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Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Grammatically Speaking:

"We owe much to our mother tongue. It is through speech and writing that we understand each other and can attend to our needs and differences. If we don't respect and honor the rules of English, we lose our ability to communicate clearly and well. In short, we invite mayhem, misery, madness, and inevitably even more bad things that start with letters other than M."

--Martha Brockenbrough, grammarian and founder, National Grammar Day

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Tiananmen Square photographer says he's 'no hero'

By C. Ann Jensen

January 30, 2008 | Jeff Widener admits to being scared when he took one of the most famous photographs in history.

"I'm no hero. I'm a chicken," he said.

Widener, the photographer of the Tiananmen Square tank photo, spoke last week to students and community members in the Taggart Student Center Ballroom.

Widener commented on his experience as an Associated Press photographer in China during 1989's Tiananmen Square Massacre as well as his 30 years in photography. He showcased some of his work in a slide show.

Widener has shot photos since he was 15, working at a Jack in the Box restaurant, in an under-the-table deal, and illegally in high school to buy his Nikon camera gear. After college he got his first job as a photojournalist by looking in the classifieds of a newspaper in California.

During his presentation in the Ballroom, Widener was asked if I he t hought he was a hero. He responded "I'm no hero. . . . It scared the crap out of me to shoot in war zones and those kinds of areas."

Widener explained that in order for him to get into the hotel to take pictures of Tiananmen Square, he had to disassemble his camera, putting the lens in his Levi's jacket, his camera in his back pocket, and his film in his underwear.

Of his photo from Tiananmen Square, Widener said, "I have it on my wall with a famous cartoon above it. Every time I look at it I think to myself, 'I can't believe it's mine and that I got out alive.' As far as what it [the photo] means to me, I think it means you have to fight for your rights, the same way we did with the British. When I look at it, I think of how close I came to not having it."

Widener looks like an average middle-aged white male. You wouldn't spot Widener in a crowed and say, "That's the guy who shot that famous photo." With his shaggy, mostly salted hair and tanned skin from living in Hawaii, Widener considers himself to be an observer trying to capture life rather than a photographer trying to take a great shot.

"I like to photograph everything. " Widener said "It's not a picture as much as a feeling. That's what I'm looking for. I want to pull the soul out of the viewer. I want the image to do something, evoke a memory, like a song does. A photograph can do a lot of things; photos are very powerful."

The world has told Widener what its favorite image of his is, nominating his photo from Tiananmen Square for a Pulitzer Prize, but Widener said in a way, every new image is my new favorite.

"It's such a blast to see a new image born," said Widener. "I started shooting at age 12 and now I'm 51, but I feel even more jazzed as the years go by. I just can't think of anything I would rather do than photograph humanity in all its twisted glory."

Now based in Honolulu, working for the Honolulu Advertiser, he has started work on a book of photography that captures the unseen side of Hawaii.



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