Prof’s curiousity takes him throughout the world

Jan 22, 2024 | Spotlight

Rickie Allen Scoutmaster of Troop 155 at Fort Knox, Kentucky has served in the military for the past 24 years. Active in scouts as a child Rickie became active as a leader while stationed in South Korea. Photo by Jonathan Adams

By Maegan Hale

Jonathan Adams, full-time Margaret and Cal Turner Professor in Journalism at Western Kentucky University sat down on Nov. 21 to discuss the impact his career has had on his life and the people he met.

Adams has worked for more than 20 years in the photojournalism field. He previously lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, working as Chief Photographer for a local newspaper before quitting in 1999. He has also worked for several years as a wedding photographer capturing high-end parties and traveling throughout the world photographing cultures. He teaches media and communication to students through photography, videos, lectures, and interactive assignments. 

The experienced journalist attended Ohio University, receiving a bachelor’s in Art with a degree in Photojournalism and a master’s degree in Photography, specializing in Multimedia Design. 

Adams has traveled to more than 35 countries through his profession. Places such as Fiji, Thailand and Cuba are a few of his favorites. He speaks highly of the people he has met and the cultures he experienced. He works each day to inspire students who wish to embark on a similar journey.

Q.: When did you know this career path was the one for you? 

A.: “I fell in love with photography in college, and it transformed my life. My hope is that at some point, a student can come across something that gives them that same feeling I had. I just couldn’t get enough of it. That world is open to you always. That’s the cool thing about the art field. We get to step into those lives and experience really cool stuff.”

Q.: What specific equipment and tools are necessary when taking photographs?

A.: “Just my camera. I worked at newspapers. Then I quit my job to spend a year traveling around the world. A basic year, with a small amount of gear. And…that’s what I still do. I just love to travel. I can just do it with a camera and one lens actually. It depends on how mobile I would like to be. I like to light stuff but when I’m traveling around the world, I’m not dragging flash and lighting gear around with me.” 

Q.: How do you ensure a client or subject being photographed feels comfortable in front of the lens?

A.: “For the most part, I do not tell people. I just visually connect. I think you have to be humble. I think people have to look at you. I thought it was my mouth that got me access, but when I traveled around the world, I could not speak their language. I think people look at you and try to see if you may take advantage or if they can trust you. It’s something that’s non-verbal that I’m doing that makes people know that I’m a nice guy. Then, my mouth comes after convincing people to give me access.” 

Q.: Do you have a favorite memory, event, or experience you have gotten to be a part of through your profession?

A.: “One day, as an example, I was on an internship photographing Habitat for Humanity. I went climbing up in a house they’re building, up on the roof shooting pictures. I get a call there’s a fire at this factory, I get down and go to photograph that fire. Then, I’ve got a noon assignment where I’m supposed to photograph this guy who canoes through town. I jump over there to sit in a canoe floatin’ through a little river through the town doing a story on him. …At three, I had a basketball game at a high school. And I’m like, that is what I love. My brain is going everywhere, and that was the only career that could give me variety every day that I can think of.” 

Q.: What characteristics make a successful photojournalist?

A.:You just have to be curious. I think that’s true. Be a problem-solver. Every time we show up somewhere, there is something we need, and we have to figure out how we are going to be able to get that. So, if it’s a technical issue we have to work around it or whatever it is, we have to convince people to give us access to get even closer. I like being in the middle of whatever that is going on. If some chaos or crazy is going on, I’m the person who is supposed to go in the middle of it. I like that.”

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