The Life of Dr. John Peterson, founder of our Loyalist Photojournalism Program will be celebrated in a memorial service Saturday Sept. 23 at the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Victoria Ave. in Belleville at 11:30 a.m. John passed away in June, after a long illness.
In the Fall of 1975, I was entering the final year of a journalism program at Loyalist. Students heard there was a new faculty member being hired for the fall, but we knew little else. In those old analog paper-trail days, registration was all done in person in the gym on the first day. Apparently, I was one of the first to do so that day, and so became one of John’s first students. He had an intensity about him that was different from many of the college teachers of the day. There he was, fresh from The Toronto Star in that blue suit, thermos of coffee at his side, a well crushed pack of Marlboros nearby. We were all a bit intimidated by this new guy, but still drawn to him by his passion for what we all loved……….shooting pictures.
This was a full 12 years before the inception of the Photojournalism Program that is his legacy. None of us knew then what would unfold a dozen years later, but we began to get a taste of what might be. The learning came fast. Practical ,intense and real . I remember the very first thing John taught me, and I often relate it to my students now. About two weeks into the fall semester, I was preparing some photographs for the weekly edition of the Pioneer. I submitted my captions to John, and I immediately knew I was in trouble by the look on his face. Looking up from his desk, he leaned back in his chair in obvious disappointment. He exhaled a salvo of Marlboro , and taught me the first of many lessons in that quiet southern drawl, “Where I come from, if you haven’t got the name, you haven’t got the picture”. It was a simple lesson, an obvious one but an important one; one that started me on a personal learning curve.
But that is what John did for so many of us. We knew we loved photography. We loved being out in the world around us shooting pictures, but we did not know how to focus our passion, and project it into a career. John helped me, and so many others learn how to be a communicator WITH images, rather than just be a collector OF images.
John taught us that, good photojournalism, matters. People matter. Pictures matter. They need to be more than just a vessel of artistic expression in a sea of anonymity. In doing so, he helped define a profession in this country.
The Loyalist College Photojournalism Program is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It is not lost on any of us that we owe so much to John for starting this beloved little program that could. It is his legacy. Those who have walked these halls and gone on to serve their readers and communities are his legacy. They are followed by students who have harnessed the ever changing new technologies to find new methods of visual storytelling.
Rest easy John. Thanks to you, the kids are all right.
Coordinator, Loyalist College Photojournalism.