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Josh Williams '02, Photojournalist, Iraq and Katrina
October 20, 2006 – January 7, 2007
Kent Gallery Atrium, Feinberg Library
Iraq 1: A young Iraqi boy prepares to greet soldiers with this thumbs up, many soldiers share candy and other gifts with energetic kids. Josh Williams is a graduate of Plattsburgh State University, class of 2002, with a BA in Journalism.
He is currently a freelance photographer with the New York Post.
Button Introduction

Button IRAQ Photos

Button KATRINA Photos

Button Meeting Peter Jennings in Kuwait
   By Josh Williams

Button Journalism at Plattsburgh State
Button Photography at Plattsburgh State
Button Alumni at Plattsburgh State
Katrina 9: A woman prays while reading her bible awaiting evacuation from downtown New Orleans.
The war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, two of the most significant events in recent history, are the subject of an exhibition of photographs that will go on display Friday, Oct. 20, in Feinberg Library at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh.

The collection of 25 large-format photographs, which was shot by Josh Williams, a photojournalist and 2002 Plattsburgh graduate, includes 15 from his Iraq War series and 10 from his Hurricane Katrina series.

Williams will be on campus for the opening of the exhibit and will give a public lecture, ”Light Chaser,” at 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 20, in the Alumni Conference Room, Angell College Center, in conjunction with Homecoming 2006 at SUNY Plattsburgh. The collection of these photos, which is located near the entrance to the Rockwell Kent Collection in Feinberg Library, will be on display from Friday, Oct. 20, through Jan. 7, 2007. Everyone is welcome to attend the lecture and exhibit.

Based in New York City, Williams is a freelance photographer and travels around the world. His latest assignment took him to South America: first to Venezuela to cover the president, Hugo Chavez, then on to Brazil to track down the pilot who crashed his charter plane into a commercial airliner killing 155 people two weeks ago.

Since graduation, Williams’ photos have appeared in magazines and newspapers throughout the world. He served as an embedded journalist in Iraq and is currently under freelance contact with the New York Post.

“My embed experience in Iraq, without a doubt, has been my greatest work as a journalist and a photographer,” said Williams. “To be able to produce stories and photograph events in the environment of combat took more focus and dedication than I ever fathomed. Walking the streets of Baghdad on Iraqi Election Day still gives me goose bumps when I think about it. I interviewed the mayor of Baghdad while I was there. His security had AK-47s pointed in my face the whole time.”

Williams gained practical experience while at SUNY Plattsburgh by serving as photo editor of the student newspaper, Cardinal Points, a photo intern at the Press-Republican, writing intern for the Lake Champlain Weekly and a photo intern at El Mercurio in Chile.

“At Plattsburgh, we would work through the night on Cardinal Points and go straight to class without sleep so we could make the deadline. It was that mentality that guided me through Iraq,” said Williams. “The ability to multitask and work under high amounts of stress is a survival tool in the New York tabloid business. As a photojournalist, not many enter the job market with a degree or background in journalism - this sets me apart from others in an incredibly competitive market.”

Shawn Murphy, associate professor of journalism at SUNY Plattsburgh, remembers Williams. Murphy said that the knowledge and experience Williams gained at SUNY Plattsburgh was an excellent foundation for a career as a photojournalist.

“He is passionate about what he does,” said Murphy. “When a major news story is breaking news, he is immediately and automatically thinking about how best to tell the stories of people adversely affected by man-made and natural disasters in the world with his images and words - and this he does.

“Josh has a photojournalist’s keen eye and is able to see both the small details and the big picture in the scenes he shoots. Too many photographers look for one or the other, but seldom both.”

Williams said that if an individual is to be successful in the photojournalism business, one has to be hard working and passionate. “At the New York Post, the ability to nail a story on a daily basis is my greatest accomplishment. In this business, you are only as good as your last job. The fact that I am working for one of the nation's top 10 newspapers is incredible.”

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Meeting Peter Jennings in Kuwait
By Josh Williams

The biggest logistic snag was transportation from the Kuwait International Airport to the Military airbase where I would board a C-130 and land in Baghdad. This was my first piece of work as a journalist from a combat zone; in addition three days prior to my arrival in Kuwait there was an assassination attempt on five Westerners outside of their hotel. I was making this trip on pure gut instinct — I was going as freelancer and obtained an embed based on contacts in a Civil Affairs unit and my own military background. As a freelancer I had zero logistical support and for this to be successful I would need a couple of breaks, and to my surprise the first one came minutes after landing on Arab soil in Kuwait.

While awaiting the collector's stamp in my passport an extremely familiar voice sounded in the background: "Last time I was here I used my Canadian passport, this time I am going to use my new American one," said the voice. I knew who it was before I turned to look at the face, it was the late ABC anchorman Peter Jennings.

Jennings was traveling with a crew of approximately 10 others that were part of the ABC team, a conglomerate of those based in different parts of the world. One of those was the cameraman from ABC that was recently injured, Doug Vogt, along with Bob Woodruff. As I proceeded to the baggage claim area, I figured if I drummed up the courage to chat up with Mr. Jennings I might be able to hit him up for a ride to the military airbase. I introduced myself as a freelance photojournalist that works mainly for the New York Post. He told me that he was a bit surprised to see The Post covering a story like this. I continued on and explained to him that I had a hunch about this being a big story and was on my own on this one.

After making minimal small talk I knew I did not have much time so I got to the point: "I have pretty much mapped out the whole trip except for one major snag, I was unable to arrange a ride from this airport to the military airbase, if you are headed that way is there any chance I can piggyback with your crew?" I asked.

He told me that was fine but first they were going to their hotel for a shower and a bite to eat I was welcome to come join them. Everyone had their luggage except for a "Nightline" reporter who was missing a bag that contained his flak jacket and their Kuwait contact was awaiting them in a black SUV with tinted out windows. We loaded up the vehicle and started off for the hotel. "I was last here during the first gulf war, the place was pretty gutted out. The space needle to your left is the iconic tourist attraction of Kuwait City," said Jennings. He continued by asking me about my family and told him I actually grew up on a farm south of Rochester, New York where we sold John Deere tractors. "They (John Deere) are too expensive for me," Jennings quipped. He continued, "Go figure who would imagine we would be here in Kuwait and talking about tractors?"

Not bad I thought to myself I am getting my own personal tour of Kuwait by Peter Jennings, I might make it through this trip alive, it was an omen of the good fortune soon to come for this assignment. We arrived at the hotel and I jumped out of the vehicle to grab my gear. The door popped open and as I turned around with my bags in hand I almost kicked the bellman over, everyone from the crew was sort of standing there looking at me like; OK so the young guy hasn't had his bags carried before. Everyone was checking in and I was sitting on a fancy couch in the lobby of the almost completely gold-plated hotel and Mr. Jennings asked if I needed anything else and even offered a phone to use so I could call my wife and let her know I was OK. Mr. Jennings then gave me a room key and said that he would meet me downstairs for a bite to eat before we went to the airport.

On the phone with my wife I calmly explained to her I was safe and going to have lunch with Peter Jennings before we left for Baghdad, she said "OK" — unsurprised at this point that anything that comes out of my mouth.

After freshening up in the room, I returned downstairs and sat at a dining table where a very fancy buffet-style lunch was set up. Arab men in traditional garb wandered in with numerous women following. Mr. Jennings came down shortly after I sat down and said, "You had better eat up. It's probably that last good meal for a while." He asked me about the life of a freelancer and compared the differences to being a staffer, which he had been since he was 17. We discussed the New York City tabloid wars and other things including the recent interview he did with former President Clinton. "He really surprised me when he lost his cool, I never expected that," said Jennings, referring to his heated exchange in regards to how the media covered the Clinton's possible impeachment.

We finished up our meal chatting away like we had on numerous occasions and I realized that this is what made him so great as a journalist. I was a nobody freelancer sitting comfortably in Kuwait about to go cover war and I felt so at ease. At that point I had a gut feeling that this was soon to be the greatest professional experience of my life, and it clearly was.

After we arrived at the military airbase, his crew took naps and checked their gear while Mr. Jennings mingled with soldiers of all ranks. He took a break from talking to the soldiers inside a makeshift bunker while making some notes on a legal yellow pad. I knew that I would have to take one to document this experience, but I didn't want to press the situation so after our spiral landing in Baghdad I decided I would take a couple frames of him.

I had my camera out and snapped three frames of Mr. Jennings walking away from the C-130 while he carried his flak jacket in hand. He said something to me when he saw me snapping the frames, but I could not hear him due to the noise of the plane. Two generals quickly whisked him and his crew away, and I was off to a pay phone to find the unit I was going to be embedded with.

It was shortly after I returned from Iraq that it was announced that Mr. Jennings had lung cancer. To say the least I will be forever grateful for his generosity, but more importantly watching him work taught me more about working with humility, something that the modern-day journalist seems to overlook.

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