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Media Monday: Dean Rutz

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For this week’s Media Monday, we’d like you to meet Dean Rutz, photojournalist at The Seattle Times. How did you find yourself as a photojournalist? My father worked his entire life at the Chicago Tribune.  He wasn’t in news; he was on the business side of the newspaper.  But his loyalty to the newspaper and […]

For this week’s Media Monday, we’d like you to meet Dean Rutz, photojournalist at The Seattle Times.

dean rutz

  1. How did you find yourself as a photojournalist?

My father worked his entire life at the Chicago Tribune.  He wasn’t in news; he was on the business side of the newspaper.  But his loyalty to the newspaper and his obsession with the news couldn’t help but rub off on me.  I can remember my father in the family’s dining room pouring over no fewer than four newspapers every day.  He read them all cover to cover.  Typically the Tribune, The Chicago American (later Chicago Today), the Daily Herald, and a wild card suburban paper.  But he wouldn’t be caught dead with the competitor Chicago Daily News, or the Sun-Times.  I think he was happy when Mike Royko finally joined the Trib.  It was hard to ignore him for so many years.

My interest in photojournalism probably stemmed more from what made an impression on me in those newspapers that I saw.  I grew up in Chicago during the 60s and 70s, and that was a turbulent era in America.  The Vietnam War, Watergate, the Democratic National Convention under Richard J. Daley.  Photography played a huge role in the newspaper then.  And I had a particular interest in history. I remember in elementary school being taken by the Associated Press book “Four Days”, which chronicled events around the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I found myself immersed in the photographs trying to imagine what it must have been like to be there at that time.  Photography transported me there.

On a couple of occasions, my father would bring me to work with him.  I remember playing on the steps of Tribune Tower.  And I remember finding my way into the newsroom, and into the old yellow-tile covered darkrooms.  Pretty clearly it made an impression on me.

Overwhelmingly, the defining moment for me occurred when I was in grade school.  One morning riding my bike to school I saw black smoke fill the sky.  The Ben Franklin (the Five and Dime where we lived) was ablaze.  Most of the block was too.  I stayed to watch for as long as I could, then went to school.  Later that evening, the Daily Herald (then an evening newspaper in the community I lived) had the fire on it’s front page.  Four firefighters died when the floor collapsed beneath them.  One of the volunteer firefighters was someone our family knew well.  The pictures showed distraught firemen trying to rescue their comrades.  I remember the pictures even today.  They were heartbreaking.  And in fact I recall they were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize that year.  But what really made an impression on me was I was there, and didn’t see that at all.  But the photographer saw it and captured the scene in a way that made my father tear up when he saw the newspaper.  I remember him shaking his head as he looked at the pictures and read the story.  And it struck me the incredible power – and responsibility – that went into the job of being a photojournalist.

2. Which of your photos are you most proud of?

The truth is, I can’t stand to look at my own work.  Now, to be honest, I’m proud of the work I’ve done – generally.  And I think I’m good at what I do – generally.  But I’m also one to completely blot out the work that’s already been done and move on to the next thing.  I don’t have a portfolio that hasn’t been updated in two decades.  I’m just now learning to save the work that I’ve done.  But whatever is past is past.  I’m much more motivated by what I’m going out to shoot next.  There are no photographs of mine hanging in our home.  It’s really not why I do this.

3. What is your favorite thing about your job?

I love being part of the fiber of community.  I love that the work has value beyond myself.  Both as communications device, and one part living history.  The opportunity to meet and visit with people I would have no other reason to ever know thrills me to death.  Many years ago, working in Washington DC (in my previous job), I had to remember to do my job the first time I stepped foot into the Oval Office.  I had to take in the moment.  How else on earth would I have ever had occasion to do that?  The camera has given me license to poke my nose into doors that would not otherwise be open to me, and see what happens behind them.

4. What do you look for in a story or photograph?

 I can’t say that there’s anything specific that I look for going into a story or an assignment.  Everybody has a story to tell, and everybody is interesting if you let them be so.  There’s no one that can’t make for a great photograph.  Typically, I’d say that if you can’t make an interesting photograph of somebody the problem is with you, not them.

5. What is your day like at your job?

There is no typical day, and I like it that way.  I do, however, spend a lot of time covering sports for the newspaper and there’s a particular rhythm and predictability to the structure of those events.  But sports in particular requires an incredible amount of attention be paid to it because the outcome is never known going in.  In fact, I’d say sports is more fatiguing than any other assignment precisely because you have to stay at a heightened state of alertness for such an extended period of time.

6. Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?

There are so many individuals that I can’t really name them all.  But more than anything I look up to a number of proven institutions:  AP, The New York Times, The Washington Post, network television.  All of these institutions have stockpiled great journalists who compile vast quantities of interesting stories and images.  But also specialty programs like HBO Real Sports, 60 Minutes, even Vice News.  They are of themselves all terrific reporters and unique points of view.

7. What is your favorite news outlet?

Aside from The Seattle Times, I subscribe to The New York Times in print, and the Washington Post digitally.  I record both NBC and CBS nightly news broadcasts daily.  I don’t look at or read all of them every day.  But it’s nice to have the variety of sources to turn to when I’m so inclined.

8. Fill in the blank:

  • If I am not photographing, I am…probably with my three dogs at home.  My wife and I are involved in rescue.
  • If I could photograph anyone, it would be…President Obama.  He’s the only president since Jimmy Carter I haven’t photographed.
  • My favorite thing about Seattle is…it’s vibrance.  It’s heartbeat, and it’s natural beauty.  My first visit to Seattle in 1988 was all I needed to decide I was coming here to stay.  It had that big an impact on me.  The funny thing is I see the same thing happening to my nephew in Chicago.  He’s become a Seattle-phile.  He identifies with the Huskies, even though he went to college in Illinois.  And he wants desperately to move himself here.  Seattle just has that effect on some people.  It did me.

9. What is your guilty pleasure? 

Factory outlet shopping.  I know.  It’s embarrassing.

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