The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

Sam Pollak

June 18, 2011

Memories of a stand-alone photographer

Photographs, quite naturally, are extremely important to Daily Star Chief Photographer Julie Lewis ... but so are words, as I found out in short order 13 years ago when I became her editor.

Whenever they can, newspapers like to run photographs that relate to adjoining stories, but sometimes the reader is presented with photos and captions pertaining to nothing else on the page.

At my previous papers, they were usually referred to as “wild art.” So, that’s what I called one of Julie’s photos.

“Around here,” Ms. Lewis told me in no uncertain terms, “they are called ‘stand-alones.’”

It is altogether fitting and proper that she set me straight on the term, because when it comes down to who is the most important local photographic historian of the past 30 years, Julie Lewis _ well _ stands alone.

The Daily Star has been blessed with several wonderful photographers who have come and gone through the three decades she has been employed here, but Julie is the one constant, her name virtually synonymous with the newspaper that gave her career its start.

On Friday, your Daily Star will include a special section devoted entirely to Julie’s photography.

Between 7 and 9 p.m. on that day, the Greater Oneonta Historical Society will host a free reception at its 183 Main St. building to launch a gallery of Julie’s work that will be on display through Sept. 10.

Everyone is welcome, which is also

altogether fitting and proper, because Julie seemingly knows everybody around the area, and everybody knows her.

One outstanding journalist who knows her very well is former Daily Star Managing Editor Cary Brunswick, who spent more than a quarter-century sharing the same newsroom with Julie.

“Over the decades, Julie probably is best known to readers for her photos capturing area residents’ life experiences,” Cary responded when I emailed him about working with Julie. “Whether during unique tragedies such as floods and fires, or in the seasonal joys that come and go each year, Julie’s camera has been a mirror reflecting people’s lives onto the newspaper page for others to see.”

If there is one thing apart from her outstanding pictures that I admire about Julie, it’s her uncompromising devotion to the highest ethical standards. She is not just a photographer; she is the quintessential photojournalist.

She attributes that quality to one of her early editors here, Gary Grossman, now publisher of The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pa.

“Gary was the one who put the “J” in photojournalist for me,” she says.

I emailed Gary about what he remembers of the neophyte he set on the right path.

“Thirty years, eh?” he said. “Why do I still remember a rookie photographer who had a passion for photography and a willingness to work hard? Julie seemed instinctively to know that mastering her craft was 90 percent hard work. In the time we were together, Julie Lewis just got better and better.

“I don’t know if we truly appreciate what it means to have someone create the visual record of our lives and times,” he said. “Julie’s images of your readers have got to be one awesome body of work.”

They are, indeed.

Thanks in great part to Cary, Gary, former editor Ken Hall, ex-chief photographer and mentor Bruce Endries, among others, the Julie Lewis I inherited 13 years ago was a veteran photographer with a wall full of statewide awards recognizing her work.

Like anything else of quality, Julie isn’t always easy. She has strong opinions, and so do I. Sometimes, they clash a bit.

Several years back, Julie got so angry with me for some decision I have long since forgotten that she actually resigned.

“That’s it,” she said before storming out of the building. “I quit.”

When an employee resigns, it’s customary for an editor to inform the publisher and human resources director, then start going through resumes of prospective replacements.

I, of course, did none of that.

Julie Lewis without The Daily Star?

Preposterous.

The Daily Star without Julie Lewis?

Absurd.

A few hours later, we talked it out, and she was back where she belongs, creating some of the best photographs you ever saw.

Oh, and don’t think this is any kind of a professional eulogy after only 30 years. Julie is just getting started. I fully expect to attend the exhibit and open house celebrating Julie Lewis’ 50th anniversary at the newspaper she loves.

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.

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