Have you ever heard the expression, "He wrote the book on that?" Have you ever heard someone mean it? I have. Once. Paul Myers, a visual journalism educator and photographer, said it about Dave LaBelle.
We were all in Nashville for a national Journalism Education Association convention. I worked for Brooks Institute of Photography with Paul, and Paul was presenting on a topic he knew well -- feature photography. Paul is an excellent speaker; he is charismatic and intelligent. People like him. He even writes well, and his Nashville presentations were extremely popular.
Before our presentations, we looked at our speaking schedule. Paul realized Dave LaBelle was presenting at the same conference at the same time. Innocently, I asked, "Who is Dave LaBelle?"
Paul answered, "He wrote the book on feature photography."
I didn't believe Paul. Nobody writes THE book on a subject. I should have known better. The Great Picture Hunt IS the text for feature photography, and Dave is the spokesperson.
Because of my loyalty to Paul, I decided that I would keep my distance from Dave. That lasted about an hour. He and I have been friends since Nashville. (I am still loyal to Paul too.)
Eventually, I read The Great Picture Hunt. The book is impressive, and if you don't have a chance to hear Dave speak, read the book; it is a must read for beginning photo journalists. But if you have a chance to meet Dave, don't miss the opportunity. Sure, "he wrote the book," and seven of his former students have won Pulitzer Prizes, but that isn't what makes him special. Dave is special, because he makes everyone around him feel special. At every book signing, he spends extra time with each person, whether they are professionals or high school students from Omaha like the two students below. He genuinely enjoys people, and people enjoy him.
Just as Dave hunts for photos, Dave hunts for the next great photographer. This is one of our many common bonds. We enjoy watching young people show us something new and exciting. Sometimes, we judge photo contests together, and after we find a special student, we wait for the other person to turn over the photo. "Is this it?" we ask anxiously. Sometimes, we hunt for the student after judging. Occasionally, students find us and our lives are changed.
In Washington D.C., I saw Dave again. As always, it was a special. Each time, I learn more about photography; I learn more about myself. And I always feel lucky to be in the same photo with Dave, even if I took the picture, even more so when a high school student takes the photo. (See photo number four, taken by Jennifer Shehan, from Westside High School in Omaha.)
Until next time Dave: "Winner, winner; chicken dinner."