On Tuesday the Mass Communication Department at Minnesota State University Mankato held its annual Media Day event. This year’s guest speaker was photographer Johnny Crawford, who spoke about his journey to photojournalism and his experience with his “Vietnam Black Soldiers Portrait Project”.
The lecture took place at 7 p.m. in the Centennial Student Union, at Ostrander Auditorium, and was free for students and community members. Last week, large banners were put on display featuring his Vietnam veteran project in Nelson Hall and the CSU.
For the majority of Crawford’s photography career, he worked as a photojournalist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Though his focus was on sports in the past, in recent years Crawford has found an affinity for portraits and has taught at a variety of high schools and colleges.
While Crawford has seen success with his work, he did not shy away from describing his hardships to the audience, whether it was rejections, illness, or layoffs. He also discussed the challenges with his keynote project, such as the difficulty of finding veterans willing to revisit long-buried war memories.
“You do, you learn, you teach,” Crawford said. During his lecture, he placed a strong emphasis on his own perspective on life. Crawford witnessed death firsthand at an early age with the passing of parents, relatives and peers. His grandparents, who raised him, were resilient people, and he passed their wisdom onto the audience at Tuesday’s event.
As of 2022, Crawford has photographed Vietnam veterans in 19 states, beginning with Georgia veterans from his church community. He will add Florida and South Carolina to the project in the future.
Jen Tiernan is a professor from the Mass Communication Department who organized this year’s Media Day.
“We’ve had a break from it for a couple of years. It’s not only a day to recognize our students. It’s about being able to bring in a speaker who not only gives this lecture at night but sits in on classes. We have an informal student hour where they can actually learn one-on-one about the industry our speaker is in, they get to ask questions about their experience, and they get really excellent advice– it’s a great opportunity to bring somebody here that the students might not normally experience,” Tiernan said.
As a teacher himself, Crawford is in a unique position to educate and inspire students of any major here at MSU, something he hopes he accomplished that night.
“What I always want to do is to give someone something so they can do better than I do to help young photographers and writers,” Crawford said after his lecture. He also emphasized the importance of documenting the experience of war veterans, and spoke to a few of the attending Vietnam veterans in the audience after he finished speaking.
A group of students from the art course Introduction to Visual Culture attended the lecture. “I think I got the most out of it was to be persistent and work hard to get what you want,” said a student in attendance.
Header Photo: Johnny Crawford is a photojournalist who shared his “Vietnam Black Soldiers Project” at this year’s Media Day. Crawford has worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 28 years and has photographed several Olympics. (Ajay Kasaudhan/The Reporter)
Write to Alexandra Tostrud at Alexandra.Tostrud@mnsu.edu