Through the Lens

Written by: 
Randena Hulstrand
Photography by: 
Joshua Roberts

From the nation’s capital to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, multi-award winning photojournalist Chip Somodevilla ('95) captures history through his images.

Chip Somodevilla (’95) has an eye for storytelling. Armed with a digital camera and an innate sense of timing, the Getty Images staff photojournalist based in Washington, D.C., captures poignant moments that record history. Somodevilla, who discovered journalism was his calling at UNT, was named the 2010 White House News Photographers Association Photographer of the Year for his work covering President Barack Obama, Washington insiders and Capitol Hill.

“I take my job seriously,” Somodevilla says. “I believe photojournalists working in Washington have to be watchdogs, just as aggressive and independent as we would in Bangladesh, Pakistan or Port-au-Prince, because as part of the press corps, we’re upholding the Fourth Estate.”

Getting started

Originally from Dallas, Somodevilla says he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study when he first arrived at UNT, until he and a friend signed up for the photojournalism sequence in the journalism program on a whim and he met Richard Wells, professor of journalism and then-chair of the department.

“Dr. Wells said, ‘Where in the hell are your cameras? If you’re going to be a photographer, then you must live and eat with your camera.’ And that’s when I thought, ‘I kind of like this,’” he remembers. “That’s when I knew.”

He says being part of the Classic Learning Core at UNT helped give him a valuable, well-rounded education.

“The blending of history, political science, literature, art, philosophy, psychology and language into a core curriculum — on top of learning the foundations of good journalism — prepared me to be a good student of the world, reminding me to always ask questions,” he says.

And he credits UNT’s proximity to major newspapers with giving him practical experience.

“UNT was near the Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Denton Record-Chronicle,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to be in a great environment where I learned firsthand about newspapers and was able to freelance.”

Changing industry

Somodevilla says that even though journalism as in industry is changing so rapidly with the onset of technology and multimedia, he is hopeful there will always be a need for story tellers.

“It’s terrifying to see the industry change, not because I fear for my job or for journalism, but for people to stay informed with what is going on in Haiti or Washington, for example,” he says, adding that newspapers have traditionally served as an institution of learning for new journalists.

“I got to work at the same newspapers as Molly Ivins, Heath Meriwether, Mitch Albom  — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists — where I not only learned about photography, but journalism. Photojournalists need to be journalists first, and then photographers,” he says.

But the upgrades in technology, he admits, are allowing him to do his work quicker and more efficiently, especially out in the field. On his recent trip to Haiti, he was shooting and filing photos two to three times a day, as many as 100 pictures.

“We can immediately tell what an image looks like using the screen on the back of our cameras,” he says. “This allows us to take bigger risks and expand our artistic and storytelling skills.”

Making a difference

Somodevilla has worked for Getty Images since 2006, covering Washington political highlights such as the 2008 presidential election, but also the terror war of the Lord’s Resistance Army against the people of northern Uganda, immigration issues along the U.S.-Mexico border, and a long-term project with the Detroit Free Press about the high prevalence of lead poisoning among children in Detroit. He also covers space launches several times a year and spent several weeks in Port-au Prince in the aftermath of the earthquake ― work he says he’s most proud of.

“Haiti is a catastrophe of biblical proportions,” he says. “I’m hoping that the images I’m making can help people around the world understand how much need there is here for food, water, shelter and governmental capacity building.”

After graduating from UNT, Somodevilla worked for the Fort Wayne News- Sentinel, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Detroit Free Press before moving to the nation’s capital in 2004. Among other awards he has received included being twice named Michigan Press Photographer of the Year and he was awarded the Political Photo of the Year by the White House News Photographers Association in 2007.

His work also has been honored by the University of Missouri’s Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism competitions. Somodevilla’s photography has been published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and many other publications. He lives in Takoma Park, Md., with his wife, Gina Lambright, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, and his 3-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son.

Somodevilla says he was extremely humbled and surprised to win the White House News Photographers Association Photographer of the Year award.

“To have my work recognized by such a wonderful group of judges and to be congratulated by my peers is the greatest honor I could receive,” he says.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself because I get to take pictures for a living.”