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Following the Thread: Rick Loomis
Rick Loomis is a war photographer. It didn't start out that way.
Where it started: The Palm Beach Post. Loomis interned during high school and for two years after that. The photography staff included Donald R. Winslow, editor of News Photographer. Winslow says the staff recognized an early talent and encouraged Rick to go to college. Apparently the talent was visible to others because after his college years at Western Kentucky University, Loomis was hired as a contract photographer by the Los Angeles Times in 1994.
Gail Fisher, Senior Photo Editor of Projects at the L.A. Times, has watched Loomis grow over the last 12 years and his work improve. "It's been very rewarding to watch," she said, "particularly in the last three years." Fisher said that the photographer was re-hired as a contract photographer—again a one-year stint. Then he joined the staff at the Orange County edition of the newspaper.
During his five years at Orange County he covered local news, sports and features as part of the assignment pool. He then joined some 38 photographers on the staff of the Times and continued his work. Fisher says that she trusts Loomis to handle large projects. "He does his research from A – Z."
Fisher also said that after the year 2000 new senior management staff was in place at the Times and more thought was given to visual presentation. This new philosophy would have an impact on Rick Loomis' future as a seasoned photojournalist.
Loomis recognizes that there has been a considerable shift in his work. Personally, the change had to do with 9/11. At the paper his assignments have been increasingly international. He says he's "following the thread," of 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan. The latter portfolio, made over seven months, earned him the NPPA Newspaper Photographer of the Year in 2003. The same year and again in 2004, his images were recognized by the California Press Photographers' Association. See his portfolios at www.cppaonline.org/2002poy/gallery.html and www.cppaonline.org/2004poy/index.html.
The photographer has assembled photo stories on Haiti and Israel. He spent four months in Israel, with both Israelis and Palestinians. His first trips to Iraq were in 2003 and the next year. Several images from photo story, "The Siege of Fallouja," are included in his gallery here as well as others from Iraq.
The assignments to Iraq were not easy, as Loomis himself says below. He shared the dangers with the Marines of Echo Company. He has written that, "Here I was feeling more exposed to danger than at any point in my career." ["Battle of Fallouja," SportsShooter.com] The Marines came under full-scale attack. Loomis, an excellent writer, does not portray himself as a hero. When the company is racing to return to their base across a dangerous open area, he writes, "We were almost home free….When I crossed the street there were three Marines struggling to carry a wounded comrade the rest of the way to the school. One of them motioned me over as I approached their position, slowing my run. He asked me to help [him] carry the wounded man. For a split second I thought, 'Are you crazy? My job right now is to run like hell so I can live to do the job another day.'" All this happens as he was "grabbing the injured Marine by his right shoulder and arm. Along with three others we ran him to the schoolhouse…."
An image that stands out in this story is one of a soldier before a makeshift memorial to a fellow Marine who died on the mission. The light of the candles bathe the soldier in yellow light as he bows his head, alone. Loomis sets up the scene in his article on Fallouja: "The solemn faces of over 50 men crowded the room; at its center was simply a mound of dirt…each Marine pushed a lit candle into place into the mound. Soon the dank room was filled with candlelight and devoid of people as they withdrew to collect their thoughts."
In Afghanistan and Iraq Loomis has traveled with writer David Zucchino. Loomis calls him "the best guy out there—my superhero." They work on an equal footing and it is this pair who created the series "The Lifeline," that ran on broadsheets in the L.A. Times on April 2-4, 2006. Zucchino wrote about travels with Loomis for News Photographer, June 2003, in "Rick Loomis: Driven," calling Loomis "remarkably focused and energetic." Loomis proves himself as "a consummate professional, and the perfect traveling companion. He was profane and irreverent, with unlimited reserves of curiosity and enthusiasm."
Loomis says that survival skills he learned as a boy in Loxahatchee help him at the front. Zucchino observed that, "Raised in rural south Florida, Loomis is comfortable around guns, knives, fast cars and motorcycles. In other words, he's part redneck. On a grueling three-week mission with a U.S. Special Forces team last winter, Loomis not only showed the Green Berets how to ford a river in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, he also beat them hands-down in an improvised distance-jumping contest with the soldiers' own dirt bike."
In November 2005, Loomis and Zucchino went to Iraq to record the care wounded soldiers were receiving in military hospitals in Iraq. Loomis approached the wounded soldiers as they arrived at Balad and asked to take pictures. Receiving their okay, he proceeded to show bloody men ripped apart by bullets and the shrapnel produced by IEDs. The images are bold, edgy and true to the reality of the in-coming soldiers. Nothing is spared—the men are helpless and traumatized. Viewing the run of images is not unlike being punched in the stomach.
Another valuable part of the story came when writer and photographer visited the soldiers at home. They saw the formerly helpless men "on the worst day of their lives" healing and determined to return to their companies.
While in Iraq, Loomis made the audio recording in the field to accompany "The Lifeline" when it later appeared on latimes.com. He said he wanted the atmospheric tape made in the field hospital to "sound like NPR." He succeeded.
Back in Los Angeles in December, Loomis and Zucchino made a presentation to the newspaper management and staff who would be involved in pulling together the newspaper and online stories. Gail Fisher recalls that the fine quality of Rick Loomis' edit meant that some 80 images were chosen to work with—the usual cut leaves only 20--30.
The photography staff lobbied for space in the final layout as usual. Fisher credits the commitment from the top managers for making the story a three-part series. Editor Dean Baquet, Managing Editor Doug Frantz and Colin Crawford, AME/Photography were behind the project the whole way. They knew the pictures were tough but they took on the risks to present what they felt was an important story. The team of editors and designers, says Fisher, "worked outside the comfort zone."
While the series of images is known as "The Lifeline," the three parts of the story were titled, (Part 1) "Bringing Back the Wounded With Heart, Soul and Surgery," (Part 2) "The Journey Through Trauma," and (Part 3) "New Battle on the Home Front." See http://www.latimes.com/wounded.
On Sunday, April 2 a color close-up of the face of wounded Army Staff Sgt. Vincent Worrell, 25, appeared three columns wide (of five columns) atop the front page of the Los Angeles Times. His face is caked with dried blood and one eye is covered with tape. On April 3 another three-column image on the top of the front page looks momentarily like a scene from a butcher shop. The hand of Marine Cpl. Ryan Buchter is covered with red-orange Betadine antiseptic. In the distance his leg is elevated and slashed open.
The risks faced by the editors and designers are plain to see. Bloodied soldiers are not often shown—particularly when they're American. Let's remember, in the States photographers are kept away from the arriving flag-draped coffins of American troops.
The inside pages of the newspaper carry large reproductions over 3 – 4 pages. Some images are over 7" x 10". The layout is impressive and demands attention. The Web site offers even more with numerous images, Loomis' audio and Zucchino's voiceover.
Loomis says that the upshot of having images online was receiving comments directly from the public. This was an unusual circumstance for photographer and writer and one they appreciated.
Rick Loomis' photographs are vibrant and in-your-face. They get the job done with finesse and power. And, occasionally, like the one of black-silhouetted hospital tents against a pink and blue Iraqi sunset with a clear window into a bright room, they are simply beautiful in a land of war.
© Marianne Fulton
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