After a year of pandemic disruption, The Journal and its chief photojournalist are finally getting back to providing a wider lens on civic life in Kansas.   

For the first time in nearly a year, Jeff Tuttle finally got the chance to put a lot more miles on his truck this past spring.

Garden City. Scott City. Oberlin. Pittsburg. Kansas City. Chase County. Topeka.

Be it east, west, north or south, The Journal’s Wichita-based chief photojournalist found himself doing what he does best – traveling to use his camera to tell the stories of Kansans exercising leadership on tough challenges.

The schedule proved hectic but was a welcome return to something like normal. With Kansans experiencing so many negative effects as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, from illness to economic strain, it’s hard to complain about the much less consequential ways it disrupted the operations of The Journal. But photojournalism is a lifeblood of our magazine, and the pandemic severely limited the kinds of photos we could take.

Writers could find workarounds to contact their sources through Zoom, phone or email. Not traveling and doing in-person interviews, while not our preference, wasn’t a huge hurdle.

But to do photojournalism, you have to physically be there. And for much of the pandemic, it didn’t feel safe to ask Jeff to shoot many photos indoors. In addition, many of the types of civic events we like to photograph simply weren’t happening.

As the pandemic wore on, we found ways to adapt.

We photographed outdoors whenever possible. Jeff took lots of portraits. Lots of our photos ended up featuring people in masks. We hope our readers understood and gave us a pass. But we felt the constraints of not being able to deliver the kind of storytelling we were used to providing.

Amid horizon-expanding elegance, (from left) Josie, Josh and Gwen Hoy go about their chores, with thoughts of maintaining healthier grasslands, conservation and financial stability often on their minds. Rolla Clymer, a 20th-century newspaperman from El Dorado, famously extolled the Flint Hills in his poem “Majesty of the Hills.” He marveled at their character, glory and appeal, and how “they offer spiritual enchantment through eyes opened to their beauty and constancy.” (photo by Jeff Tuttle)

With the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines this spring, a world of photographic possibilities began opening up, along with the rest of the state and nation. And not a moment too soon.

We’re proud of a lot of things when it comes to The Journal, but one of the things we are proudest of is making Kansas, its people, its culture and its landscape more visible through photojournalism. To Kansans themselves. To the rest of the nation. Not to mention the world.

I once heard a colleague describe The Journal’s print edition as National Geographic meets Kansas leadership, and while that’s a high bar to clear, I welcome the challenge to live up to that comparison. Investing in photojournalism is certainly not cheap. It’s something we’ll continue to do, because we realize that we’re increasingly filling a major void in the civic landscape. There used to be lots of photojournalists at newspapers across the state chronicling the daily lives of people in their communities, but their ranks continue to be thinned.

It’s a strange phenomenon, because in a world with smartphone cameras and Instagram, more photographs are being taken than ever. More than a trillion in 2021 alone, by some estimates. And yet those photos of posed selfies and decadent food might tell us more about who we want to be than the reality of what we actually are.

Unlike photojournalism, such photos don’t typically capture the rancher who surveys his cattle on horseback while also serving as a model of innovation. Or the lives of patients in a northwest Kansas community trying to find a sustainable path to keeping its hospital.

These are the kinds of stories that The Journal is there for because of Jeff. His camera provides a window into civic life in Kansas that would otherwise be closed. Now that he’s back out seeing Kansas stories play out through photojournalism, we want our readers to see more of what he’s seeing.

That’s why we’re launching a feature we’re calling #SeeingKansasStories on the Kansas Leadership Center’s Instagram page, @kansasleadershipcenter. There we’ll be posting a photo of the week from Jeff (and from time to time, other Journal contributors) and providing background about the story it helps tell.

We hope our photojournalism will help you see Kansas and its people with fresh eyes and provide another reminder of why this is a state worth exercising leadership for.

  • Josie Hoy on horseback; Chaston Hoeme on his ranch
    Left: Josie Hoy, the daughter of Josh and Gwen, is the sixth generation to gain an upfront awareness and appreciation of the family ranch in the Flint Hills. Right: In Gove County, far from the tallgrasses of eastern Kansas, the pastures on Chaston Hoeme’s ranch have changed little since Plains Indian tribes populated and roamed the area.
Summer edition Journal cover about civics

A version of this article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store or subscribe to the print edition.

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