now they’re valued at half a million dollars now. Sorry $500 million right now $500 million. Let me look that up. I don’t remember exactly. But at the same time, they’re valued in this way they’ve gone and they’ve they’ve poached, all the athletic reaches 500 million valuation in sign. Investors are bullish on subscriptions. Okay, so there you go. $500 million. They’ve been in existence for what a year, right? So they poached all the newspaper writers, you know, the newspapers are struggling. They poached a lot of the best writers in markets across, you know, you’ve seen that, you know, what’s happening at the subscriber. Okay. So at the same time, the as of, I don’t know, three or four months ago, the last time I looked into this, they had no they had no procedures in place to even license or assign photography. Nobody in the whole building had thought about it. And then they immediately came up with this thing. something ridiculous. They all do, you know, it looks like they’re doing a story on Runza right. So they’re looking for a photographer in Lincoln or Omaha or wherever. And they wanted three or four pictures of Runza and it’s no big deal or you have to do is you know, go out and shoot some pictures and eat lunch and, and I think the licensing fee, it wasn’t a licensing fee, it was a buyout fee. Okay, so once again, it’s like any photo you send them they can use it over and over again. And so the fee was like 100 or 150 bucks. And they went around and you know, I’m in the loop. I don’t live in Nebraska anymore, but these photographers are calling me up and they’re like, they want me to shoot this for like hundred dollars or whatever it was, and they want to own all the pictures and they don’t have even a contract in place, they just want the pictures, so they never gave it any thought. And you know, they had to go through three or four photographers but eventually they found a photographer that would take their hundred dollars to shoot these pictures of the runs. And so now that it’s been established, that’s what your work is worth in Omaha, Nebraska to The Athletic, it’s now somehow was $500 million You are the lowest man on the totem pole. That’s reality.

Jon Johnston

When you go through the athletics articles on your phone what you find is USA Today sports and you also find they use a lot of photography from the universities they’re covering. You know, at least in the college, I don’t pay attention to pro sports very much but on the college side, they’re just going back to the universities and you know those guys are? Well, they’re like you said earlier a staff photographer, so they’re not going to make any extra money off what they’re doing.

Ken Jarecke Hmm, well, no, not only do they make it, they don’t make any extra money off of what they’re doing. But how do you like it when a state institution that’s supported by your tax dollars is giving away content that is in direct competition with you. They are subsidizing not only your competitors, but they are devaluing the work that you do. Why is that okay for a state institution to give that stuff away for free? And we know what we know what the staff photographers make and all these organizations, all these universities, you want to talk about low man on the totem pole, these guys are making jack and they’re working, they’re working, five, six days a week, there’s, they’re shooting everything. That’s just, you know,

Jon Johnston

I have talked to some of them and they, they do look like they’re getting their asses worked off. Because you know what, I think Nebraska has 22 Sports, not 22, but I mean, you have a gob of sports for them to shoot and some of them are using interns. I’ve run into a lot of interns when I’m out. All the interns are young people. And it’s interesting that I do talk to them. And, you know, I usually ask them, are you planning on going into this as a career option, because you better really think about what you’re doing. Before you just say, I love this, and I want to make a living in it.

Ken Jarecke

But see the things that we’re talking about here.

You know, they’ll take somebody’s money to give them whatever, a photojournalism degree or a journalism degree, but they won’t tell them about how to, you know, they’ll never learn about licensing or negotiating a contract. So these kids, they get thrown in the field and they’re like, the first thing they hear is, oh, we’re not going to pay you but this will really help your career because of the exposure we’re going to give you. That’s, it’s just it’s so they’ll take their their tuition money, but they won’t tell them you know how to actually earn a living. And then on the other side of that, they’ll work them to death as interns. They’ll give away their work. And they’ll make it really hard for that person once they do graduate to make a living using those skills that they picked up as an intern or student.

