For most of my life (up to this point), I’ve lived in North Carolina.

I graduated from Asheville High School, earned my secondary teaching degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, and started working as a photographer for the Burlington, NC, Daily Times-News in the summer of 1974.

They wanted someone who didn’t know anything about newspaper photography so they could train him just the way they liked.

I filled that bill just fine.  Never shot sports.  Never used a flash.  Flunked my only Journalism course in college.

What I did have was a modest portfolio of daily life at UNC and the streets of Chapel Hill.

I’d carried my camera every day for two years, shooting street festivals, concerts, visiting politicians, portraits, and the evangelist in the Pit carrying his End of the World billboard.  Then I spent my Saturday mornings in the basement darkroom of the student union, developing the week’s pictures, learning the mysteries of Tri-X, D-76, and the Leitz Valoy enlarger. 

My competition for the Daily Times-News job had been photography school graduates who brought pictures of studio still-lifes, perfectly- aligned architectural studies, and portraits of their girlfriends.

Without knowing it, I had brought news and features.

After three years in Burlington learning to shoot high school sports, club officers, check and award  presentations, wrecks, fires, dirt track racing, tractor pulls, county fairs, stunt flyers, more politicians, athletic banquets, and colorful  old coot portraits, I moved sixty or so miles down I-40 to the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel.

I figured I’d stay in Winston-Salem for 5 years or so, then continue up the ladder to the wires or a large regional paper.

That was in 1977.

They gave me my 30-year watch in 2002.  The publisher at the time asked me if I thought I’d make it to 35 years.  Things were already looking a little shaky for the newspaper business.

The publisher was let go a couple of years ago.

I’m still here, but the company scrapped the service awards program a while back.  I don’t have much use for a grandfather clock, anyway.

Spending an entire career working for a medium-sized daily ( the afternoon Sentinel folded in 1985), has been an unparalleled opportunity to share in, and learn from, the lives and experiences of the people with whom I share the sidewalks of Winston-Salem every day.

Working for the newspaper has opened the doors for me into the lives of doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs… as well as stunt pilots, cavers, athletes, musicians, artists, shopkeepers, beekeepers, farmers, builders, teachers, bakers, lepidopterists, leaders, followers, NASCAR drivers, cops, firemen, environmentalists, fishermen, soldiers, archaeologists, historians, writers, bankers, politicians, and even fellow journalists.

I have photographed every president since Richard Nixon (with the one exception of the second Bush), either in or out of office.

I have made photographs from biplanes, a P-51 Mustang fighter, Pipers Cherokees, a military chopper, and a crane swaying 12 stories above the ground.

I have crunched through the snow with a Park Ranger wintering atop Mt. Mitchell, and crawled through fissures deep in the bowels of the Smoky Mountains near Georgia.  I have stood on the dunes of a wilderness barrier island and toasted the sunset, slept in my car waiting for the sunrise before shooting the Hugo-devastated streets of Charleston, and drifted 12 miles offshore in a rubber raft with Coast Guardsmen waiting to be “saved.” 

My career at the Journal has given me a seat at the table of the smorgasbord of life, and every day has been like a gift to be opened.  Some days turn out to be more interesting than others.  Some days have been difficult, others tedious, and others exhilarating.  But there have been very, very few about which I might have said, “Okay, I really could have done without that.”

But nearly every day was what I could make of it, and every day offered photographs to be made.  Some assignments did not turn out to be as interesting as I had hoped; others produced unexpected jewels.

My camera has been the magic portal which has brought the treasures of life to me, as well as the tool with which I processed those experiences, and fixed them into images.

The photographs I will offer on these pages will be, with very few exceptions, images I have made away from the newspaper.

Because I do not stop seeing things just because it’s not my shift.

I’m still alive.  So I still see photographs.

If you are a photographer as well, then you know what I mean.


David Rolfe

Apr. 5, 2015

Winston-Salem, NC