Interview: Christopher Rolinson Part I

I’m excited to bring you the second in the Photoburgh interview series!!  Another great treat for all of you! This is the first of a two part post of an interview with Christopher Rolinson (Father, Photographer, Artist, Journalist, Teacher, Veteran, Hiker, Bicycler, Brewer, and Kayaker) from StartPoint Media and photography professor at Point Park University.

Pittsburgh Today

So Chris, tell us a little about your background to kick things off.

I think it is an interesting story.  After high school I went to Penn State and didn’t do very well.  Then I joined the Army.  When I was in the Army I used the finest cameras on the planet… point and shoot cameras from the grocery store.  I found out that photos were interesting.  So after my tour was done in the Army I went to Slippery Rock.  On the first day there the counselor said I had to have an art class and I was put into a photography class.  I probably would have taken it eventually, but it was one of those “life-defining” moments. I then got into politics there and communications.  I developed my own way through college taking a broad range of classes in journalism, science, art, etc.  So I have a broad base of knowledge.  I don’t just have a journalism or photography background.  Really if your just a journalism major you don’t really know anything about anything other than journalism.  That’s something that I tell me students all the time.

From there a friend saw a job posting in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for a photo journalist.  I never bought a paper before but sent them my portfolio from Slippery Rock and lo and behold they hired me to work in Steubenville, OH. I worked there for 2 years and then I went to a studio in Crafton and learned studio work. I then went back to graduate school at Point Park and have been there since.

In which of those positions would you say that you learned the most?

I learned things the whole entire time.  At Slippery Rock I learned the ground work for a lot of things but not necessarily the photography side of things.  I learned a lot about journalism, science, and the aesthetics of art.  I basically had to use all of those various skills and knowledge to land the position with the Herald-Star.  And I remember the first week was rough!  There were times when I would return from the field and would be asked, “Do you know how to use a flash?  Can you please use a flash?”  What I learned at the daily newspaper is what propelled me to be able to do what I do now because of the routine and discipline of it.  That definitely helped me learn how to do freelance photography.

So what types of things are you doing now?

Still doing some freelance work. As I got more and more into teaching, I’ve gotten out of the daily grind of covering news daily.  But I just do that occasionally now for the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.  Now I am working a lot with nature photography, weddings, events, and the occasional news piece.  I also did a nature photography book entitled Our State Parks: Western Pennsylvania which was released on November 2.  It also enabled me to use that as a teaching tool with my students as it was being developed.  The book is available now for purchase via my website (linked above).

Our State Parks Now Available

What is it about nature photography that you enjoy?

I like the idea of just driving around and taking pictures of stuff.  You don’t really get paid to do that.  But it became a passion for me.  I like everything about it.  What else would I do?  Be an accountant.

Let’s talk gear.  What are you shooting with other than the Canon G9 that I see you have with you today.

Nikon D200.  I am a believer in the Strobist philosophy of lighting and use that out in the field a lot.  Lately I have been using a perspective control lens which is my favorite toy right now.  I would say my favorite lens is…well that really just depends.  But my all time favorite is probably the 80-200mm.  I also use a 20mm and 28-105mm but that’s pretty much it.  I have a fisheye lens too, but I rarely ever use it.

What inspires you?

When I first started out I was a much angrier person and I wanted to right wrongs.  That’s really what I was after when I got into the newspaper business.  I really wanted to document what was happening and cover the truth well.  As time went on, I became increasingly jaded with the intertwining of the media and politics.  I’m really interested now in technology news and experimenting with things that could never be done with film like gigapan, HDR, and things like that.  I couldn’t get a job now with any of my old clients if I wanted to because there just isn’t any money to do it now.

With your background in journalism, what are your thoughts on the industry these days with the decline and possible death of print media?

Newspapers are not going away.  They are going to reach a point where economics don’t work out and you have to figure out what you are going to do and what you are going to do for money.  I know there are businessmen that run newspapers and they are going to find a way to make money with them.  There are a couple of projects out there that I think might save journalism.  But I really don’t think the printed media is going to ever go away.  Look at the smaller newspapers and they are still profitable.  They still employ people, have staff jobs, staff photographers, and still go out and cover stories.  The local advertising in those newspapers is still effective.

I have seen video cameras now as required equipment for some photo journalists including those from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.  Will the need for traditional photographer as well as video for web content change the way students now have to learn journalism?

It already has.  They all have to learn multimedia and shoot with that eye for multimedia.  We interject it into our classes including TV production into photojournalism.  So they learn to shoot video as well as edit.  But my thing is to get them to think of newspaper stories from many different dimensions.  Do you have one front page shot?  Do you have a series of 5 photos to tell the whole story and present different visual content.  And do you have 25-30 images that you can use to make your point in 90 seconds or less?

There seems to be a trend these days in digital SLR cameras now having HD video capabilities melded together into one piece of technology.  What do you think of this?

It’s a great idea, but I don’t know if it is at a point yet where the technology truly makes it interchangeable.  I still like using my Canon G9 to do some video and the D200 for some photos and blend them together in a multimedia presentation.  I try to stay away from being a gadgety person.  If you could pull a Raw photo file out of HD video file in a cost effective piece of technology that would be pretty cool.

Stay tuned for Part II of the interview with Chris on Wednesday!! Chris shares some tips he gives his photography students at Point Park University, some more details on upcoming projects, and about a cool new piece of photographic technology that has him really excited these days!