Jon Johnston

Okay, I’m going to say this and you can take it for what it is. I honestly, I don’t think people care at all, other than photographers. I think when people are looking through stuff, they just go, that’s a photo that’s a photo. You know what I mean?

Ken Jarecke Well, yeah, I know. I know. And that’s and that’s because we, at this point, we’ve given them no reason to care.

Jon Johnston

That’s a good point

Ken Jarecke Because every photo is, I mean, look at look at I and I hate to even like okay, this is the senior shooting in Memorial. stadium look up and down the row everybody next to you is using the exact same gear looking in the exact same direction, and then the play is over and they immediately go and look at the back of their cameras. And then they all go to the photo work room. And they’re like showing off to each other about you know, I got this picture Did you get it? And it’s just like, Where’s the original vision? Where is the where’s the punk rock that’s going to shake up this industry. And there’s no reason to do that because there’s no reward at the end of the tunnel. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Unless you know, I mean just and I can tell you nightmare stories I can tell you nightmare story. is about the photographer who finally got that shot and and I want to give any exact examples but the once in a lifetime shot and Rolex wants to use it as the centerpiece of their next campaign and you know, it’s gonna be literally quarter of a million dollar licensing fee. But first they have to go to Getty to make sure that you know Getty doesn’t have a similar shot. Not a better shot but a similar shot because that’s what that’s the contract, you know, that the sports organization is under, and that photographer loses that licensing fee. And then that all that money goes to Getty.

Getty got like $30 billion in debt that they’re paying down. It’s basically anything, you know, when you talk about nobody notices. Nobody gets it? Well, there’s no reason for them to get it because there’s, there’s the people that might be motivated to do something that’s above and beyond. They’ve been. They don’t have that motivation anymore. I mean, money is good motivator. Success is a good motivator. Being able to pay your, you know, pay your bills and feed your kids was a good motivator.

Jon Johnston

Basically what you’re saying is our sports photography has become incredibly generic. It’s really just right, stop. Catch this moment. It’s all in perfect focus. The bokeh is beautiful. We edited all the crap out of the background that might actually be there, which is kind of bizarre because I shot Nebraska - Minnesota this year. And I noticed that I was at the same angle as somebody else. And they had edited all the Minnesota players out of the background after Nebraska scored a touchdown, and I thought, is that what I’m supposed to be doing? Because I didn’t. It was bizarre. Anyway, things have gotten really generic and people aren’t doing things with light. They’re not doing the fun, interesting things. I guess I would think they’re fun.I am not that good. But I’d like to get there.

It’s part of the game.
Copyright 2019 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

Ken Jarecke

You’re better than you think, Jon, because you’ve made a point that most photographers don’t get these days. Because Photoshop allows you to do some stuff to make the perfect image Okay, Photoshop allows you to make the perfect image in your mind’s eye that you imagined what it should be, right? And so what they’re doing is they’re editing out. They’re swapping perfect, and destroying any chance of being great. So everything that they edit out. Everything that, you know, look at, Rich Clarkson, you know Rich Clarkson? Rich Clarkson shot. He’s older now he’s like 90, she’s, he’s up there, but he was the Director of Photography at the Topeka capital journal. Then he was the Director of Photography at the Denver Post, and a couple other places but eventually went on to National Geographic. He was a contract photographer for Sports Illustrated. So he was like a boss and a photographer at the same time. Meanwhile, he shot something like 50 Final Fours, NCAA Final Four basketballs over tournament’s over his career, in a row, so like, like every Final Four since like, the 1950s, like, maybe 1954 was his first one. And so when you’re, you go back and you look at these images, the things that you think are imperfections are now the things that make those images so valuable as historical documents, but also so pleasing to the eye.

