Read what a 25-year photojournalism career means to David Eulitt, BJ ’88.
Q: In 1992 you self-financed a trip to photograph the Paralympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, work that earned you the 1993 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award. What made you decide to do this, and how did it influence your career?
A: I saw a brief in Sports Illustrated about the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea, and was floored by the fact I had never heard of this international event for the top disabled athletes in the world. I went to the library, in pre-Internet days, and decided not soon after that I would apply for a credential. The idea was to go experience a huge sporting event as a photographer and figure out how to do that like the more experienced sports photographers in the business. Other than the expense of food and travel, I stayed three weeks for about as inexpensively as you could do it. I had an amazing time, seeing Barcelona and witnessing the incredible competition. Because this was a story just for myself, I was free to go and photograph whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted. That was quite a feeling of freedom. After I arrived back home, my photo director at the time, Jeff Jacobsen at the Topeka Capital-Journal asked to see the photographs I had made. He was excited to get it published. I never thought it would be published, but I was thrilled that my photo editor was impressed. I wrote a copy block for a four-page ad-free section of photos. The RFK award was wonderful and surreal, and I still think of that experience as a bit of a dream.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the journalism education you received at Mizzou? What lessons stick with you to this day?
A: When I arrived at Mizzou, I was running film through the camera. I knew how to make an image but not really why. I was stuck on making the same kinds of pictures over and over again. Jim McNay, MA ’86, and David Rees, MA ’81, were instrumental in getting me out of my comfort zone with my camera. David, in particular, would encourage me to try new things, experiment, fail and learn. He used to tell me, “Always look at your corners while you’re shooting,” and I do that to this day. We had so many talented photographers in our class, photographers who brought wildly different talents and skills to Columbia and graduated as even better photographers. This was back in the old Missourian offices of the J-School. I loved being around that much photography passion.
Q: You have covered the Kansas City Chiefs since 2004 and photographed the past three Summer Olympics in Athens, Beijing and London. Sports don’t change much, so how have you evolved as a shooter to keep your work compelling and fresh?
A: There’s a balance between capturing the key play of the game and what I’d call the art of the sport. The sports editors at the Star are looking for the best action photos from the winning touchdown or the [critical] fumble. Some sports images are just pretty pictures, painted in wonderful light, and I love those, too. Anytime I can find a new angle to shoot, I try it. I also try to avoid packs of photographers in a group shooting the same thing because most of the time there’s a unique picture to be made away from all of that. That’s what I try to do: make a sports picture that tells a story that everyone didn’t see the same way on television or in a still picture.
Q: You just photographed an essay on Kansas City barbecue, so we’re putting you on the spot. Who makes the best barbecue in Kansas City?
A: Wow, you have cornered me here. In guiding someone to barbecue, you have to ask a lot of questions: What is your favorite meat? Ribs or sandwiches? How important are side dishes to you? I love Oklahoma Joe’s in the gas station, and I would take a visitor there first. Jack Stack has amazing burnt ends and baked beans. LC’s is great for ribs and burnt ends. Really, I would need five to six straight days of dining to show off the city’s best, along with a referral for a cardiologist.
Q: You have been a newspaper photojournalist for 25 years. What does that mean to you?
A: I do have a sense of pride about being fortunate enough to do what I love for a quarter of a century. I love meeting people, looking at faces, trying to tell their story in an image. I don’t know how many readers even think about this, but I look at what newspaper photographers do as a daily recording of a city’s history. It’s a real privilege to be invited into someone’s home, a total stranger with a camera, making pictures the city’s residents will see. I never take that for granted.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give a young photographer aspiring to be a newspaper photojournalist?
A: The media business is in a strange place, trying to maintain what it has done in the past while laying a road to a different future. I suppose you could say that about every business in the world. Photographers who have a unique vision, combined with business sense and marketing, will find their work embraced, whether in print or video, on a podcast, or something that hasn’t even been done yet. Media companies still have that need for the flow of engaging content. At the heart of it, people still hire people, so personal relationships can get you in the door and keep you there, too.