Ready, Aim, Click.

I have a deep appreciation and envy for photographers. When I was a child, I wanted to be a wildlife photographer for nature shows and films. I wanted to lurk somewhere in the tall grass and point my camera at a lion in the waiting. Or, I dreamt of swimming alongside a whale and clicking away with my camera at its glory and beauty.

Photographers are rock stars in my mind. They do the same job I do; they’re storytellers. But, where I tell stories with the spoken voice and audio, they tell it through images. Just check out these photos and think about the stories they are telling without even having a caption.

These are photos by award-winning photojournalist Carl Juste of the Miami Herald. I recently talked with him about the first camera he ever owned and some of the most powerful moments looking through the lens. I can stare at these for hours and feel the power, the emotion of these moments and these people.

He makes a strong point about how we, as journalists, all journalists, approach a story. This comes back to the question about bias, and I want to point out that even though we come into a story with our own bias, we can still set most of it aside and just try and find the facts of the story.

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TRS – What is it about being behind the camera, looking at the world through that lens? What does that mean to you? 

Carl Juste – The camera means to me the same as a pen to the writer, the microphone to a broadcaster; the camera is just an instrument. It’s my passport; it’s my weapon of choice. I’m always learning through the camera. Because, yes, it’s a tool. It is a tool of my choosing. What I make with that tool really, it’s up to several things: what’s happening in front of me, the memories that I have, how I connect with that moment, the present moment, and the camera is the tool that I use to engage in moments. 

TRS – What was the most challenging assignment for you? 

Carl Juste – All assignments are challenging. Even today, when I have an assignment, there’s always this fear of failure. And you have to accept that fear. Failure for me happens in milliseconds. You miss something, and you have to wait again for it to come back around. And my successes have been the sum of failures because I’m learning at the moment. The worst thing a photographer can do is not to be surprised. If you’re not surprised, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. 

TRS – Sometimes you wait; you have to wait for that moment to come back around. But it doesn’t always come back around. So does that mean when you go into a situation, do you have a plan, or do you just have to be in it and see what happens? 

Carl Juste – I think it’s a combination of both. You have to be fluid. If the moment requires you to be solid, that means in your space, in your position, then you take that position, and you take all the advantages of being in that position. If the moment requires you to be more fluid, you come in and flow through it, then use that. But the moment demands you to be more in it like air itself, not invisible but irrelevant. I’m a black man, and most people I photograph tend to be different from me. I can’t be invisible. I just become irrelevant because I built trust. Your intent is to be fair. I hate saying that phrase that they just chopped up, fair, and balanced. But the intent is to be fair, not to be right, not to be first, but just to be fair. I think you get more out of people when they can relax and be themselves. 

TRS – You’re not the story, but you’re going to get in there sometimes. So I wonder if there’s ever a line where like, there’s no more beyond this, I won’t go. Or will you go wherever you have got to go? 

Carl Juste – No, it depends on what is at stake. First of all, I’ll say this, there’s no picture worth dying for because images don’t have and don’t happen in a linear paradigm, they happen in a circular paradigm. Because if images really were impactful as much as we say they are, then there would be no more war. How many pictures have we seen of war? How many pictures have we seen of starvation? How many pictures have we seen of environmental desecration? We’ve seen these images over and over again. So in my practice, I’m not trying to change the world. I’m trying to change people’s ideas. I’m trying to introduce them or engage them where they’re at. How far I’m willing to go is now more critical than engagement? I’m not going to go to the KKK rally and expect them to love me; that’s my intent. You meet people where they are at. And as visual storytellers, we meet people where they are at, and we are allowed to retell their stories. I don’t think we give people voices. I think people already have voices. We get to retell their stories in the context of whatever story or narrative we’re trying to push forward. 

TRS – You’re catching people in emotional moments, and you got that camera right there in their face. How often are people like, please leave me alone? Stay out of my life. 

Carl Juste – It happens. I have different approaches for different situations. I think you have to do every opportunity to document as a gift, not a right. We can elicit that type of idea that we’re the fourth estate in the press. So when we’re speaking to the government, when we’re speaking to public figures, I will pull my freedom of the press card. Because, at the end of the day, you are operating on the public trust. If that trust has been violated, it’s my job to bridge what you’re doing and what people hear and see. It’s my job to kind of compress that space. I’ve had people leave the courthouse, like, ‘No, you don’t get a pass.’ But if I’m doing a personal story and I ask myself, how do I engage this person and expand their humanity because my job is not to record them. My job is to find myself in them. 

TRS– I wondered, like when you go out on a story, how many photos do you tend to take? And what’s the process of choosing the right one?

Carl Juste – I don’t see pictures in terms of a product. I see pictures in terms of a process. Regardless of the approach, the intent is to be as accurate in getting the spirit of that moment. I’m not concerned with your flesh. I’m trying to understand your soul. Anybody can get your flesh. But to understand in that brief moment, your character, your truth, then I must open myself. I must be willing to have a conversation with you that’s beyond. It doesn’t start with pressing down the shutter. It starts with a hello. The shutter is the last thing. It’s the period to the sense. 

TRS– I know there’s always a give and take in my relationship with my producers. I want to do something. They don’t see it. With you, what’s that relationship like with the editors? Do they ever pick a photo, and you’re like, that’s not the story, man. 

Carl Juste – It’s about how it’s presented. What’s next to it? It’s all about proximity. It’s all about, OK, does it really pertain to the tone of my experience? Some writers see photographers as illustrators, and some photographers see writers as fillers. I see photographers and writers and editors as fingers to a fist. If our intent is to be fair, if our intent is to retell, and to put the reader in our shoes, then we should all work for the exact cause. And I think as photographers, writers, and editors, we need to find that common ground to move like fingers to a fist. And that’s a process. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you have to fight. Like Teddy Pendergrass says, you just got to let it go and take the TKO. Just let it go. 

TRS – I wonder with the camera, since now you’ve gone from film to digital, and I don’t know if the technology has gotten so much different or better, has that changed the way you do things?

Carl Juste – I think technology has been an equalizer. It allowed people to produce images, quality images at a certain level. But it doesn’t address the reason why that creativity occurs. I think those things, those individual experiences, those elements of storytelling, the variables are still the same: timing, relationship, and outcome. When you approach a story, you can produce a better product if you have a lot of time. But if you have time with no resources, you’re back to square one, or you have resources, but no time, you’re back to square one. We’re constantly trying to navigate things that we cannot predict. We have to be better listeners, and as we become better listeners, we tell more stories. The technology doesn’t give you that. The experience, the intent, and the dedication bring that. That cannot be bought at B&H; there’s no app. You gotta put in the time, you got to put in the work, and you’ve got to be able to listen. 

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Published by Luis Hernandez

I'm blessed. Most of my professional career, almost 20 years, I've spent as a journalist. Some of it was in print, a little in television, but most of it in radio. I've worked with some wonderfully talented producers and directors in those two decades. It would take pages to elaborate on all of the experiences I've had as a reporter, producer and host. Needless to say they include opportunities talking with leaders of state, religious leaders, civic leaders, writers, artists and entertainers. The last couple decades have been a lot of fun. But, the next couple decades will be far better.

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