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Photojournalist Wiley Price Has Long Made St. Louis His Focus

Christmas 1977 will always stand out for longtime St. Louis photojournalist Wiley Price, because that’s when he received his first camera as a young man. It was a gift from his mother, whom he also credits with first spurring his attention to news coverage.

“You need to start paying attention to what’s going on in the world,” Price recalls her urging him as she handed him copies of Life, Ebony and other magazines.

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File photo | Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't slowed down longtime St. Louis American photojournalist Wiley Price.

Soon, he was hooked. By the early ’80s, Price was spending many hours a day in the darkroom at the University of Missouri-St. Louis — and freelancing for local newspapers as well as the Associated Press.

As he honed his craft, he noticed something lacking in the industry.

“I wanted to start seeing our people in the news,” Price, who is Black, explains.

Four decades later, the 64-year-old continues to do work that helps to accomplish just that. He’s still “documenting Black St. Louis history in real time,” as a recent St. Louis American profile of him puts it, even amid a pandemic.

Full time with the American since 1993, Price also worked for the paper for several years in the ’80s (between those periods, he completed a stint with the South Side Journal and South County Journal). Early on in Price’s career, he recalls, St. Louis was home to three Black newspapers — the American, the St. Louis Argus and the St. Louis Sentinel — each of which paid him $5 per photo.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Price joined host Sarah Fenske to share how he's sought to document COVID-19's impact on the local African American community.

He also reflected on the power of visual information and storytelling, as well as what keeps him passionate about his profession.

“Words are incredibly important, but people respond to the visual,” Price said.

With that in mind, he tries to capture the full range of what is happening in the community he’s devoted his life’s work to documenting, making a point to photograph even the most tragic aspects of life in St. Louis.

“The homicides are part of our culture,” Price said. “It is what is wrong with our culture, and we have to address that elephant in the room. … People don’t get upset with words. They get upset by the visual, and that’s what makes people want to change things.”

Listeners had positive things to say about interacting with Price over the years, with many taking to Twitter to share their recollections.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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