After my interview with Chuck Kimmerle, he suggested I reach out to Saed Hindash as someone to interview for my series. When I looked at Saed’s website I saw that he was raised in Seattle (I lived there for 12 years), he loves coffee (Hello! Seattle!), and now he lives in Central New Jersey (Holy Cow! We’re practically neighbors!). How could I NOT call him?
He is also a photojournalist, which I think is one of the coolest jobs in the world.
When Saed was sixteen, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. (How does that happen?!) The advisor for his high school newspaper needed someone to take a photo for a story— and since Saed was one of the advanced students in Photography 101, he was the one picked for the assignment.
After seeing his picture and his by-line in print, that was it. He spent the time necessary to research the right classes to take and the right schools to attend. His future as a photojournalist was sealed.
Saed has come a long way since he received his AA degree at Everett Community College. He went on to complete his Bachelor of Arts at Evergreen State College, and then worked his way up at newspapers in both Pittsburgh and Cincinatti. Today, he continues to hone his craft in New Jersey.
Journalism, as I know it anyway, is going through a dramatic change. Until recently, Saed was a photojournalist with The Star Ledger, New Jersey’s largest-circulating newspaper. He now works for a company called NJ Advance Media—an interesting and innovative move, since NJ Advance Media now supplies content for The Star Ledger in Newark, as well as other leading New Jersey news outlets.
Throughout our conversation, we couldn’t help but discuss the current state of the newspaper business, and the state of news and media in general—as well as the impact it’s all had on photographers and journalism, as a whole. It’s a long and complex conversation that deserves a better forum than this post can provide. But as the infamous fortune cookie says, “May you live in interesting times.”
What is your first memory of photography?
I was probably six or seven, and I took a picture of my father. It was in New Mexico where we originally lived. I remember picking up a camera and making a picture of him at some sort of monument or something like that.
I have vague memories of using a Polaroid camera. But the stronger memory was picking up a camera my freshman year of high school to take pictures.
Photography is a means of communication. What do you feel you are trying
to communicate, and to whom?
As a photojournalist, I try to tell a story. I try to make pictures that explain, that tell what is happening—whether it’s good or bad. Of course, if I can make people change because I have made a picture that really caused them to think twice about something—or even just “WOW” them—then I feel like I am succeeding. There are also a lot of ethics that come with photojournalism. You have to be truthful. You can’t be deceptive.
On your website you have an image of dead cows strewn about a highway. What are the ethics involved in something like that? How do you choose what to shoot when it’s possibly a graphic or disturbing scene?
First and foremost, you want to try and make pictures that tell what is happening. Each situation is different.
For any type of spot news, you want to shoot it as quickly as possible—before you make any eye contact or establish any communication with the police. Before you know it, they are going to say, “You can’t be here. You need to step away.” If that happens too soon, you don’t get anything. And that’s where you have failed at trying to document that tragedy, or whatever is happening.
With the cows, that was on the turnpike in Pennsylvania. The road was shut down, but I knew from the police scanner what was happening. I went ahead and climbed a fence and walked onto the turnpike. I had to see the scene. I had to take pictures. Again, you shoot everything possible—even if it’s gruesome; because you can decide later what you are willing to show.
You shouldn’t edit as you shoot. No matter how horrific it is. And when you do sit down and edit, that is where the sensitivity comes in. That’s when you tell the story without over-stepping your bounds.
The newspapers have rules for what they will show and what they won’t show. Sometimes they push the envelope, depending on the situation. Decisions are not made just by me; they are made by editors, as well. Multiple hands are involved in those decisions.
Is there any one subject that you shoot that gets you into the zone more than others?
When I was doing photo illustrations, I found myself getting really involved—so much so that I lost track of time. They are very difficult to set up. I would tend to lose track of time because I was so focused. Unfortunately, I have not done them in a long time because the newspaper has shied away from those types of images.
I also love shooting hockey. It’s my favorite sport to shoot. It’s not that I get into a zone, but there is a lot of anticipation about what is about to happen. I sit down in front of the glass and poke my lens through, and I start to take pictures as the game is unfolding. It tends to happen a bit when I am engrossed in the game. But with everything else, I have to be very aware of what is going on, so I tend not to get consumed with the situation.
How do you prepare yourself for an assignment?
I will often get an assignment before I go to bed, so I know what I am going to be doing the next day. I start to plot out what I might encounter and what I might shoot. But then, things happen—like a robbery, a fire, or maybe a standoff. Then all of a sudden, I am thrown for a loop. Now, I have to go cover this when I’ve already had my mind set on that. And that can sometimes be hard.
When I get that call that says this event is unfolding, the adrenaline kicks in. I try to get to these scenes as quickly as possible. I don’t do anything crazy, where I’m breaking any laws or going to get myself killed—but my goal is to try to get there as fast as possible. Because the sooner I get there, the better pictures I’ll make.
Every situation is different. There is no rule of thumb. Because sometimes you go in planning to do X, Y, and Z but A, B, C happens instead. You get there and you can’t get anywhere near the scene because they have closed the road off.
