An Express-News photographer gets candid about the role photography plays in his personal and professional life.
By Noah Alcala Bach
Photojournalist Billy Calzada spoke about the importance of the press to staffers of The Ranger Feb. 27.
Calzada graduated from the University of Texas-El Paso and has worked for The Orlando Sentinel, The El Paso Herald-Post and The San Antonio Express-News, where he has spent the last 20 years.
Calzada shared a story about an assignment he had covering a trial for an U.S. Air Force sergeant found guilty of sexually abusing Air Force recruits.
Calzada photographed the sergeant found guilty of sexual assault after leaving the courtroom, which was printed in the Express-News.
The sergeant committed suicide three months into his sentence.
Calzada said he sometimes worries he contributed to the officers’ suicide.
“I live with that wondering did he see his picture in the paper and decide I can’t live with it,” Calzada said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Calzada also talked about a story he did during his time at the El Paso Herald-Post that caused a stir at the national level. The federal government was looking to put a nuclear waste dump in the El Paso area so Calzada and other journalists took photos and wrote stories about people who lived in the area and how their lives would be impacted.
Calzada said that before a vote in Washington, D.C., on where to locate the dump site, politicians read over the El Paso Post-Herald’s report and the proposal for the nuclear waste facility was voted down.
Calzada still travels to cover the border and has done so consistently during his time at the Express-News.
He says the frequency of his assignments hasn’t changed, even with the emphasis on immigration in recent years, but the nature of coverage has.
Calzada showed a slideshow made up of photos from his assignments the last two weeks. This included a Spurs-Mavericks game, a lab that tests differences between marijuana and hemp, the play “Carrie,” a barbeque grill competition at the rodeo, Rep. Will Hurd (R-23rd) speaking to high school students and a funeral for a fallen soldier.
Calzada talked about the technique he uses in his photography. He said when he shoots sports, he often looks for emotion instead of action. He also said he tries to shoot tight with an obvious focal point.
Calzada also has a blog called “Last picture of my day” which he started in 2010, when he felt uninspired at work and was dealing with personal struggles. “This series started because I was sitting there on the bed and I pulled up my iPhone and I just began to shoot pictures thinking why do these things happen,” Calzada said. “I happened to take a picture that was fairly interesting. I don’t know how this happened, because I never planned anything, I put it up on my Facebook page and said ‘last picture of my day, No. 1.’ Maybe I was telling myself ‘life goes on.’”
He said he feels like he’s writing his autobiography with this personal project. At the time his blog started, he didn’t have children and most of his photos were of objects or scenes he found interesting.
Now most of his photos feature his two kids.
Calzada encouraged the attendees Feb. 27 to find a personal project to take on and offered some advice to young journalists:
“Keep your idealism.”