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Process 020 ☼ 40 Questions For Julio Cortez After 10 Years With The Associated Press
Giveaway: Kosmik Film Box (4 rolls of film)
My word 2021 is finally here. Time is just a social construct but I am still happy to not see “2020” on my calendar anymore. I hope you all started the new year in good health and spirit and with lots of motivation to keep shooting and finding your voice.
Today’s letter is a Q&A with photographer Julio Cortez who recently celebrated 10 years with the Associated Press news agency. News is an intense and challenging field to work in and Julio has a lot of wisdom to share about his time with the AP.
For this week’s giveaway we have a gorgeous Kosmik Film Box with 4 rolls of black and white film courtesy of my pals at Kosmo Foto.
Julio recently held a Q&A on his Instagram and the below is a fleshed out, truncated, and edited version of that with some additional questions by me. If you’ve followed the news this year you’ll have seen Julio’s work, including the iconic photo of the Minneapolis protests below.
Julio’s Journey As A Photojournalist
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I studied Journalism and Chicano Studies at Cal State University, Northridge.
How did you break into your first staff job at Associated Press?
I interned at The Associated Press the summer after my senior year and applied for every opening they had. The Newark office opened 4.5 years later in November of 2010 and I got in.
What did you do to achieve your dream? (Aside from taking amazing pictures!)
I wrote a lot. Sometimes for the publications I shot for, but mostly for my now defunct El blog. It kept creativity going.
What’s something you’d say to yourself 10 years ago?
Drink more water. Join the Marriott Hotels membership sooner. Don’t get that first rental apt in New Jersey. Clean your censors. So much dust in my old pics. Ugh.
Tips For Freelance Photojournalists
What traits do you look for in a good freelancer?
Answer quickly when I call, text, or email. Understand why outtakes are important. Be ready to go when needed.
What’s an outtake?
Outtakes are extra content. Stock photography style. Images that may not be used for the story you’re publishing now, but could be of use for the same story in the future or content that a client may be interested in looking beyond what was published.
What is the best way to approach a newspaper when pitching a story?
Establish a connection with the photo editor first. Have them review your work. Show them why they should give you a shot.
What’s the best way to get hired as a freelancer?
Network with photo editors.
What’s the best way for freelancers to meet photo editors?
I strongly suggest attending portfolio reviews. Check with your local journalism clubs and organizations.
Any tips for keeping a photojournalism career sustainable?
Have a diverse clientele if you’re a freelancer. Chase grants and fellowships.
Do you have any tips for creating an impressive freelance portfolio, while on a budget?
Reach out to your favorite photographers and see if they need an assistant. If they do, you can borrow and use their equipment while also learning from someone who knows what they’re doing.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to go into journalism?
Ask yourself: can I let go of my opinions and approach every assignment unbiased? Many pros forgot that, especially regarding politics.
What are some general mistakes that interns make?
I haven’t worked with many interns, but from what I see a good intern is ready to learn and doesn’t mind doing all the assignments. I remember an intern in NYC who would complain about assignments and it was the most annoying thing.
Any tips for communications students struggling with school during COVID?
Stay focused and start planning some story ideas to pursue once things are calm. Pick up new skills while you sit in quarantine. Example: I got my drone license during quarantine.
I’m three years out of college and trying to get into sports photography. Is there such a thing as too late or too old?
Advice for someone past the age of internships but still trying to break into news?
Freelance with your local news paper. Move up the ladder from small publications to bigger ones. Don’t go for the big fish companies right off the bat. Work your way up.
Ten Years At The Associated Press
What does an average workday look like for you?
If I have nothing lined up I’ll work on scheduling myself and the freelancers. I might work on outtakes. Clean my computers. Do my expenses.
Can you share a mistake on the job you learned from?
Too many. A major one was not looking closely at my pics. When I worked in Florida, I photographed fans at a baseball game. Didn’t realize one of them was full on picking his nose. My editor that day didn’t catch it either and it ran front page in the small town. Oops.
What is the most difficult aspect of journalism that most people might not expect?
How hard we try to give a well-balanced report only to have someone on Facebook call it “fake news”. People don’t read reputable news sources but will quote something they saw on Facebook or YouTube? Cool.
How difficult is it to stay neutral in your job?
It’s not at all difficult for me. I live my life that way. I’ve lived by that rule since I knew what journalism is.
Was there an event you shot that flipped your opinion or perception 180°?
I don’t think so. I try not to let work situations make an impact.
What other daily practices in your life contribute to your passion for photojournalism?
I try to read reputable news sources and sometimes the joke kind just to see what I need to focus on.
