Photographer’s Q&A – Moe Doiron
This week’s Q&A is with The Globe and Mail’s Deputy Managing Editor for Photography, Moe Doiron.
What were your first steps in the industry?
I had a weekend job at a camera shop, when I was 14-years old, where I met the photographer from my local paper. He was looking for a part-time darkroom tech. It wasn’t long until I started shooting assignments. I was too young to drive so my parents would drop me off at jobs and pick me up later. Crazy.
Around that time, I remember seeing an ad for a book titled ‘Creative Techniques in Photojournalism’. It came in the mail and I studied it inside and out. It was my first real instruction on how to actually do this. I still have it somewhere.
Boys shoot toy guns at NATO warplanes flying over Sarajevo 1994. Photo by Moe Doiron.
Living in a small town, I quickly realized that there was more to it, out there. I also knew that it was going to be up to me to make it happen, to make my own connections and to get my name out.
For me, at that time, wire photographers were the stars and I never missed a chance to get a photo on the wire. From that, my name got out and I started to get assignments. I met wire photographers Doug Ball and Bill Grimshaw in Montreal, in 1983, and things started to roll. Not all smoothly, I might add, but at least I was in the big city. I was only 18-years old, believe it or not.
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation and are you where you thought you would be now?
In high school, I knew that I wanted to be a photojournalist so I pretty much followed that path right away. There were no college programs in Canada back then so I had to hit the ground running.
I remember skipping a final exam so I could travel to Montreal to cover the Formula One race that year. Didn’t need the credit to graduate, so I tossed it. My parents weren’t thrilled with my decision. They wanted me to be a pharmacist. Glad I dodged that bullet. They got over it.
I always felt that I would succeed but I didn’t imagine that I’d be exactly where I am today. That just happened as a result of the twists and turns along the way.
You never think much about it at the time but the steps you take along a career path can lead to some surprising destinations. So it’s always important to leave a clean trail. I learned many years ago that you could never predict whom you may need on your side, even the assholes. Always good to have a few favours on the shelf.
A bombed school room, Sarajevo 1994. Photo by Moe Doiron.
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
People who made things happen for themselves. Doesn’t matter who: a painter, a musician, a businessman. But back then, I’d say photographers like Doug Ball, Bill Grimshaw, Andy Clark, Fred Chartrand and Peter Bregg, to name a few.
I remember Doug was featured in an ad campaign for Nikon when they released the new F3 camera. He had an earring and he was famous. I wanted that! I did get the earring years later, one night in Ottawa … ice-cube, needle and a bottle of Grand Marnier.
I looked at their work constantly and tried to figure out how they did it. The lighting, the printing techniques, the backgrounds, the timing.
Later, I would revel that I would get to work alongside them and they became friends and colleagues. But I was so nervous the first time I met those guys!
Did you have a mentor? How important are mentors?
Indirectly I did. I mean Doug and Bill took me under their wings. I learned a lot from them. Some things even had to do with photography…
Mentorship is everything. To have someone who has been through it and can nudge you along the way makes all the difference. You can keep making the same mistake for years or you can have someone slap you in the face and tell you how to do it better in one day.
It’s astonishing how much you learn when you’re surrounded by people who are better than you are. It’s the best university class you can get, front row seat. But you have to pick the right mentors. They are not all created equal.
What was a pivotal point in your career?
Having a drink with Gary Hershorn, in 1989 at a bar in Toronto, when he offered me the Reuters Ottawa spot. But it was just another example of making the right moves, proving yourself as a person as well as a photographer. I didn’t apply for that gig and it wasn’t luck. I put the pieces in place carefully over a number of years, gaining his trust.
A junkie and her boyfriend, Ottawa 1993. Photo by Moe Doiron.
How important is multimedia to you?
It is very important. The changes we’re seeing in our industry right now, a result of new trends, economic and technological forces, are happening under my watch. Meaning, I am faced with decisions everyday that will have an impact on my co-workers, friends and our future as photojournalists.
This is survival, it’s that simple. There is absolutely no question that readers will move to online for news in the future. What is uncertain is how long we will have to get a foothold on it. I prefer not to wait for someone to emerge from a corner office to tell me when.
This is a do-or-die time for photojournalists. We are being threatened by writers and bloggers armed with video cameras to provide the visuals of the future. If we don’t step up now and embrace it, create a high benchmark for quality, and do it better than anyone else, we will lose the title, one that was built starting in the early days of Life magazine and nurtured over the past 80 years by expert visual story tellers. We owe it to them and to ourselves. I am very conscious of this responsibility. We have to get it right.
How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?
By growing with it, surrounding myself with the best people in the business, and contributing by helping developing photographers, I have all the time in the world for hard-working talented people. But no time for those who are not committed.
I also never like being the smartest guy in the room. It’s a weak feeling. I rely heavily on a team that is the best and the brightest. I couldn’t do a fraction of what these talented people do everyday. That’s not my job. My job is to create an environment that allows them to do their best work.
The biggest failure for a manager or a leader is insecurity.
What are some of the must-see web sites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g. inspiration, guidance, information, education).
I am very proud of the work we do at The Globe and hope that it inspires others to follow.
A great resource for Canadian photographers.
To keep your finger on the pulse. Things are changing and we have to change along with them.
Brian Storm is an excellent example of doing things right.
What is your favourite way to unwind?
I rarely need to unwind. But in my real life, I maintain a passionate love affair with the guitar.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
“You can’t shoot pictures with your head up your ass.” – Bill Grimshaw