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Beacon blog: Scott Dine and the power of teamwork

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 21, 2010 - Scott Dine was one of the great photographers in the history of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a newspaper that has had its share of great shooters in its 132-year history. In the years since his retirement in 1999, he has continued to produce pictures of extraordinary power and beauty. As we would say in the Beacon's newsroom: Dine produces Pictures That Matter.

His was one of those names that carried considerable weight in St. Louis, not only with his colleagues at the paper but also out in the community. The images he produced met the highest standards of journalism and possessed qualities one can describe as transformational.

Dine's pictures were - are - endowed as well with a quality that exceeds their enviable documentary eloquence. Regularly, affectingly, pictures by him live simultaneously on the mountains of art as well as on the plains of journalism.

After he retired from the paper, he headed east to the Annapolis, Md., area. Family and photography rank tops with him, but sailing is a consuming passion as well, and the waters of the Chesapeake lured him from the Midwest.

Dine and his wife, Anne, have been in St. Louis this week. Today (Thursday, Oct. 21), they'll travel to Washington, Mo., with their daughter, Brooke, where Scott is to be inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. We say hooray for him, and good for the Hall of Fame for recognizing him.

On Wednesday, the Dines visited us at the Beacon, and we proudly showed them the nineNetwork headquarters, our new digs in the KETC building in Grand Center.

We had a good visit, talking about travel and families and so forth and about the future of our craft. His visit conjured up many memories for me, some fairly outrageous, but many of them serious. Those serious memories revolve around photography and concern its history, its impact on culture and what it is that elevates a photograph from a moment in time to a monument to time.

But there was another subject, one we didn't really discuss or even assign a name, because it is a given with us, a shared understanding about the interplay of words and pictures and the exchanges that happen between the photographer and the writer to create work that exceeds the sum of its parts, a collaboration that defies arithmetic, a joint effort that ceases to be the work of two humans and becomes, through the collaborative process, a discreet and singular unit.

There are many examples of this, times when Dine and I went out on assignment with the obligation to bring back something worthy of the Post-Dispatch's ink. We were, after all, colleagues for 26 years or so, so it was inevitable that I rode shotgun in his company car with some regularity.

The moment I remember best was the time we went to Poplar Bluff, where we had gone to cover a "Chautauqua" that was traveling around the state. The program recreated an educational movement that originated in the 19th century and was brought into the 20th by the Missouri Humanities Commission. The subject of this Chautauqua was American religious traditions and experiences.

I remember bits and pieces about the show - it involved a big tent and actors dressed up as Reinhold Niebuhr and Joseph Smith. What I best remember, however, was driving into town with Scott. I was paying attention to what I regarded as a lot of visual pollution, and was idly looking out the window on my side of the car. But Scott, as good photographers do, saw the tree in the midst of the abysmal forest. "Look over there," he said.

What I saw was an electronic sign blinking "Welcome Chautauqua Welcome Chautauqua," over and over, and what struck both of us was this incongruous pairing of what was, for that time anyway, a modern medium of communication and a 19th century medium that was anything but highly technical.

This in itself was not an earth-shattering occasion, but for me, this incongruity became not only the lead of my story but an example of how two guys working a story that could have been routine achieved something exceeding the quotidian. An ineffable communication occurred, something rare, and it produced a story that made both of us proud, a story at least one of us remembers as better than simply good.

Today, again in collaboration with a colleague, the Chautauqua story was retrieved electronically from its resting place in an archive. I read it again. It brought me pride and pleasure once again. But my reactions were not so much about what happened on that day in Butler County in southeast Missouri, but how a news article can be a manifestation of, and a validation of, the dividends paid by working in the close yoke of a team, operating on compatible visual and narrative planes.

I am so glad Scott Dine is one of four photographers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame today (Oct. 21). It is an honor he richly deserves. But my pleasure in his winning is purely selfish. It got him to St. Louis, and made me recall Poplar Bluff, and reminded me that while there is much to admire about working independently, belonging to a team is far, far better where the noble craft of journalism is concerned, whether that team be an entire newsroom working to put out the best, most incisive, most intelligent report possible, or just a couple of fellows working together to knit together words and pictures, trying to create a story that sparkles as it informs.

Solitary work appeals to me enormously, and I all too often loath to let go of work that's better shared with colleagues. Scott Dine showed up and reminded me of that, and having been reminded, no matter how rah-rah or corporate it sounds, I'll make it my business to go team.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

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