One of the biggest things about being a photojournalist is that we are somewhat like first responders. We arrive, not as quickly as the police and fire, but sometimes you do! Sometimes you arrive on the scene fairly quickly, and now you are there dealing with the situation as they are dealing with it.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have to make a choice if you are a “human being” or a “photographer” first?
I have never encountered it. But from a personal perspective—if I were in a position where I am the first one there, I would definitely do my best to help.
There was once a car accident that happened on the New Jersey Turnpike. I don’t remember the year. It just happened seconds before I was driving by. There was still dust in the air, and a car was on its side, and there was a guy in the middle of the road. I saw a car pull over and stop, and I pulled over further up and grabbed my gear.
The guy who stopped was kneeling down and assisting this guy in the middle of the road. When I approached, the first thing I said was, “everything ok?” And he said, “Yes. I just called the cops.” And within a few minutes, the cops showed up, and I stood back and let them do their thing. That’s when I started taking pictures.
Again, if I were in that type of position I would stop to help first. Then, as the first responders arrived, I would step back and document their work.
As a photojournalist, do you have to get permission from anyone to take his or her picture?
No. As long as they are on a public street and in public view, they are fair game to be photographed—no matter what the situation is. There are a lot of things that go around about privacy and whatnot, and the general rule of thumb is as long as the subject is in a public area and can be seen publicly, it’s fair game.
How do you keep it fresh?
If you are doing the same thing every day, it can get a bit tedious. But that doesn’t happen often.
I spent a year with eight- to ten-year-old competition cheerleaders for a project. I went to their practices and I traveled to their competitions. I became sort of like a fly on the wall after a while. In order to keep it fresh and interesting, I forced myself to use different equipment—and that would inspire me. Since it was a long-term project, I could play.
That’s where it opens up a flood of opportunity, because it’s not going to make or break the assignment. You might come up with a great picture, or they all might be flops. But from that standpoint, I find equipment helps jazz me up because this is going to be fun and I’m going to try this. And I don’t know what I’m going to get. I don’t know if it’s going to work, but it’s going to be exciting. That tends to keep me motivated.
So you have long-term assignments, short-term assignments, and on the spot work—it’s all over the board.
That’s the thing. It’s about what’s going to happen that day. Again, you have stories that you want to profile—whether it’s an event like professional baseball or football, or whatever. You know that’s going to happen, so you go and cover it.
But it’s all of those unexpected things that happen that throw a wrench into your day—whether it’s a hostage-taking, a standoff, or an explosion. You don’t know when they are going to happen. You have to be ready.
Everywhere I go I have my equipment in my car. My equipment is loaded and ready to go at any given moment. I am not one of those people that carry a camera on me one hundred percent of the time. I like some downtime. But during my workweek, even when I’m not working, my gear is loaded up and ready to go.
Do you do any photography for fun?
I don’t have as much time as I used to. I used to do Polaroid transfers with help from Chuck Kimmerle.
Chuck was my first boss in Pittsburgh. During that time, he got me into experimenting and trying new things. He helped me along. I don’t get to do Polaroid transfers much anymore because they no longer make the film. I have about eight boxes frozen in my freezer as back up. I’ll take some out every once in awhile and play a little.
In recent years, I have been getting into doing black and white landscapes—also inspired by Chuck. After fifteen years of not seeing each other, Chuck and I recently spent twenty-four hours doing hard-core black and white landscape photography in Yellowstone. I got a taste of working with him, which is something I have always enjoyed and appreciated. Those are my areas of playing. I don’t do it as much as I would like to.
What do you do on those days where you just don’t have it? Especially on a paid assignment?
I have my fair share of days that I just didn’t shoot well. It’s not that I didn’t see it. For example, when shooting sports, it is all about anticipation and reaction. Maybe I was a bit off my reaction time. I didn’t anticipate something happening, so I didn’t get the exact moment. That’s going to happen. We’re human. We’re going to miss things. And I’ll have another shot at it the next game.
And then for a spot news event, you are at the mercy of your access. The more access you have, the better the pictures—whether it’s a fire, an accident, or a shooting. Whatever spot news is developing in front of you; if you have access, you’re golden. And it’s going to be like a shooting gallery. No matter where you shoot from, you are going to make phenomenal pictures. If you have no access, it’s not that you weren’t being a good photographer that day. You just couldn’t get in.
Some people are really good at sweet-talking cops. I’ll be honest. I’m not. I will ask and pressure a bit, but I’m not the one that will fight them verbally.
There are guys that will either break laws or really have charisma, and are able to sweet-talk cops to gain a closer vantage point. I haven’t been so lucky. And I think it comes down to personality, and that’s just not me. I don’t think it has anything to do with being a good photographer. It’s just being that individual. Sure, that person probably capitalized on it and made good pictures. It just depends.
