Bred in the bone, photography seemed to be pre-ordained for me. I grew up in a family of newspaper photographers whose careers spanned forty years, from the pioneering days of glass plates and flash powder to the early 35mm Leica. My father photographed such greats as Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Al Capone and Judy Garland. I could not help but be moved by the magic of his profession… the excitement, the travel. My professional career began during the golden years at the Milwaukee Journal, where camera technique, early electronic flash experimentation, multiple lighting and color were second to none.
Photographers Frank and Joe Scherschel, Howie Socherek, Tom Abercrombie and picture editor Bob Gilka had already migrated to Life and National Geographic magazine. However, a new generation of eager talent stepped in that I could learn from. There could not have been a more versatile prooving ground for me - anywhere, I remember my father saying “stay at the newspaper no more than five years, learn all you can, especially color and go on to a magazine if you’re worth your salt”. I stayed five years and eleven days.
After moving to National Geographic in 1965, I realised how much I did not know the technique, the enthousiasm and stamina were there. It was the photographic philosophy, the higher degree of artistic appreciation, plus the cerebral approach and concentration that needed tutoring.
During a world wide coverage on “gold”, I was impressed with the dedication of Geographic writer Peter White… How he entered into the rhythm of peoples lives and diplomatically opened closed doors without becoming a distractive element. Peter made a difference in my life - I was getting closer to my subject.
Photography at the National Geographic forces you to grow. Talent runs deep, competition is severe and everyone there thrives on it. Personally, carrying the torch for Geographic is not easy - it’s an expensive mistress… Introducing loneliness, heartbreak and danger, but let’s not overlook the honor, the pride, the respect.
Eye of Beholder is a celebration of my life and those responsible for helping me to see the way I do. It is the results of numerous adventures and the faces that reflect a world i’ve been lucky enough to explore. And in all, this is my reward.
James L. Stanfield