© Jim Lo Scalzo/U.S. News & World Report
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Or, how a travel-addicted photojournalist learned to stop moving and love the calm.
Many a photojournalism student has lain awake at night dreaming of a career like Jim Lo Scalzo's. A staff photographer with U.S. News & World Report, Lo Scalzo has made photos in countless countries, many of which he revisits in his recent book, Evidence of My Existence (Ohio University Press, $15). Lo Scalzo earned a B.A. in creative writing from Baltimore's Loyola College before getting his master's in photojournalism from the University of Missouri, but his fascination with travel is the root from which all other passions stem. As a child, he writes, he concocted his own "photo safaris" to photograph nearby areas of interest.
"While they didn't result in any pictures I can remember," he recalls, "they did deepen my certitude that the twin pillars of my early well-being -- my wanderlust and my picture-making -- shared a single existential tenet: place means everything. In order to reveal what matters in the world, you have to put yourself square in front of it. Photography is about being there, as the saying goes."
It didn't take long, however, for Lo Scalzo to realize that his passion had a dark side. "Travel was a compulsive craving. An addiction. Heroin," he writes. And that addiction frequently wreaked havoc on his personal life, especially his relationship with his wife, Deirdre Shesgreen. After a rocky patch in college, they both learned to live with life on the road -- Shesgreen is the Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- but as both pursued their careers, a note of melancholy lingered in the space between them.
"Even proposing to Deirdre was a travel opportunity, one driven by love, I assured her, because with so many places yet to see, how silly to propose in Washington," writes Lo Scalzo. "So off to Ko Samui, to the porch of a teak beach house, the moon glittering off the Gulf of Siam, the whole of our journey still before us. And after she accepted and we ventured farther south, down the lush and sultry tail of Thailand, the limestone cliffs, the long-tail boats, the emerald lagoons, I flew off to India, to Kashmir, another assignment. She flew home alone."
For Lo Scalzo, the career he was building was nothing less than his childhood dream come true. He photographed Antarctic islands for one job, then found himself skirting land mine fields on the way to Baghdad for another. But that dream job was often a nightmare for his marriage. And when the question of having a child came up, Lo Scalzo found himself questioning his perpetual motion.
"I felt like I'd gotten it all wrong," he writes, "my raison d'etre, and now it was too late to turn it around. I felt like I'd spent all the years of my youth gathering speed, moving faster and faster, and now that I had achieved the desired orbit and was hurtling through time and space, there was no way to slow down, nothing to grab onto, no inertia. A body in motion stays in motion, says Newton's first law, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. An unbalanced force. I wasn't sure what Newton meant by that, but knew in my case it meant having a child."
When Lo Scalzo's son was born in 2004 the photographer finally figured out how to stop moving. It started when he made the difficult decision to stay in Washington, D.C., for Lamaze classes instead of taking a dream assignment in Libya. And by the time an editor called to ask the new father to cover John Kerry's presidential campaign, Lo Scalzo had no trouble turning it down. "It was so easy to say no -- not a guilty concession but what I truly wanted," he writes. "On those days that I couldn't get out of it, had to fill in for just a few days and zip up to Ohio or down to Florida and join the press bubble, I felt as if I had nothing to offer. I couldn't make a picture to save myself because of how silly this effort was. This stress. Seventeen years of it. Not time wasted but time overplayed, trying to inflate a finite ability through sheer force of will. To be comfortable with one's limitations, for me the toughest challenge as a photojournalist, suddenly came naturally. So I wasn't a player in the pantheon of shooters. Who cared? In the field of fatherhood, to one little boy at least, I had a chance to become a legend."
Excerpts courtesy Ohio University Press/Swallow Press and Evidence of My Existence, James Lo Scalzo