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S. Indiana photographer shares personal glimpse of life

Friday, November 8, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
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By: Anna Ortiz
Ball State University APME Coverage Team

One tiny family-owned southern Indiana daily is keeping community journalism alive with a small but focused photojournalism department. Just two photographers and a rotating photo intern capture slice-of-life images that tell powerful stories.

"I try to find themes that in some universal way touch readers, and the stories I feel I’m drawn to are stories of inspiration,” said Dave Weatherwax of the Dubois County Herald in Jasper. Weatherwax, speaking to editors Tuesday (Oct. 29) at the annual APME conference in Indianapolis, talked about how he has gathered visual stories over his career.

The 11,300-circulation news-paper has won international photography awards, including Picture of the Year, and has competed with national newspapers like The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. The paper is known for its 35-year tradition of publishing "Saturday features,” which are stories with multiple photos.

Weatherwax showed his work that included unique composition and lighting angles.

"It’s just the way we use photography in a time when publications aren’t dedicating that kind of space to print,” Weatherwax said.

He said the Rumbach familiy, owners of the newspaper, keep the publication simple and community focused. He attempts to tell readers stories that convey things about their neighbors they didn’t know before.

Weatherwax said he spends as much time - if not more - with the subjects than the reporters do. He has spent countless hours in their homes and at their bedside in the hospital - even catching some of their last moments.

Weatherwax met "Red” in a bowling alley. A reporter and Weatherwax teamed up to tell the story of this local man with Parkinson’s disease. The photographer spent 10 months periodically visiting Red, getting to know him.

When the man died about 1,200 people attended the funeral.

"It was particularly rough with Red,” Weatherwax said. "I got to now Red pretty well. It was a give and take relationship. We talked about going to see a Cincinnati Reds’ game after the story was published. Of course that never happened with the way everything ended up.”

Weatherwax still stays in touch with the man’s wife.

"These aren’t just relationships for the purpose of access to tell a story,” Weatherwax said. "But a genuine relationship.”

Weatherwax remembers when he first walked in on Kelsey, an 18-year-old heart transplant patient, cuddled up with her mother in bed.

Kelsey was having an especially bad day because of her heart condition. As Weatherwax got to know the family, he watched the girl graduate, and celebrated the five-year anniversary of her heart transplant.

The last photos he took of Kelsey and her mother were of them packing her room as she headed off to college.

But two months after that update, Kelsey’s body began rejecting her heart, and she died.

Stories like that remind Weatherwax that community news is more than just a job sometimes.

"The mother was incredibly grateful (to have) the story told, and photos of her,” he said of Kelsey.

"It has definitely made me appreciate things a lot more. I caught these moments in photography.”

Associated Press Media Editors

APME is a professional network, a resource for helping editors and broadcasters improve their news coverage and newsroom operations.

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