Clem Murray is one of the artists featured in PL130 Gallery's photography show Off Topic, a photo show about the unassigned work of photojournalists who worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News since the 80s. This week we caught up with Clem to learn more about his work and experience.
How did you first get into photography? And how did you make your way into becoming a photojournalist?
I first started taking pictures as a young child — maybe 5 or 6 — with the Kodak Brownie camera. My best friend in high school had a darkroom in his basement so we would go out taking nature photos and head back to his darkroom to process and print. As a high school senior, I took Photography 101 at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications and earned an A in the course. I matriculated as a pre-med student at Colgate University, the last chance for my orthopedic-surgeon father to have one of his children follow in his footsteps! It became crystal clear after my first semester when my GPA was 1.67 that medical school was not in my future. My epiphany happened as I was trying to concentrate on homework in the library and I looked out the window and saw a squirrel running across the lawn and leaping over a fallen tree trunk. I said to myself, "That would have made a great photo!" I spent one more semester at Colgate where I joined the staff of the campus newspaper shooting university features and covering the football team during home and away games. I transferred in the middle of my sophomore year to the Newhouse School of Communications at SU and majored in Photojournalism. The summer after my sophomore year my father contacted a friend of his who happened to be the sports editor at the Syracuse Herald-Journal and lo and behold, I got a job as the "summer vacation photographer" at the newspapers (The Post-Standard was the morning "sister" paper). Mind you, this is 1974 before the term "internship" was in vogue. I spent three summers as the vacation photographer and then was hired full-time in September of 1976. Spent four years shooting for the Syracuse Newspapers and then got a job with the Associated Press in Philadelphia in June of 1980. Covered the Phillies' World Series victory in October 1980 and the Eagles' loss in the Super Bowl in January of 1981. Those were exciting events to cover but I tired of shooting only sports and city hall press conferences. So when The Philadelphia Inquirer won the readership battle over the late Philadelphia Bulletin and began a hiring spree in 1982 I jumped at the chance to work for a top 10 newspaper which was covering stories all over the world. My career at The Inquirer, and later the Daily News when the staffs were joined, lasted 36 years, 20 as a shooting photojournalist and 16 as the Director of Photography. My last shoot for the papers was December 31, 2017 when the Eagles lost to the Cowboys on the final game of the season. Of course the Eagles went on to upset the Patriots six weeks later and I wasn't there to document it -- but that's life!
In what years did you work for the Philadelphia Inquirer or Daily News?
January 26, 1982 — December 31, 2017 (close enough to call it 36 years!)
Do you have a favorite story of an encounter with a subject either on an assignment or a personal project?
Getting tear-gassed by Israeli soldiers in a helicopter covering the first Palestinian "Intifada" in 1988. Having President George W. Bush look down at me while I was covering him during a "rope line" (I was sitting on the ground) at the Boeing factory in Delaware County smiling at me and tussling my hair! Finally, being on the "Pope Pace Vehicle" (the back of a flatbed truck) shooting pix of Pope Francis as he rode through the streets of center city Philadelphia during his visit in 2017.
What are the biggest differences in your approach and considerations between personal editorial projects and assignments?
The biggest difference is the lack of deadline pressure! You can spend as much time as you wish to find different angles or wait for the light to hit your picture "just right."
What are some subjects and themes that you are drawn to photographing while not on assignment? Is there a specific theme that captivates you, one that you keep returning to?
Photographing my kids and their events growing up and now shooting my grandchildren! Shooting photos as my wife and I travel.
What piece of advice would you give to a young photographer who is interested in photojournalism?
Photojournalism is a tough career to break into, but if you have THE passion for documenting your world, a modicum of talent, and are willing to learn and grow your talent, you'll make it. Also, keep abreast of the new technologies of storytelling — video, drones, and whatever else comes up in the future.