The nth Photographer
When asked about my AP career and what it was like being a wire service photographer, I don’t have an easy answer. I knew the nth photographer idea was the required answer and that required an explanation.
My AP career was exciting, dynamic, filled with wonderful assignments, and different every day. My work, and the work of any AP staffer, was considered to be among the best photos available every day for newspapers to publish.
There was an aspect of the AP that was rarely recognized.
When I came to Columbus in 1982, I was one of less than 10 regional photo editors in the AP. There were two other photo staffers in Ohio. One in Cleveland. One in Cincinnati. That made only three of us to cover the news for Ohio.
Where the real strength of the AP news photo report came from was what I call the “nth photographer.” The idea came from my math training. The nth value in an arithmetic analysis is determined by a set of data that exceeds a specified numeric threshold.
Most of the photos that were transmitted on the AP photo network came from newspaper photographers whose work was published every day on front pages, section fronts, inside sports pages, and the Dog of the Week.
They were the real strength of the AP. They knew their communities better than anyone else. They were on the street every day, observing, analyzing, recording. They traveled alleys and back roads. Stopped to ask for directions before smartphones. Asked pizza delivery drivers and florists for directions to places they weren’t sure of. Carried a coat and tie in the trunk. Also clean shoes and socks, Ate on the road between assignments. Could load a roll of film in the camera while driving and eating a greasy burger. Saved a few unexposed frames at the end of a roll of film, just in case.
They were the strength of visual storytelling for daily newspapers and were always at the threshold of being the photographer who completed the daily sequence of news photos. The nth photographer whose work completed the news photo report for the day.
One of those photographers today is in a small Ohio town. He’s not the only photographer who meets that criteria. There are many. Andrew Dolph is Ohio News Photographers Association president and works for The Times-Reporter in New Philadelphia. The paper just published 2023: A photographic look back at life and events in Tuscarawas County showing what small-town photojournalism looks like. What the nth photographer does every day.
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