Taylor Martinez against Oklahoma - 2010
Copyright 2019 Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images

When you look at you know, pictures, literally 50 years ago, Wilt Chamberlain, it’s like, it’s not a it’s not a perfect picture. It’s in black and white, it’s not color. It’s shot with a strobe and a dingy gym, you know, without TV lights, but there’s something magical about it. And that’s what I That’s a difference between perfect and great when it comes to photography. Photoshop, the curse of Photoshop is allowed everyone to make a perfect image. But at the same time, they’ve traded away any chance to make a great image. And so these people that are photoshopping and cropping and they look at, look at the photos, look at the photos from any football game, everything, like you said, everything’s perfectly sharp, you’re shooting it, literally 20 frames a second now you’re almost shooting at the speed of a Motion Picture camera. And you have automatic focus, it’s very good. You got great lenses. So you know, the quality of the outer focused stuff is nice and creamy. And at some point, it looks like you have a picture of the running back and it could have been shot in the studio. There’s no there’s no atmosphere. There’s there’s no seam setter. You have no reference for the place and time. Think of the pictures of Johnny Rodgers. You know, the terrible, terrible pictures, you know?

This week we lost a great photographer. He was a Life magazine photographer. His name was Bill Ray. And you’ve seen his pictures you’ve seen the sports pictures you’ve seen the picture of Marilyn Monroe from behind singing happy birthday to JFK. That’s his picture for example. So like just be describing that 50% of your audience knows that picture. You know, they don’t know Bill, but they don’t picture. So anyways, to get back on track here. Bills is from western Nebraska. And he used to work briefly for the Lincoln journal star before he went to New York City and became famous photographer. But you know, famous as a photographer, like you said being like the best surfer in South Dakota, right? I mean, who cares? famous photographer.

But anyways, Bill’s brother Web Ray still worked at the Lincoln journal star for years. I mean, he was the guy in the dark room. You know, when you’re working on the Lincoln journal stars dark room, he’d be smoking a camel next to you on the on the on the, on the enlarger next to you, I mean, it was like orange light from the safe light to the dark room and blue smoke. I mean, it was you know, it was a workplace hazard. You take the darkroom chemicals and the endless unfiltered camels. I mean, you should be getting hazard duty for that. But anyways, web web was the guy who sit at the top of the stadium with an ancient 600 millimeter 5.6 Nikon lens on a Nikon F2 with a 250 frame back that literally took a 50 feet roll of Tri X in it, it looked like you know, it looked like a 50 caliber machine gun or something up there and web would sit up there with his camera on a tripod next to Bob pass catch the chief photographer at the Omaha world Herald who had the same setup. And these guys would shoot every a sequence of every play in the Nebraska football game.

And the reason they did this, this is before TV broadcasts every game before High Definition before you know DVRs and so they didn’t make great pictures, but they made valuable pictures. So if you look at the Johnny Rodgers run from the Oklahoma game and you know the game of the century, that that punt return, there was a sequence that those two guys shot one for the Lincoln journal, one for the Omaha world Herald. And it took up a whole page in the newspaper. And it’s like, Johnny catches the punt. Johnny goes to his left, Johnny goes to his right, and there’s a big white arrow behind Johnny’s head, follow them down the field, printed in the newspaper, with his name Johnny Rogers number 20 and pasted onto the photo. And it was just a sequence of photographs that let people see that only heard the game to live that they heard Lyle Bremser, well actually was broadcast, you know, but they’re still listening to Lyle. But that historic document of that run, that these guys would sit up there and shoot every play. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t even. It was far from perfect. It wasn’t good at the results we accomplished. That was great. That’s great journalism. That’s great newspaper photography. And if you look at those pages today, you can probably pull them up online. It’s a valuable historical document.

Jon Johnston

I remember looking at the newspaper, and they would lay out, not just Johnny Rodgers, but layout, how the entire blocking schemes worked and how holes would open in the lines. I absolutely adored that stuff. Because it was either it was, well, it was Nebraska football. I mean, come on. It was our state.

