By DAN WHITTLE/ Courier Correspondent
A camera, plus passion and big dose of "people" equals award-winning creations for photojournalist Aaron Thompson.
"Ever since attending the nation's top photojournalism school at Western Kentucky University, it's people that trigger my passion for photography," focused Thompson, whose lifetime of work will be featured in a one-man show starting June 17 at the Arts Center of Cannon County. "To meet and photograph every-day people, and tell their important life's story, that's the most satisfying aspect of my photography."
Some of Thompson's work has been viewed nationally and globally.
"We're honored to have Aaron Thompson's acclaimed body of photojournalism hanging in the Arts Center for the viewing public," noted Arts Center Folklorist Evin Hatch. "His photography, which has been viewed around the globe, is another example of the talented artisans located throughout our region."
You may think you haven't seen Thompson's "magic" with a camera.
It was a somber day throughout Middle Tennessee back in April 2007, when then Daily News Journal photographer Thompson was assigned to cover the funeral of Marc Golczynski, a brave soldier from Rutherford County who volunteered to serve in the Iraq War.
"I've never felt comfortable 'covering' funerals, but as a journalist, I understand the news value," noted Thompson. "When we got notification that Marc had perished in Iraq, we went to his parents' (Henry and Faye Golczynski) home in Murfreesboro. After being made to feel welcome and comfortable from the family, I was OK with covering the fallen soldier's funeral."
But what happened at the gravesite changed Thompson's world.
"Without debate, without doubt, the top photograph I've done is the 'shot' of Marc's young son, Christian, being presented the flag that had draped over his fallen father's military casket."
The raw-life drama of that scene impacted not only the world, but the photographer personally.
"Tears were streaming down my face too, as I focused on the scene with young Christian receiving his father's U.S. Flag," Thompson noted. "I knew instantly, as a journalist, I had something 'special' that would touch people's hearts."
The classic photograph, which captured the human-drama of American families losing loved ones in the Iraqi War, instantly went global through modern-day media outlets. The picture remains regularly viewable today worldwide through the Internet and Facebook.
Journalism photography can instantly take news professionals from peaceful and picturesque nature scenes to danger on the streets.
"The most danger I ever felt was down on Murfreesboro's State Street, where authorities were having major problems with gangs," Thompson recalled. "I was photographing street signs to show location, when this lady in the community warned me to get out of the community, to which I responded I would, as soon as I made my photographs…after two or three warnings from her, she threatened to get her gun."
Fortunately, the danger passed without serious incident and Thompson continued his career journey.
"I'm honored to be asked to display my photography at the nationally-recognized Arts Center in Woodbury," Thompson described. "Some of my photographs have been in the newspaper…some have never been viewed by the public. Some pictures I make just for myself, mom and dad, Donnell, and brothers Paul and Nathan."
His love for photography began back at Oakland High School, under the tutelage of educator Eileen Haynes, when the photo industry was still using "film".
"My first camera was an old Canon SLR, and after taking two of Eileen photography classes, I was on my way and when I got to Western Kentucky, I was thoroughly hooked. I became passionate about photojournalism."
Showing his photography at the Arts Center could be considered a "natural step," since after a career change, he's co-proprietor with his mother, Wanda Thompson, at The Blue Porch Restaurant at the Arts Center.
He explained his career change into the restaurant profession.
"Even as a photojournalist, I shared food-catering services with my mother," Thompson shared his recipe for life. "I love cooking, and preparing food…another love of my life is witnessing the satisfied looks on peoples' faces when they eat Mother's increasingly-famous desserts and vegetable meals…"
Whether your taste is professional-quality photography, or Short Mountain Distillery's moonshine-laced bread-pudding dessert, a trip to the Arts Center of Cannon County should be a fulfilling pleasure.