Conversation: Gaylon Wampler
One shot at a time
Photographer Gaylon Wampler has traveled the world shooting
for Time, Newsweek, People, National Geographic and Today's Pentecostal
Evangel. In 25 years as a photographer he has made a name for himself by taking
tough assignments and being in the right place at the right time. Recently,
Wampler spoke with Managing Editor Kirk Noonan about embracing adventure,
photography, the impoverished, and the impact of sharing Christ's love.
tpe: You're not a name-dropper, but tell me some of the
big-name people you've photographed.
WAMPLER: Pope John Paul II, Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill
Clinton and George W. Bush, former National Football League quarterback John
Elway, and many other celebrities and heads of state.
tpe: Didn't you win an award for the Elway photo?
WAMPLER: It won the Dave Boss Award of Excellence in 1995
and now hangs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
tpe: Where did you get your start in photography?
WAMPLER: At a weekly newspaper in Carrollton, Texas. I was
offered a job after I submitted a story along with a few pictures. I took the
position, but a year later I joined the Army.
tpe: Did that put your photography career hold?
WAMPLER: Actually, it jumpstarted it. I met a Korean War
photographer and with his help I won many military photographic awards. He
taught me how to develop patience for moments, and an eye for contrast and
composition. Though I was a combat infantryman it wasn't long before my
commanders had me filling my ammunition pouches with film and lenses rather
tpe: After the Army did you have any big-break moments that
told you photography is exactly what you needed to do with your life?
WAMPLER: In 1985 Mexico City was devastated by an
earthquake. I was still in college at the time but I skipped classes for a week
and went down there. For several days I roamed the streets, skipping meals and
getting very little sleep. I tried to tell the story of devastation while
following rescue teams.
The Associated Press hired me, which was a good break. But
my big break came when I was in a hospital room photographing one of the
earthquake victims and the president of Mexico came in to visit him. I got the
pictures and AP was very happy. I knew then photography was what I was meant to
tpe: How has photojournalism changed since you started in it
more than two decades ago?
WAMPLER: Before digital cameras I would carry big cases on
assignment filled with darkroom equipment and chemicals. When I covered
professional football games I would set up a darkroom in a corner, shoot for a
few minutes, process my film, then place the picture in a drum and send it to
my paper over the phone line.
It was a lengthy process to get one picture. But from that I
learned I had to take advantage of my shooting time and get the best image as
fast as I could.
tpe: By traveling the world, what lessons have you learned?
WAMPLER: That I can't change the world. When you see the
living conditions of Third World people you sometimes wonder if the Lord has
forgotten them. But then you realize if you demonstrate Christ's love and have
opportunity to introduce them to Christ, you can make them very rich
spiritually. When you consider that, it's very powerful.
tpe: Describe some of your most adventurous assignments.
WAMPLER: To get the shots I've wanted I've had to travel
deep into jungles, rappel down cliffs, spend a week in a snow cave with a
survival guide, and live in claustrophobic quarters with sailors on a
tpe: Where is the intersection for you with living a
Christlike life and having an adventurous spirit?
WAMPLER: I try to take assignments that make me face my
fears or I know will cause hardship physically, emotionally or psychologically.
I'm not an adrenaline junkie by any means, but hardships force me to think more
about Jesus and how good He is to me. That makes me feel alive and reminds me
to be thankful for all the good things He has brought into my life.
tpe: So, living an adventurous life is not just about
getting a good shot; it's about drawing closer to the Lord?
WAMPLER: I'd say so. To deny God opportunity to work in my
life would be to try and take back control of my life. That's never a good
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