Ken Jarecke

Dave Rimington you know, there’s they showed pictures of from up above up this top of the stadium of Dave Rimingont coming off the ball and, the guys next to him, they’d all be named. And it was just this beautiful, beautiful. I mean, it wasn’t not saying it’s like it’s not a high level of skill needed to make those pictures, but the team effort and the way it’s presented in the newspaper as a historical document, and as a time capsule, it’s so much more valuable than the perfect image of the running back, taking the handoff and, just be isolated and now he’s beautiful. If these perfectly sharp, beautiful color. The bokeh is just creamy and the light is beautiful. What does that shot mean to me?

You know, remember the fumble. Remember, JJ Watts fumble in the 78 game. And he fumbles on the three yard line. And somebody made a poster of that. I’m not a photographer at that time. And I’m just like, I’m like a sophomore in high school, like how did this guy see this? How did he make this picture? And when you look at that picture today, if you look up that old poster if you’ve managed to find it, I looked at it. I stumbled across it a few years ago. I’m like, boy, this is not a good picture. But every high school kid had that poster.

Jon Johnston

Nowadays, you just like you said, shoot at 20 frames a second. And if you’re missing something, it’s because you didn’t point in the right direction. Okay, maybe that’s a little simple, but you know what I mean?

Ken Jarecke

Well, that’s good. How many people even know what direction to point?

Jon Johnston

That’s a little damning.

Ken Jarecke

It’s not because if you know, you can look at my book, which you know, is kind of like a historical document. That was like 10 years ago.

Jon Johnston

Husker Gameday 2010 - Farewell Big 12

Ken Jarecke

Right. And so if you look, if you look at pictures in there of just an offensive lineman feet, digging into the artificial turf, something like this, that has no reason to exist. It has no reason To be printed in the newspaper barely has a reason to be printed online. It’s just like what is this. But if you’ve ever played the game, and everybody, we’ve all played the game, we all know what artificial turf feels like. I’m not interested in making pictures that document just the game.

Now I want to, I want to, I want the viewer I want to unlock the viewers memories of playing the game, and what it must feel like to play in front of 90,000 people in Memorial Stadium. That’s what sports photography that’s the goal of sports photography, that if you and that’s the goal of any photo journalism. If the viewer can somehow see themselves have that connection, that they can, they can picture themselves in that same situation or understand what that person is going through. You know, say it’s whatever war or whatever if they can, if they cannot dismiss that photo and see themselves somehow connected to that image, then it’s a successful image. And that should be the same for sports photography. There’s no reason we should dumb down sports photography because, technically we have all the tools we need.

Jon Johnston

I still have your Husker Gameday book, and it is an absolutely beautiful book. What’s your you’re basically saying is, maybe I’m putting words in your mouth. This isn’t going to happen, these types of photos unless that dentist in Omaha decides to become that good of a photographer. Because it doesn’t sound like anybody wants to pay for any of this stuff. I mean, where do you see this going?

Ken Jarecke

Well, you know, so I don’t know if you know who David Turley is. And I know this can be painful to hear. But David, David graduated, he walked on, he’s a foot. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, great photographer, world renown. And so he, he was a football player back in his days in college, he went to Michigan, and Harbaugh was his buddy. And so now he’s a professor at the University of Michigan, and he has complete access to the program, unprecedented access. And so he did a book like three or four years ago, I got it sitting around here somewhere where, you know, it’s just like, beautiful black and white images of the team. You know, access that a person Like I would, you know, I’d never get it with whoever Bo or whoever, you know. But he has this personal connection. And so he made this book. And, you know, granted, it’s the Wolverine, so there is that. But if that was the Nebraska football, that would be one of your prized possessions if it’s that good. And so you look at what PJ Fleck is doing in Minnesota, is there. I mean, he’s a colorful guy, anybody that goes out in the middle of a windy lake and is rowing a boat, there’s a there’s a story to be told there in pictures. It’s a visual story. It’s a it’s a personal story that could be told there, I don’t know if you can, you know, Michigan. Yeah, you can sell whatever. 10,000 books. I don’t know if you can sell 10,000 books of Minnesota football, but I’m saying there is, to answer your question, there is ways to do it. It’s just very rare.

