John Loomis is a Miami-based photographer who specializes in editorial, portrait, and photojournalism for his magazine and advertising clients. He is also the editor in chief of Blueeyes Magazine. John is represented by Redux Pictures.
Wayne: You first started stringing for your local Florida newspaper when you were 15. How did that happen, and what kind of assignments were you shooting?
John: I stumbled into journalism and photography during the beginning of high school and pretty much immediately fell in love with it. I was actually probably way too serious about it way too quickly, and in that first year I was lucky to befriend a couple of photographers at the local newspaper in Tallahassee, [Florida], and started to shadow them on shoots and then eventually became a sort of intern/stringer. I shot small assignments here and there, but mostly just during the summers. Everyone at the Democrat was really wonderful to me and I ultimately grew to relish the atmosphere of working at a newspaper and swapping stories with everyone.
Wayne: How long and in what ways were you involved with photography before then? What other photography did you do before you ended up at the University of Missouri?
John: Before high school I really don’t remember any significant tie to photography. I had always been involved with art, and was an avid painter for years. But I’m not one of those photographers with a cute story of how their parents gave them an old Kodak when they were four, and their life was changed. Quite honestly, I didn’t really fall in love with the medium of photography ever… I fell in love with trying to communicate and understand the world around me through art, and using that medium to tell a story. That’s what was really powerful to me. And to that end, and because I loved newspapers, as soon as I learned about the University of Missouri, that it was where the word “photojournalism” itself was invented, I was sold and knew I wanted to leave [Florida] for college.
Wayne: You were already working semi-professionally/professionally before school. Why did you decide you need to study photojournalism? Why the University of Missouri? And what did you think of the program once you were there?
John: I already had some experience, at least a little beyond working on a school yearbook (I was very lucky, by the way, to go to a high school who had a very serious and historic journalism department–which is probably rare) but I knew that I had a lot to learn. Also, at the time I had no idea how people actually got a job in journalism as a photographer, and so I thought that college was a really good idea. And it was. On this side of school, which I really loved but ultimately grew to feel very held back by it, I can see that what was ultimately the most important part of my education was the amazing group of friends that I made and was challenged by to push myself and my ideas about what great photography was all about. Beyond my friends, I had two really wonderful professors and mentors, in David Rees and Kim Komenich, who gave me so much in their friendship and passion.
Wayne: You have seen the debates over whether formally studying photojournalism makes sense. What are your own views on this?
John: Outside of the unique opportunities of Missouri (POY, CPOY, speakers, MPW, etc.) that allowed me to meet a lot of very cool people in the industry, which helped me out a good deal, journalism school itself is something that I don’t find all that important. I get asked a lot, or read on Lightstalkers, about debates between which photo J-school is the best, […] and I think it’s a bit of a joke. None of them are better, really. In my opinion it was not the school, it was my tremendous luck to attend with some really wonderful people, that made the difference. Journalism is one of those great fields where you can’t learn much from a book, and only after you throw the book out the window and run outside to start trying, and fuck up, can you start to make sense of the job and what it means to practice it well. Journalism school doesn’t do any harm, I guess, but it’s very possible to go straight through and never be really challenged.
Wayne: Why did you also decide to study English?
John: I had always studied English at school, and as I got further into college I began to drift away from journalism classes and towards my literature classes because they just made a lot more sense to me. Around the same time of this shift, I took a very important photography class taught by Komenich, which I audited (I wasn’t allowed to actually enroll because it was a “capstone” class), I was exposed and really engaged for the first time with a ton of documentary work that I had never seen before. It was a revolution for me. This was Magnum work and Robert Frank and Errol Morris films and Sylvia Plachy. Kim had us go through dozens of these incredible books from his collection every class–books that went so much further than I ever knew was possibly in expressing a personal vision of the world that had absolutely no interest in debates of “objectivity”–and lectured on the connection between photography and jazz and literature and everything else. So, after that class most of the other photography classes didn’t mean much to me… thus my English major. Later even English wasn’t enough for me, and in my senior year I left school to start freelancing.