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2004 Photographer of the Year

Gary Allen, North Carolina

The WPJA proudly honors Gary Allen as 2004 Photographer of the Year. Gary’s principal pride, however, is the recognition this award represents within distinguished WPJA company and the message it sends from a notable panel of photojournalism judges. The award represents excellence within his photojournalism profession. “Winning the award is that much sweeter,” he said.

Gary shoots from the vantage of one and a half decades of professional, full-time newspaper photojournalism experience. His photos have appeared in Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and Southern Living magazines, as well as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune newspapers. For 12 years, Gary shot for The Raleigh, NC News & Observer. He’s six time recipient of the North Carolina Photographer of the Year in addition to hundreds of awards on the local, state, regional, national and international levels. Photography credits include the 1996 Olympics, NCAA Final Fours, ACC basketball tournaments, presidential visits, and the Kentucky Derby, shooting celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Jordan as well as devastating hurricanes off the coast.

News photojournalism experience helps Gary capture the emotion and feeling tied to weddings with striking talent. When news occurred, he had to react. “In all of those situations,” he explains, “you learn to think on the run. You have to be able to react to situations and put yourself where you need to be without preparation.” He strives to capture the real moment in all situations, and regardless of the planning or anticipation you may expend, that peak action and emotion is always a surprise. This, he feels, is what makes it special.

Gary is also surprisingly relaxed at weddings, one of the most stressful events in most couple’s lives. His low-key behavior transcends into the bride and guests. Whether it rains or the cake falls, “my mantra to couples is to relax and have fun and enjoy your wedding day,” he says. “I love to shoot pictures. I think being a photographer is the greatest thing in the world. It’s something I’ve always loved to do. I’m a photographer first and a businessman second.”

When asked whom he shoots for, himself or his client, Gary believes: “clients always come first.” In the course of the day, he’s always able to satisfy both their needs and his personal creative expression needs. Arriving a few hours ahead of schedule, Gary work directly with the couple and family while they prepare for the ceremony. This one-on-one time helps the party adjust to his style and get comfortable enough to forget the camera.

As the day unwraps, he typically shoots with the 24, 50 and 105 mm lenses providing the range he favors. “Those three lenses just seem to work for me,” he explains. “I’ll know just where to go to position a 105, a 50 or a 24.” During the reception, he falls back or stands across the room with a longer and often changes his perspective with a wider angled lens.

When asked who his ideal clients are, Gary says: “Ones that seek me out because of my photojournalism background.” While he’s more than happy to take posed family photos, he is a die-hard photojournalist that lives for the moment. In this manner, he continued: “sometimes the sun sets or there’s a nice street light outside and I grab the bride and groom and take an impromptu picture that turns out great.”

He approaches the wedding and reception by capitalizing on everything that’s visual. He’s always looking out for things that can be used to make a good shot. “A lot of times, I seek those out to incorporate in the pictures.” But unlike his news work, he does gain a bit of creative freedom. If there’s a beer can in a shot, he can kick it out beforehand – something he would never do in a news story.

Gary has a signature style among photojournalists. While most of his work is a one-time shot, he explores creative avenues within desktop image software. This work results in a colorized photographic look balancing color and black-and-white aspects. His images exemplify a reality that supersedes the non-creative eye, expressing textures, angles and sentiment the busy guest and couple miss and often forget.

What would he like to convey to brides and wedding planners considering his photojournalism services? “That I not only love what I do, but am passionate about my work, too. I love to be able to create something special for a couple and family. I put 100 percent into every wedding.” For Gary, his work embodies his personal pride.

By Lisa Evenson / For the Wedding Photojournalist Association