I don’t want to be, you know whoever, who’s the poor man Prince knockoff. I mean, Morris day, I don’t know, whoever that guy is, I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be the Prince of photography. I don’t want to be the Morris Day and the Time of photography, right? So that’s, as a photographer, that’s my goal. I don’t want to be second or third or fourth. I want to make images that you can’t ignore. You know, a buddy of mine. He’s like, this is back in the day in New York City. Like, you know, you think you’re a photographer. It’s like you’re not competing against other photographers. You’re competing against every visual artists out there and the day at the end of the day your legacy when you’re fighting for, based on that gallery or museum wall, you’re just competing with every every artist out there

Jon Johnston

I need to get better. We’re gonna, you started. I do need to get better, I need to get out more too. But you started a YouTube channel called talking pictures and you’re doing interviews with photo journalists photographers. What What was the impetus to start the channel and why are you doing this?

Ken Jarecke

Well, like the last one. I did. I did. I just went up like yesterday was with Frank Fournier and Fournier is a photographer that nobody’s ever heard about. And he’s won the biggest awards in the world. And he’s a quiet guy, and he’s not on Facebook. He’s not on Instagram. And this there’s a whole generation or almost two generations of photographers out there now who don’t know who Frank is. And he has this he has a gallery show. It’s opening today actually in San Francisco at the Leica gallery. And so he’s so it’s all about people like Frank, these people that have so much knowledge and they have so much practical information to share with photographers today, not just photographers, but anybody that’s interested in journalism or history.

The stories he tells, all of them tell you know, Tony Vaccaro , he’s a photographer is a soldier. D day soldier World War II. 82nd airborne. These guys have stories to tell. Guys and gals that are that are just being lost to history, a lot of it and it’s knowledge that I learned from people like this and they share their knowledge. And I just want to capture that because I know what I learned from people like this. And I think other people should have that opportunity. And so it’s very low tech, it’s just, you know, there’s nothing fancy about it. But you know, these people tell their stories, and there’s it’s helpful. Every photographer I mean, whether you’re doing journalism or photography, or are you just walking around this is just priceless, priceless, and I just wanted to capture it. That’s why I do it.

Jon Johnston

One of the things I’ve noticed is that when you’re down like on the first baseline, those guys will all work together. You know what I mean? All the photographers, it’s very rare that you run into a guy that’s a complete jerk, or is constantly in the way or stuff like that. And it’s, it’s interesting. I guess I need to go back and look at some of those. Because I like I said, I need to get better.

Ken Jarecke

Well, that’s the thing. I mean, we all want to get better. But so often, you know, I get frustrated. You know, I get frustrated with photographers. You know, the first the first game of the season, you’ll have somebody come up to you and say, like, you know, they’re trying to be cool. And they’ll say, Oh, here we go. Another football season. Blah, blah, blah, I can’t wait to be. I’m like, hold it, you got the best seat in the house. There’s 90,000 people that would like to be sitting right where you are, and you’re bored. Or the photographer that like, thinks it’s cool to, you know, tailgate before they come into the game and go through the game half drunk. I mean what is up with that? This is an opportunity when you don’t, and people don’t realize, say you’re shooting an Olympics.

Say you’re shooting the Super Bowl. You’re sitting 10 feet outside, you know outside the field of play. And people that are 20 or 30 feet behind you paid $20,000 for that ticket and you’re sitting in front of them. They have to look over your shoulder to see the game. You guys got a front row seat to history in whether you’re you’re shooting, you know, on Capitol Hill or you shooting a Super Bowl or an Olympics, or I don’t care if it’s like a flood on the Platte River, you what an honor that is to be witness to that. Just record that. Whatever it is, that’s, that’s my attitude. That’s wherever I am. It’s like, I’m just like, it’s like a gift to be there.

