Jonathan Ernst Profile | The Wider Image
My father was an avid photography hobbyist, and often carried his Pentax SLR for fun and for family pictures. He had a darkroom under the stairs in the basement in the house where he grew up.
When I was about 8 years old, I remember we sent off for a free booklet from Kodak about how to make a pinhole camera and that was my first camera – a little box made out of black matte board and tin foil that strapped onto an old 126 film cartridge.
I learnt about proper shooting techniques and how to develop film and prints in college. I worked in a lab at our little school library, developing slide film for professors, and I took a couple of basic photography courses. I bought my own Pentax SLR during the summer after my first year and eventually completed an internship in theatre photography, which was a particular early interest for me.
I had to shoot my first assignment twice! It was embarrassing, but instructive. I was sent to shoot a restaurant owner for a profile of a new restaurant. My newspaper editor (rightly) hated what I brought back, and sent me straight back to do it over.
It took me nearly a year after graduating to land my first photography job. My degree is in English/journalism, but I truly wanted to be a photojournalist. I blanketed about 100 newspapers in 37 states with my resume and nine months later, one editor who had held onto it gave me a shot at an entry-level job at a newspaper. I had a lot to make up for, not having had any sort of intensive training in photography or photojournalism internship. So for three solid years at that first newspaper, I worked seven days a week – four days at the newspaper and three at a camera shop in order to make ends meet, and then it would start all over again. I learnt as much as I could as quickly as I could.
My first international assignment, a piece I wrote and photographed in Liberia in 2000, will always be deeply meaningful to me. It pushed me to work harder, be more self-reliant and set my horizons higher than anything else I had done before. The editors where I was working at the time gave me an incredible gift when they gave my project a green light.
I love working on projects where I get to explore a subject in depth, especially anything far from the staged events of official Washington. But, totally conversely, on most days I would give my right arm to be in the middle of the day’s biggest news or sports story.
The level of competition in Washington between some of the most skilled news photographers in the country is incredibly high. It makes the work a lot of fun, and it makes winning – if and when it might ever happen – a lot sweeter.
One of the great things about working for Reuters is that my audience could be anyone in the world. I might edit certain stories with a European or Asian or South American news consumer in mind, but in reality I’m always trying to put my best work out there and see if it finds a home.
The work I do for Reuters in Washington often isn’t very glamorous and can involve many hours of protective coverage. But I have learnt to prepare for those assignments the same as any other. There is a deep pride I take in that preparation. As Milton wrote: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”