You are seeing it now more than ever in the digital age, where people have camera phones. The average Joe on the street is driving, and the scene happens right in front of them. Like the police brutality issues happening. Things are being documented, not by photographers, but by the public. It’s about being an eyewitness. If you had a professional photographer being the eyewitness, the pictures would be much better. So the thing is—it’s all about being in the right place at the right time, and being ready to document.
What do you find is your biggest challenge as a photographer?
It’s hard as a newspaper photographer because you have to be good at everything. You have photographers who are really good at portraiture and weddings and this and that. But as a newspaper photographer, you have to spread yourself thin and be proficient at everything.
You are thrown into a different situation every day, and you have to be able to make the best of that situation. Every day you are challenged to make a great picture that tells the story of that assignment. The challenge is making a great picture that I feel proud of.
There are times when I get extremely nervous, even though I have been doing this for so long. I want to be able to be the best. That’s the hardest part. Making the best picture that day. But that’s all I can worry about is that day.
What do you find is the biggest challenge facing professional photographers today?
That’s a sensitive subject. I think it’s being respected—more so than ever, with the advancement of technologies. I think as photographers, we have lost respect. The quality of photography is being pushed aside. If you recall, the Chicago Sun Times released their photo staff. Then, they gave their reporters iPhones for smaller assignments, and hired freelance photographers for their larger assignments. It just shows you right there how much they value their photography.
Before, your picture would run big in the paper, and so you needed to have the quality of the image and the impact of the image. Now, everything is about the size of a 4x6 picture online. You can take a crappy picture and the quality won’t be much of an issue. That is what is being accepted.
I think the single-handed issue that professional photographers face across the board— whether it’s photojournalists or wedding photographers or portrait photographers—is the lack of respect that we are getting across the industry. Everyone can take a picture now. We, as trained photographers, are being pushed aside because “we don’t need them anymore.” And the respect is being thrown away.
Who inspires you? Who or what is your muse?
I’m not glued to looking at other people’s work. The reason why is I am my own photographer. I am who I am. And I don’t want to shoot like other people. I can respect other people’s work, but I don’t see anyone that single-handedly inspires me.
I would point out a few people that I respect highly because they saw something in me they felt was important.
My professor in college, John Lindstrom. He was a former newspaper photographer who became a teacher and taught photojournalism. I had a lot of respect for him because he drove me and instilled a lot of the ethical values that I still have.
Another person is Chuck Kimmerle and his landscape work. I’ve always told him that he is the modern day Ansel Adams. That, alone, is inspirational. He was my first editor and my first boss. I respect his work and his drive. He once asked me, “Do you really want to go to a big city newspaper, as opposed to staying in a small town?” And I said, “Yeah. I want to be able to shoot sports and be able to travel and do this and that…” And he said, “Then go for what you want.” I have a lot of respect for that. So those types of people inspire me because their philosophy keeps ringing in my head.
There is also Bruce Bennet. He’s the Director of Photography, Hockey Imagery at Getty Images, and photographs one hundred percent of the hockey for Getty. He is very inspiring. He’s been shooting hockey for decades and inspires me to want to be the best I can be. He has a lot of vision and talent that I still can’t seem to grasp.
If you could give the young you some advice what would it be?
I don’t think you can publish it. [laughter] “Run! Go the other way!” [more laughter]
It’s very sad. The industry has changed so much. And it’s for the worse, in my opinion. We are in a place of reinventing ourselves, and unfortunately a lot of the practices follow the Buzzfeed approach to journalism—with all the sensationalism and the quirkiness. I don’t like that. I’m old school.
My advice is: be willing to experiment and use everything possible. Our phones. Our GoPros. Our video cameras. Our still cameras. Experiment. The more we experiment, the more we get comfortable and accustomed to the equipment. It opens up a huge avenue for how we can document.
I shoot hockey, and I do remote cameras when I shoot. I put them in the rafters in arenas, where they hang down over the ice to get a different vantage point. I put cameras behind goals. I put cameras in quirky little places just to get a different vantage point that the public doesn’t get to see. That drives me. I always try to challenge myself to try something different. And I think the more we limit ourselves, and the more we don’t push ourselves, is the biggest challenge we face.
This has been stuck in my head for a while. “The more we think we know about/The greater the unknown.” I’m never overly confident that I know everything, because there is so much out there and I have no clue. So, again, what advice? I think it’s about experimentation and taking chances.
10. Color or Black and White? – Color
9. Film or Digital? – Digital
8. Traditional Darkroom or Digital Darkroom? – Digital darkroom
7. Objects or People? – People
6. Urban Jungle or Pretty Landscapes? – Pretty landscapes
5. Weddings or Root Canal? – Weddings
4. Kitted out with Heavy Long Lens or Point and Shoot? – Bag of arsenal
3. Commercial or Fine Art? – Fine art
2. Tell me about the one that got away. – Happens every day.
1. Tell me about the one you are still chasing. – I haven’t seen it yet.
The Parting Shot
“It’s not just about the single image anymore. It’s not about that decisive moment. It’s about multiple moments that tell a story.”