Tools And Challenges
What’s your current camera setup and how are you liking it?
I switched from Canon to Sony. It’s great in low light.
How tough was it to transition from Canon to Sony?
It was simple but it’s a learning process. I had to re-learn a few things in my mechanical memory since my hand was accustomed to where all buttons were on Canon cameras.
What is something you bring to every shoot other than your camera and lenses?
I bring remote gear and my drone.
How do you build and maintain relationships with those you’re taking photos of?
Photographers meet people during the best or worst moments in their lives. We have to remember that they’re human and seeing a photographer might not necessarily be something they have time for while dealing with whatever they have going on.
What is one of your most memorable assignments you shot?
The 2016 Brazil World Cup.
What world event did you want to cover, but didn’t?
September 11th. I wish I had been there.
What was your hardest assignment so far? Was there a story that changed you?
The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, eight years ago. Then five days later, on my birthday, I documented the first of many funerals of those same kids.
Have you ever been assigned to something you never wanted to do?
Every funeral I covered. There’s gotta be at least 100 funerals I have done. Some funerals where I wasn’t wanted, like the cartel burial in Brownsville, TX. Others were more welcoming like a celebrity funeral. They are all hard to shoot emotionally.
What is your most memorable photo and why?
A never published photo of good Samaritan’s trying to save what they thought was a person in a car sinking in a canal. No one was in the car.Turned out to be a car that was out there intentionally by an unidentified person.
What It Takes
How did you go from a photographer to a photojournalist?
I did not. I always wanted to be a journalist. Became a photographer as a result of learning more and more about journalism.
How many shots does it take to get one picture that gets published?
All of them. It’s hard to say. In news and sports, you can potentially shoot your best picture in the first ten minutes. The main thing is not how many total photos, but how many quality photos come out. Can’t go to a game and shoot 7,000 frames and think one is going to get it done. That’s called shooting and praying.
Being in such an image-heavy job, what keeps your eyes fresh? What gets you inspired?
I love the moon, as you can tell, and those are images that are challenging because of many factors like weather, schedule or life conflicts. I ALWAYS will try to line up the moon with something. The moon by itself is boring.
How can reporters best help photographers while at an assignment?
Reporters need to be visually focused and photographers need to be text focus. A photographer’s favorite reporter is one that thinks the same. That happens when there’s a lot of dialogue between the photographer and the reporter.
How can we as photographers help reporters think more visually?
Dialogue. The reporters want the same from photographers.
How do you balance your work life with your personal and social life?
Shoot what you love. I always shoot from my kayak. I run. I break up work with road trips with my family. I’d also rather road-trip than fly to assignments so I can shoot along the way.
Has your ability to stay up to date on technology added to your longevity?
For sure. The wire service has evolved so much. Back in film days, it would take 30 minutes to file one photo to the wire. Now we file them instantly. Technology has helped in so many ways. And those who’ve adapted are enjoying their jobs and those who haven’t make it tough on everyone else.
If photojournalism was out, would you rather go back to being a reporter or pursue another form of photography?
I would probably continue my quest toward my dream job of being a Los Angeles Dodgers beat reporter. There’s a few other things I would have liked to have done if photojournalism wasn’t a possibility: become an anthropologist or a firefighter.
Are there any specific photo books that have inspired you work or the way in which you work?
I’m re-reading “The Soiling of Old Glory”, which talks about Stanley Forman’s Pulitzer Prize winning image of a man aiming an American flag at a Black man during a protest in 1976 in Boston. I also love the “America 24/7” photo series, which features a lot of photojournalists’ images shot during the course of one week.
Check out Julio’s work on Instagram where he continues to report on all the news.
That’s it for this week. Next week we will return to our normal programming when I’ll share a big goal for Process in 2021 and an update on my Notice book.
Meanwhile, Amsterdam is quite dark and gloomy these days so it’s high ISO time. Here and there I still get to grab a moving human moment, especially in Vondelpark.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
My pal Stephen at Kosmo Foto consistently puts out film with the coolest packaging design since Kodak in the 1990’s. He’s generously made available this this beautiful Kosmik Film Box containing four rolls of Kosmo Foto Mono 100-ISO black and white film. It is sold in both 35mm and 120 format and the winner gets to pick their format.
To enter email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (please don’t reply to this note but send a separate email) before 11pm EST on January 6th and answer the following question:
Which photographer most inspired you in 2020? (Include a link to their IG or website.)
I will share a list of all the answers. One winner will be randomly drawn and notified. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only. Subscribe by clicking the button below:
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Process is a weekly letter from Wesley Verhoeve.
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