This feature is part of an occasional series showcasing alumni of the Chips Quinn Scholars Program. The features were prepared by Chipsters in the 2019 class, who were asked to interview an alum of their choosing. The following piece has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Q&A: Vernon Bryant
by Irena Fischer-Hwang
Vernon Bryant is a senior visual journalist at The Dallas Morning News. As a Chips Quinn Scholar in 1999, he worked as a photo editor intern at USA TODAY. Bryant graduated from the University of North Texas in 2000 with a bachelor of arts in photojournalism and a minor in art photography. He was a photo intern that fall at The Dallas Morning News, after which he became a full-time staff member. I was an intern last summer at the paper, and Bryant and I worked together on a story about a legendary Texas golfer.
I talked to Bryant about how he got into photojournalism and what motivates his work.
Q: How did you get into photojournalism?
A: I did that by accident. My mother was in education. My senior year (in high school), I wanted to take two classes off, because if you have enough credits, you can stop. But she’s like, ‘No, you’re not gonna do that, you’re going to take some electives.’ So I ended up taking photography as an easy A, and I ended up liking it. By the second semester, I was in the yearbook, in the newspaper. Then I went to college, expecting to do psychology, but changed after my freshman year to photography.
How do you approach stories as a visual journalist?
I’m just trying to tell the truth of what a story is. Get to the heart of it, and try to get that scene in a visual way. That changes for each story. Trying to get to the heart of a subject or a story is literally the hardest part of it because you have to get that person to trust you. Sometimes it’s more blatant and easy, where you have stuff in your background (frame) that can help your picture in the foreground, (and together they tell) the story. But for the most part, it’s getting people to trust you so that you can tell their story.
You’ve been in the business for over 20 years. Is there anything that hasn’t gotten old?
I still enjoy going to high school football games, because it’s almost the purest form of sports that I get to see. Do I shoot professional sports? Yes, but there’s a lot more money involved, (your image and looks) get involved. But high school? Those kids just love playing the game! And it’s fun to watch, fun…getting to see different people and actually getting into their lives and into their feelings. That’s always been a fun part for me, to be able to share those stories, because everybody’s different. It’s good to tell those stories: why they’re different, how they’re different and what makes them so special.
As a journalist, you are interviewing your sources, but do you feel like sometimes working with them helps you reflect on yourself?
Definitely. There’s a piece of almost every story I’ve done long-term that’s part of me now. I think I should distance myself from (the story), but it’s all right.
Irena Fischer-Hwang (2019) is a graduate student in Stanford University’s journalism program.