Thursday, October 29, 2009

The passing of a giant in Photojournalism: Angus McDougall

I read with sadness this morning that Angus McDougall has passed away. He was known as Mac to his friends and peers, but all us photojournalism students under his authority at the University of Missouri in Columbia back in the '70s and '80s called him "Sir."

The tall, skinny bald-headed guy at right was Mac and the gentleman at left was Cliff Edom, the founding father of the Mizzou School of Photojournalism. Cliff actually penned the very word photojournalism during his newspaper career, which simply means a photographer who can write, vs. a writer who can take photos.

There is a difference. The well-trained photojournalist knows how to take the photos that speak a thousand words, as the saying goes, but also knows how to write the story that fleshes out the photos to give the reader the entire "picture" so to speak.

On the other hand, there is the writer who can take a photo or two to illustrate his story. The actual quality of those photos may or may not be up to photojournalism standards. The editor who has the latter rather than the former is always grateful if the latter's photos are simply good enough to print, never mind the excellence.

I know a bit about that as I worked as a writer, photographer, editor and photojournalist for 30-some years at a various weekly and daily newspapers here in North Carolina. And what skills I had to hone as a photojournalist during those years I learned at the feet of Angus McDougall.

Angus and his wife Betty both passed away earlier this year, but they are leaving a lasting legacy as they funded with an estate gift the Angus and Betty McDougall Center for Photojournalism Studies at the Photojournalism Department of the Missouri School of Journalism.

And I have often reflected over the years since I graduated in 1975 a pearl of wisdom imparted to me one day by Mac as he looked over one of my photo essays and stories in my senior year.

"You know, John, you're a better writer than you are a photographer." That's faint praise when it's coming from your photojournalism instructor because a good photojournalist is supposed to be equally balanced between the two disciplines, writing and photography, as well as conversant in all the other skills of presenting the complete package, layout and design, headline writing, photo processing, editing, et c.

But Mac was right. I thought when I first heard about Cliff Edom and the Missouri School of Photojournalism that I would be going there to become a professional photographer. It was not until I got immersed in the program that I discovered I had writing skill also. And in that two years at Mizzou under Mac's tutelage, I became a writer as well as a photographer, a true photojournalist. As Mac so wisely observed, I have done far more writing than photography in my career, but the joy of doing both and presenting the complete story for the reader is what photojournalism is all about.

I hope to see Mac on the street of gold one day and sit down to talk about what I have done with the skills he taught me those many years ago. God speed Mac. Until we meet again.

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