Pulitzer Prize winning alumnus returns


Copy Editor

[email protected]

An Allegheny alumnus is returning from Alaska to visit his alma mater for The Story Next Door conference taking place on March six and seven.

Richard Murphy is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, who started his career in photojournalism early in his life.

“When I just started my career I was just 17 years old,” Murphy said. “I couldn’t believe that someone would pay me to go chase ambulances and go into a house fire and they pay me money for the pictures. I just thought that ‘this is a scam.’ How could I be so lucky to do this?”

Murphy worked professionally for a newspaper when he was in high school. When he studied at Allegheny College, he was a stringer for the Associated Press and sold his pictures to the Meadville Tribune and the Erie times News. Allegheny College at that time had a limited number of photography courses and had no journalism courses. Thus, he majored in English and minored in Art but always knew that journalism was going to be part of his future.

“The thing that helped me the most was a liberal arts education,” Murphy said. “It was the variety of classes that I took and the broad based education that I got that really helped my career more than any specific craft or tools that I learned how to use there. The political science classes that I took helped. The philosophy classes that I took helped. Just learning how to think was more important than any particular skill that I learned there.”

After graduating, Murphy wanted to try things other than photojournalism.

“I decided with the kind of wisdom that was common to a 21-year old, I decided I don’t want to be someone taking pictures of people doing things,” said Murphy. “I wanted to be one of the people doing the things.”

Murphy has gone on adventures all over the world from sailing a small ship across the North Atlantic, being a ski bum and a whitewater river guide to working as a carpenter in the winter to fund his trips.But all of these adventures brought him back to journalism and he got a job at Jackson Hole News in Wyoming.

“[I was] a really bad carpenter,” he laughed. “If I had continued in the carpentry vein, I would no longer have 10 fingers, and there would be some very shoddy constructions in Western Wild.”

Photojournalists often want to tell a story through their photos. Murphy is not different in that aspect. For a long time, he worked as a photo editor at the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. As the years rolled by, the stories that he wanted to tell through his photos changed.

“Every day I would look at two to six hundred pictures from news around the world from New York Times and the Associated Press,” Murphy said. “I didn’t think it at the time that it had more of an effect on me than I realized. I retired in 2011 and I had been teaching since then and I can say that my personal photography’s been the opposite of that. I have sort of devoted my eye to finding beauty and capturing beauty in my photographs.”

Murphy is the snedden chair of journalism and a professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks. He has two goals when it comes to teaching. He hopes he can inspire young journalists to do the work and maybe dissuade those who shouldn’t be doing it. Journalism, according to him, is not made for everybody. There are better ways to make a living, more profitable ways. Journalism is a calling and whoever practices it should have a passion for it.

“I will never give up photography. I will be a photographer as long as I can be,” Murphy said.

Allegheny College is grateful that Murphy is coming back to share his knowledge with the students. The Alumni Center always looks forward to having any alumni visit the college again.

“We just value so much their willingness to give back to the institution in this way by coming here and sharing their experience with the students,” said Keri Fadden, director of alumni engagement. “They are basically a living example of the value of an Allegheny education. So we can’t thank them enough of even thinking about driving back to Meadville and in Richard’s case, coming from Alaska. It’s huge.”

The Alumni Center usually organizes alumni events, but this conference was different.

“The team working on it has been very self sufficient into putting together this [event]. This is one example of a graduate coming back, and there are others where we have a little more involvement to it. But that’s our vision for our programs for our colleges to have an alumni not only visiting campus, but providing advice, internship, careers, mentoring for students on campus,” said Phil Foxman, associate vice president for development and alumni affairs, annual giving and development resources.

Richard Murphy will present a lecture entitled “The Adventures of an Arctic Gator: 30 Years of Alaskan Photojournalism” on Friday, March 7, 2014 at 7 p.m. at the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts.