Editor’s note: Students in ThreeSixty Journalism’s Rookie Journalist Camp in July spent time writing a Q-and-A story about guest speakers who visited camp. Check ThreeSixtyJournalism.org for more of these profiles, as well as student blogs.
“I feel very grateful for all the people that I encounter, because it makes me understand humanity a little bit better.” – Kyndell Harkness
With a cheerful step toward the front of the room, Kyndell Harkness begins to present herself.
As a passionate photojournalist from New York who was told she’d never be good enough to be on her high school news organization, today – with great determination – she is a proud photo editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Harkness’ mother sent her to the School of Visual Arts located in Manhattan, where her curiosity in photography sparked. At the age of 16, she captured the essence of a homeless woman candidly, enough to make one look at the details of the photos and ponder the question: “What could these images mean?”
Harkness finds herself capturing pictures that range from protests, crowds, parks and homes of strangers and that encompass the energy and emotion of the subject’s natural habitat.
“Any person that I come in contact with, I want to leave them better than I came,” she said.
“We’re going to have a decent discussion about something, about politics or whatever.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Michigan State University, Harkness worked for the Newport News in Virginia. For the past 16 years, she has been working for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis as a photographer and now a photo editor.
Q: Have you heard of the statement, “A photo is worth a thousand words”? If so, do you believe in this statement, and why?
Harkness: I do think that, like I said, pictures can evoke an emotion that you don’t necessarily get everywhere. I think words can get you part of the way. If words are very descriptive, it can get you to those feelings, but there’s a certain degree where [with] pictures, it can be almost immediate. It’s an immediate read. We look at pictures, we are visual folks all the time and we know what that feels like. You don’t have to have a description of what’s happening because you can see it.
Q: How was your experience as a photo instructor for the Asian American Journalists Association’s JCamp? And as a journalist and photographer, how memorable is it to you?
Harkness: It’s been fantastic. … It reinvigorates me and teaches me what’s important. It’s that check-in that happens, where now I know when you teach other people, you also are teaching yourself. You are reminding yourself what’s important – why pictures are important, why the job that we do is important. You get to be excited along with the students as they discover new things about their ability, that they had maybe not realized before.
It’s just like, I’ve got my 6-year-old son, it’s the same way. The day he figured out he could jump a step, he was like, “Okay!” And then he said, “Okay, nope, can’t do that step.” And then eventually he jumps. Now he jumps down seven steps. So you get to relive what fear can do, and how it can cripple you into stopping you from what you actually want to do and are capable of doing. So there’s all these lessons as I watched young people, as I watched my son, that relate to journalism that sort of makes it good for me to see every single year, to remind me it’s important.
Q: What is one of your most memorable moments that you’ve had as a photographer?
Harkness: One of the most memorable, I don’t know. It all is good. I mean even the horrible, horrible stuff is good. Each time I go on assignment, each new person I meet is sort of another piece of humanity that I have a better understanding about. You think about folks who – and we all have them in our family, right? – who are kind of closed, they don’t go anywhere, they see the same people over and over again, they have a sort of single-mindedness about certain things. Because they haven’t experienced the sort of huge parts of humanity that are out there. And so I feel very grateful for all the people that I encounter, because it makes me understand humanity a little bit better.
This transcript has been edited for length and content.