Jon Johnston

I was shooting the final floor of volleyball last year when Nebraska got into the game. And this dude from Stanford is literally talking to me about politics while the game is going on. And I finally just turned and looked at him and said, Dude, this is a game right now that we’re watching. What are you doing? Why are you trying to rile me up with politics stuff? Okay, should we go into anything about conflict photography?

Ken Jarecke

We can we talk about what we can talk with you about whatever you like. I mean, I’m, you know, I’m a pretty open book. You know, I’m also very opinionated, I don’t you know, I’m sorry to be so opinionated.

Jon Johnston

It’s all right. You’re professional. You’re, you’re, you’re passionate about what you do. And to be honest, I’m getting old too but you know, after a while there not a lot of people our age that probably stay passionate about their profession. I hate to say that but that’s the honest to god truth. The phrase conflict photography is used a lot more now instead of war photography. Your reaction to that? Is it because we’re cleansing it?

Ken Jarecke

It’s kind of funny, and you know, there’s nothing. There’s nothing funny about conflict or war photography or whatever you want to call it. I mean, reminds me of a story. You know, the Frank told him this latest on yesterday’s blog. He’s like, he’s telling the story about driving to Sarajevo, and he rents a car in Milan. And so immediately I know what’s happening. I’m like, so you’re renting a car in Italy to take to the former Yugoslavia and like, Did you tell the rental car agency where you’re going? He’s like, No, of course not. You don’t tell him when when you rent it and you certainly don’t tell when he comes back. He didn’t know the way to Serajevo and he like gets directions. And it’s kind of it was it was an infamous spot in Sarajavo right outside of the airport, which was called snipers alley and you drive through there. It’s fast as you could. So Frank gets these gifts, these gifts these directions and the person gives them the directions like now when you get past the airport, you got to floor it. And you got to go as fast as you can. And so any did that and he’s getting shot at and this is he’s getting bullet holes and trapped in a car, his rental car, but it’s really icy out. And so at the end of the run, he’s like, spining out. But luckily, the the guards at the checkpoint at the end of the run who are like out of the snipers way. They were too drunk to properly shoot him. So as he’s been an author, he’s quoted, you know, and it’s it’s hilarious stuff like that.

Just it makes you laugh. You know, it’s that I mean, there’s no there’s no real I mean, it’s conflict photography, war, photography whatever you want. It’s, you know, Hemingway called it a Moveable Feast. But it really it’s kind of like it’s just like happenstance, happenstance, an accident, which is what it is. It’s just like, we’re all getting through this stuff, just by you know, the hair on our teeth and the grace of God and it’s just like, and it’s funny and, it’s tragic. And, but to call yourself a war photographer, to call yourself a conflict photographer, , you know, James Nachtwey, probably the greatest war photographer of our generation. He wants to be called a peace photographer now and I’m just like, I don’t know if that’s what he said, like a nine conflicts, but I don’t know, basically wants to be a peace photographer. I’m like, Jim, you never you never photographed any peace in your whole career. It’s all done. Bang, bang. It’s all been tragedy. It’s all been heartbreak. That’s what and that’s what you’re that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re not supposed to like, we’re not supposed to sugarcoat this stuff. The trick with war photography. The same thing I was talking about before, it’s like, you have to you’d have to put the viewer in that person’s shoes, okay. It’s like the walk through walking a mile in somebody else’s moccasins. You got to be able to do that. When it comes to like, the, the refugee in Sarajevo. You got a picture, you got to be able to put the viewer in that person’s position and war photography, conflict, photography, peace photography.

The only tool you need besides a camera and a good pair of shoes is empathy. That’s all this is about. And so there’s photographers that are very successful. But they make robotic images of conflict. When there’s photographers who make you stop and just count your own blessings, and count your toes, and whatever else, you still have your children, the blessing the everything in your life, they can do that with the camera. And those people are you know, I don’t care what you call them is completely with you. I’m happy to call Jim a peace photographer. What they are, they’re in the tradition of Goya. You know, talk about you’re competing with every visual artists out there, Jim knock way is you know, it’s competing with with with When you when, when the history of the world is written 100 years from now. Those images that he made will be right up alongside there on the museum wall. I don’t know if I answered your question, john.

