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The Darkroom

Baltimore Sun photographer celebrates 30 years

Algerina Perna
The Baltimore Sun

Thirty years have passed in a flash since I first stepped through the revolving doors of the darkroom as a Baltimore Sun news photographer. Eight publishers later, I’m still here. As one might expect, many changes have taken place over three decades. From the desktop to the laptop, computers revolutionized the way the world communicates. Newspapers shifted gears from paper to digital. Still cameras incorporated video. Computer chips replaced negative film. Thirty years ago, my equipment consisted of two film cameras, four lenses and a flash. Today’s multitasking photojournalists juggle between photo, video and cell phone cameras not only looking for the quintessential photo, but simultaneously keeping an ear open for the perfect sound byte for video. Today, news is delivered much faster and through many mediums. The most rewarding aspect of being a photojournalist is learning about fascinating people, places and events, and sharing that knowledge in a creative way that gets to the heart of the subject.

Over the years, I’ve covered many memorable situations. In Azerbaijan, I photographed refugees displaced by war. In Moscow, I photographed the leader of the Eastern Orthodox religion. And in Rome, I covered the elevation of Baltimore’s Archbishop Keeler to Cardinal. Covering President Barack Obama’s Inauguration in 2008 was one of the most awe-inspiring events I ever witnessed or photographed. During a lengthy career, one is bound to encounter unusual circumstances. At the time of the riots in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in 2015, fear took a back seat while covering the upheaval, standing inches between police and protestors during one of several face-offs.

In 2004, I stood on a bridge overpass as it rained with my hood pulled tight over my head. I pointed my long lens toward the highway below waiting for a Harley Davidson motorcade to pass by on their way to deliver toys to children at Kennedy Krieger. When I happened to turn around, three police officers were approaching. The wind on the bridge and traffic below muted their shouts. They motioned for me to put my hands in the air. They had mistaken me as a sniper. The situation was sorted out with a phone call and a careful examination of my press pass.

Great satisfaction comes from “making art,” a phrase often used by renowned Sun photographer Jed Kirschbaum, now retired, to describe an artful photograph that surpasses the who, what, when, where and whys of a situation. Kirschbaum would often ask members of our close-knit staff, “Did you make art today?” The days that I can answer, “Yes,” are the most satisfying.

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