Looking Through The Lens
I like to do is here. I really started evaluating it. I was always the outdoorsy type-hunting and fishing."
After graduation, White worked as a manager in a photo lab at MU. In 1996 a friend mentioned a job opening at the Conservationist. Since the deadline was only a week away, he initially considered forsaking the opportunity, but he quickly changed his mind. Scrambling to put together a color portfolio to meet the deadline, White was flattered to receive an interview. The day after his interview, he was offered the job.
White says his talents dovetail well with Rathert's, and combined, they help produce the Conservationist's unique personality. Most of the time, White photographs people and Rathert photographs wildlife. When White goes into the field, people always ask, "Do you know Jim Rathert?"
"Rathert's been around for 20 years, and his stuff is pictures, like bluebirds, that people get excited about," White said.
In contrast, White approaches his craft in workmanlike fashion.
"I've never really considered my stuff to be art; I was always a journalist," he said. "One of the things I pride myself on is not setting up pictures too much. When I show up at a shoot, somebody will say, 'Well, what do you want me to do?' and I'll say, 'I want you to fish.'
"A lot of photographers will put people where the best light is, and that's okay for them," he added, "but with my journalism background, just the way I like to shoot, I don't preconceive pictures in my head. I see what's there and then I see the composition or angle."
Rathert, too, likes spontaneity. The sudden appearance of a photo opportunity is enough to pique his creativity.
"I don't like to keep a schedule," Rathert said. "Right now, I'm taking photos of a rare orchid that my son found. I'm confident that it's a possible calendar shot or cover shot. I get a feeling about that and I'm optimistic. I like to think most every subject out there has a higher potential than what many people might think."
Both photographers estimate they spend two or three days each week in the field, working with their cameras-underwater, in forests, and sometimes hanging out of a helicopter. When not shooting film, they're back in the office processing film, cataloguing slides, editing, and making appointments for future shoots.
"It's a constant struggle for me to keep ahead of the game on organization," Rathert acknowledged. "That's the part of the job I enjoy least.
"My typical work week is always atypical," he continued. "It couldn't work any other way. If one started at eight and worked until five, especially in the summertime, your best pre-light hours would be gone and after five o'clock, your best four hours are coming out."
Both men thrive on the spontaneity and the variety that being a photographer for the Conservation Department allows. Both live full lives when not on the job. Rathert loves to be in the outdoors with his family. An avid birder, he delights in finding new species of birds and calling to them. He also hikes with his son, Josh, who is an amateur botanist. White is a pilot and owns a share in an airplane, so he takes to the sky whenever possible. When back on the ground, he plays the hammer dulcimer.
Rathert's ability to see the image in his own mind's eye is one of the keys to his success, while White's ability to take what he sees and turn it into a statement is a strong asset. After meeting the photographers, I'd have to say that these two Missouri boys have done a good job of combining their talents and skills, while managing to keep their self-deprecating senses of humor. As a result, we sense the photographers' personalities in their photographs, and that's a large part of what keeps us waiting for the Conservationist to arrive every month.