Jon Johnston

Probably. How do you do this without being consumed by it?

Ken Jarecke

Oh, you don’t.

I mean, I can laugh and I can giggle. And, you know, if you don’t if you’re not able to do that, then you’re really you’re really in trouble.You cannot... you know, everybody’s screwed up. Everybody’s messed up. It’s like, there are you know, people. You talk about things that you can’t unsee? A war photographer might have 10 of those experiences before breakfast. And not all of them make a picture.

Jon Johnston

So why did they do it? It’s like being called to the land like farmers?

Ken Jarecke We’re foolish people. We literally we we honestly think we can change the world.

Jon Johnston

There’s a long pause there, we can’t change the world, Ken?

Ken Jarecke

We absolutely can’t. That’s the secret. So you go into this with this foolish notion that you’re that politicians are going to take notice. Sometimes they actually do you know, and that the world will be moved and sometimes they actually are you know, I can you know, you can you can talk about Nick Ut, can talk about, you know, what’s his face? Oh, Eddie Adams. There’s plenty of single photograph. You know, if I say napalm girl to you, you know that image.

Jon Johnston

Yeah. And then Eddie Adams took this photo of the Vietcong prisoner being executed.

Ken Jarecke

Right. And so Ron Haviv, you know, he made a picture of this, this vice president candidate getting beaten up by a mob in Panama. And that is, you know, that was kind of used for justification to invade Panama and take Noriega out things like this. So yeah, your images. It happens that they actually do make a difference.

But whether or not those images make difference... what you’ve done as a war photographer, okay? You’ve survived that, you’ve done your best to tell the story in a visual way. What you’ve done at the end of the day, you’ve changed yourself, and you’ve changed the people directly around you. And that’s where it starts. And so you know, you want you, so I guess what I’m saying, we basically go in there thinking we’re going to change the world. But, you know, on a grand scale, that what we’re really working on is a micro scale most the time.

Jon Johnston

In other words you’re not going to change the world, you’re going to change the world you touched around you.

Ken Jarecke

Well, yeah, and that’s, you know, that’s a pretty, that’s a pretty big deal.

Jon Johnston

It is. I don’t know if I can ask you anything else Actually, I can ask you about three, four hours more worth the questions but we’re a little over an hour and I usually try to keep these things at an hour. I don’t know maybe we can talk again sometime. Is there anything else that you want to add to this before we go?

Ken Jarecke

So, I’m a pretty optimistic guy. And I know that sports photography, editorial photography, news, photography, photojournalism, it’s not really it’s not really at a we’re not working at our high point. Okay, we’re not working that at that level that we should be working at as an industry but I think that tide will turn. I’m working towards that shift, you know, I’m trying to, you know, try to help and I don’t, you know, I don’t want to toot my own horn or brag or anything but I don’t think education is the word. I’m just trying to. I’m trying to help people find their find their own vision. And I know there’s, you know, I know the impact. When you talk about still photography, think about what you really do. You don’t got you don’t have motion, you don’t have sound. You’ve got a single image, a two dimensional image on a page. Somehow that medium that has all these built in disadvantages, is still the most powerful medium visual medium that we have today. There’s a palette it’s you know, it’s kind of Cut kind of in a lull right now. But But this still photography thing, it’s still got a lot of life in it. I think it’s I think we’ve, you know, I think we’re looking towards you know something good in the future

Jon Johnston

We’re going to end it on that positive note. So, I usually have a script here that I read, which goes... like this has been our episode with Ken Jarecke. Thank you for listening and go big red, and then we end.

Ken Jarecke

Go Big Red, brother.