When Smiley Pool began his career in news photography, journalists were being laid off everywhere you looked, newspapers were folding left and right, and disruptive technology was radically changing the face of photojournalism.
It was the 1980’s. Many two-newspaper towns in America had become, or would soon become, one-newspaper towns. Four-color printing on newsprint was still a novelty and cellular telephones were a new-fangled gadget only the rich could afford. One of the most important decisions a photographer had to make on assignment wasn’t, “should I shoot stills or video,” it was “should I shoot color or black and white?”
Since then, he has witnessed his fair share of history. Some of it will be in the history books, but he’s found the family scrapbook variety more rewarding.
He’s garnered his fair share of awards - most notably for contributing the aerial photography in The Dallas Morning News’ coverage of Hurricane Katrina that won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography. At a recent Texas APME awards dinner he was teased about not being able to remember how many times he had been recognized as Star Photojournalist of the Year. Turns out it was five (now six) times. If you care about awards, there is a list of all his POYi, Best of Photojournalism, NPPA-type awards on his website.
Smiley admits he “pretty much fell into a career” as a news photographer (he was hired at the Austin American Statesman after his internship following his freshman year of college). He attributes this to being able to follow-focus a telephoto lens, which was a marketable skill back in the early 1980’s. Thankfully, for him, his skill set evolved a bit before clever Japanese engineers rendered manual focus an obsolete skill.
He guesses he’s covered, at least 1,000 football games, probably way more, even double that. Despite so much time on the sidelines, he doesn’t pull for any particular team. “I’m rooting for whichever team I have better photos of that day.”
Now a card-carrying AARP member who requires reading glasses simply to make out the setting on his cameras, all those ball games have become a bit of a blur. What has left an indelible impression are the 10 Olympic games he has covered; along with at least a dozen hurricanes; a half-dozen space launches; and more than a couple of presidents, popes, kings and queens.
But his favorite assignments are still the cancer survivors, military widows, AIDS patients, street preachers, and countless other everyday people who welcome him into their lives and allow him to help tell their stories.
Smiley is currently on his second stint as a staff photographer at The Dallas Morning News, which follows two separate tours at the Houston Chronicle (preceded by the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, Austin American Statesman and St. Louis Suburban Journals).
This back-and-forth between Dallas and Houston often confuses his friends, colleagues and casual observers. But, since he attended three high schools, in three years, in three different cities, picking up and moving to another city doesn’t seem like that big a deal to him.
When not on assignment for The Dallas Morning News, he is likely to be found volunteering at a summer camp for HIV+ youth, flying around South Sudan with missionary pilots he has befriended, or vacationing with his wife Jessica someplace like Laos or Haiti, because, let’s face it, those places are interesting.
And, yes, his name really is Smiley. It’s a long story.