(Editor’s note: This story was produced in the Fall 2013 semester.)
By Allyson Beasecker
A renowned photographer stood in front of aspiring journalists and showed them a glimpse of what 20 years in the journalism industry looks like.
Gary Bogdon, an Orlando, Fla.-based photojournalist, spoke to Western Kentucky University students on Oct. 10, 2013, in the Mass Media and Technology Hall Auditorium.
His photos flashed across the giant screen in the front of the auditorium: a portrait of Tim Tebow that appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Arnold Palmer posing for a Rolex watch ad, Peyton Manning in his last college football game and race horses galloping through the mud at the Kentucky Derby.
“It is like being a paid adventurer,” Bogdon said. “It’s the ultimate high shooting these games.”
Adventure is a good way to describe Bogdon’s 20-plus years of experience.
He has travelled throughout the world and photographed every major sporting event except for the championships at Wimbledon. After working in newspapers for 20 years, he decided to quit his full-time salaried job for a shot at freelance.
It was a risky move, but one he does not regret.
“Working in freelance is like being in charge of your own destiny,” Bogdon said. “I stepped through the portal and never looked back.”
Tim Broekema, a WKU photojournalism professor, has known Bogdon, since their college days at different schools.
“Gary wanted to talk about the positive side of this business,” Broekema said as he introduced Bogdon. “You hear so much gloom and doom.”
Newspapers throughout the country have been forced to make cutbacks, putting employment in the industry down 30 percent and less than 40,000 full-time professional employees for the first time since 1978.
Bogdon offered students but words of hope.
“I think there are jobs out there for you guys,” Bogdon told the crowd. “ So many people out there are in need of visual storytelling. Take advantage of any opportunity you get, whether it’s video, audio or multimedia.”
Approximately 60 students attended the Photojournalism Department-sponsored event. Students sat with their cameras beside them, many hoping to one day follow in the newspaper photographer turned freelancer’s ways.
WKU freshmen and photojournalism major Nikki Boliaux admired Bogdon’s brave decision to become a freelancer.
“He (Bogdon) is very inspiring,” Boliaux said. “I dream of doing freelance. What he had to say was very encouraging and I could see myself following in his footsteps.”
Bogdon, a Louisville native, graduated from Indiana State University with a degree in photojournalism, but his love for storytelling through pictures began quite some time before college.
His grandmother gave him a Polaroid camera when he was a child, and he uncovered a love for photos. That love, paired with a bug to travel and a great mentor in high school, lit the fire he has for storytelling through photos and videos, he said.
His son, Alex Bogdon, was in the crowd. Alex is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and is studying political science and environmental sustainability.
Although his father doesn’t directly influence his future career path, he has inherited his father’s love for stories.
“He (Dad) has broadened my perspective and has made me interested in meeting people, talking to people and finding out people’s stories,” Alex said.
He doesn’t mind that he gets dragged to work with his dad on occasion.
“Last weekend, we talked our way into the Oval Office while we were in D.C. and a couple weeks ago I was able to go on the sideline of the Vanderbilt versus Florida game,” Alex said.
Bogdon tries to stand out from other photographers by thinking out of the box.
Being a good photographer takes vision, he said. It requires coming up with something that tells the story within an action, Bogdon. His ingenuity has assisted in landing him top name clients such as Adidas America Inc., The Walt Disney Co., Rolex, Sports Illustrated and Nike Inc.
Bogdon closed the night with a question and answer session, and a student asked what advice he would give for aspiring photojournalists.
“You’ve got to really dig down deep — it’s so competitive but its so much fun,” he said. “Shoot everyday and look for those internships. You only learn from failure.”