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Lou Dematteis

Featured Professional: Lou Dematteis

Dematteis, a former staff photographer for Reuters News Pictures, has covered social, political and environmental issues around the world, particularly in Central and South America and Asia.

Dematteis Shares Advice, Stories with American University Photojournalism Class
- by Rachel Lynne Smith

WASHINGTON, DC, 25 October 2010 -- Internationally acclaimed photographer Lou Dematteis told students of Professor Bill Gentile’s Photojournalism and Social Documentary class that his life’s work is a quest for “what’s right and true.”

Dematteis, a former staff photographer for Reuters News Pictures, has covered social, political and environmental issues around the world, particularly in Central and South America and Asia. His visit to Gentile’s class is part of the School of Communication (SOC) Backpack Journalism Project guest speaker series.

In a review of his work, Dematteis said that his most important role as a photojournalist is to “be the witness” and to “find out what’s right and true.” He showed examples of his work.

In his latest book, Crude Reflections: Oil, Ruin, and Resistance in the Amazon Rainforest (2008), Dematteis photographed the damaging effects of oil exploitation and pollution to the people and environment of the Ecuadorian Amazon. His book shed light on the oil problem as well as the natural beauty of the undisturbed rainforest that needs to be preserved.

Although Dematteis began his career as a black and white photographer, his skills have evolved with technology and he currently incorporates video into his coverage.

“Today you need to learn more skills like video, writing and sound. You can’t start out as just a photographer anymore,” he said.

He also advised aspiring photographers to start with something they are passionate about shooting. For Dematteis, that passion was photographing Italy, the roots of his Italian-American family’s culture.

“You want to start with something you can step back from, look at, work on, and go back to,” he said.

Lou Dematteis

Photos by Kyoko Takenaka.

According to Dematteis, a photojournalist must have good technique, compose an interesting and powerful image and tell a compelling story. He suggested working as a spot news photographer to quicken and enhance camera skills.

Regardless of the situation, Dematteis suggested that the photographer “should always take the picture. Even when you really don’t want to. You don’t have to use the photos later, but if you don’t take them, you’ll never have them. And you’ll always regret that.”

Dematteis said he felt compelled to work as a photojournalist because he had the skills for the craft and understood the importance of art in enriching humanity.

“If you have the talent to create that art, and you have the passion, then you don’t have a choice. You have to do it. You have to be a photographer.”