(Editor’s note: This post was updated at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, April 26.)
Dramatic changes in Louisville’s print industry continue with the ouster of a prize-winning photojournalist.
In a brief interview, Nation confirmed he has left Louisville magazine. He declined to comment in detail, asking to postpone an interview to a later date, and we agreed.
Nation’s career and work have been inextricably linked with Louisville Magazine for decades, with Nation a perennial winner of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Best Regional Magazine Photographer.
Nation’s departure represents a change in editorial philosophy at Louisville Magazine, said Publisher Dan Crutcher.
“Officially, what we did was eliminate the position of staff photographer,” Crutcher said. The goal is to use a variety of freelance photographers to add a variety of styles, he said.
Louisville Magazine has a relatively new editor and new art director, Crutcher said, “so we are undergoing changes and moving in new directions. Part of that change is, we want to use a variety of (photo talent) for new looks … something fresh.”
Asked if Nation would be considered for freelance work, Crutcher said, “Absolutely. If John is willing to do it.”
Bruce Allar, who was Louisville Magazine editor from 2000 to early 2011, describes Nation as a perfectionist, and as an artist.
“What most stands out to me is John’s tremendous abilities with natural light,” said Allar, who is vice president of meetings and conferences for Louisville-based International Pizza Expo. The company also publishes Pizza Today magazine, a national industry publication.
“He’d gear our schedule to the light, starting at the crack of dawn, going to the last five or 10 minutes before dusk so he could capture those incredible gold and reddish tones,” he said.
Nation has an art degree from the University of Louisville, where he was an accomplished swimmer and is in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
With formal training as an artist, Nation approaches shots analytically, breaking down and arranging all the graphic elements he saw through the viewfinder, Allar said: ”Composition is paramount for him.”
Nation has multiple strengths including nature shots, sports and especially portrature, Allar said. “His ability there goes beyond the technical. He has the ability to put subjects at ease.”
Allar said after he left Louisville magazine, he severed most of his ties: “I don’t know what’s going on there … I’ve not kept up.”
Nation’s departure from Louisville Magazine comes about one week after 26 veteran employees left the Courier-Journal, taking early retirement packages from CJ parent company Gannett Co. Inc. Gannett has had three rounds of staff cuts since 2008, when print advertising revenue began to decline sharply.
Asked if the magazine industry has been hit as hard as the newspaper business, Allar said, “It’s safe to say the print media is in a holding pattern or shrinking everywhere, and Louisville is no exception.”
But Crutcher said abolishing the staff photographer position has nothing to do with Gannett-style budget cutting:
“This was not a financial move. It has nothing to do with cost. If anything, I think it will end up costing us a much to use freelancers as it did to pay a staff photographer.”
Nation is well liked by his former colleagues, and outside journalists who’ve worked with him hold him in high regard.
According to one insider, who has worked with Nation in the past, “John is the kind of photographer who is gifted at putting his subjects at ease. Lots of photographers are fantastic shooters, but they have no ability to make their human subjects smile sincerely,” the source said. “He always understood how not to interrupt an interview with the camera; too many shooters get in the way and break the source’s train of thought or mood.
“He’s a great partner on assignment.”