Join Richard Koci Hernandez for an in-depth discussion in this video Journalistic roots, part of Creative Inspirations: Richard Koci Hernandez, Multimedia Journalist.
(Music playing.) Richard: When I got home from Yosemite, my day-to-day life changed in a way. I always had a camera in my hand. That's how it changed. Always. I mean there is a picture here, and there is me with a camera.
At that point in my life--12, 13, 14--I was in middle school and getting ready to go to high school, and life was fairly crazy at home, and I was able to have the opportunity to go--oh gosh, there's my yearbook-- to the seminary, which was when I was 14. Yeah, 14. I left home to go to Queen of Angels Catholic, all boys, sleepover seminary, don't have to go home on the weekends if you don't want to, and carried that-- I mean, I found a place.
I found a home there because of photography. I became like this photo nerd. In fact, of course here it is, flip right to it. Editor of photography, Richard Hernandez. And look, surrounded by cameras in high school. So I go from 12, pulling a camera off the shoulders of my uncle, never letting go, right to shooting pictures of family, right into high school, right into cameras all over again. It's amazing, as I look at this, my future was probably very much wrapped in the idea of being a priest, believe it or not, and I took a break from the seminary. And I was really, didn't know what I was going to do, and the only thing I knew, the only thing I was certain that I could do that I knew was photography. I said, oh! I can work at a camera shop.
I can sell these things, I know that. I can sell film and paper and cameras. So I went to work at a camera shop, selling cameras and film, and developing film and whatnot. And there was a friend there, somebody that turned into a really close friend, and I don't know what got into us. We just said, "I'll be the first one to work at the Star Free Press." He was like, "No, you won't. I will!" and we were like, "Okay, game on!" And that night I drove to RadioShack and bought a scanner because I thought the Star Free Press, the local newspaper, if you wanted to be a photographer there, you shot pictures of accident.
That's what I thought it was all about. So that's what I started doing. I had a scanner. Probably around this time I'm sure that it's so old, it doesn't turn on. I got so good at this. I rolled on every lame fire, every accident in Ventura County that you could possibly imagine. This is what I thought photojournalism was. This is what I did to basically win this bet to be the first one to get a job at the Star Free Press. Listening to the scanners, sleeping with the scanner on. This obsessiveness with a camera, it paid off for me in a way I never thought it would.
In the middle of the night, the scanner went off. It was drizzling, and I picked up my camera, took my scanner, went there to put more images in my collection, I suppose, and win the bet. And this guy looked at me, and he looked, and he kept looking, and he was like--he knew he was the only one that should be there. He was the official photographer for the Star Free Press. He knew he was the only photographer that should be there, right, and he was like, who is this other person? There's no other paper in town, absolutely. Who is this person? Should not be here.
And he came up, and he said, "What are you doing here?" And I said, "Well, I am just taking pictures, and I don't really know what I'm doing. I am taking pictures, trying to win a bet." And he pulled out his business card and he gave me his business card. He said, "You know, you're out here, risking your own equipment, getting wet at three in the morning to take pictures." He said, "I want you to give me a call tomorrow, and it happened to be the Director of Photography at the Star Free Press at the time, and I went in the next day with a portfolio of this: proof sheets. And I just thought this was going to be my ticket in.
I was going to win the bet. And he looked at me and politely put everything aside, clearly not impressed with all the work I had done, but was able to offer me, right then and there, a job mixing chemistry, basically what we might call tech support now for the photographers, and that's how I started. That was my--the next day I came in to work, and so I made--I was able to make a fairly seamless jump from the seminary and this life, and photography took me kind of over that bridge one more time, and it brought me to a place that is really my roots are at the Star Free Press in terms of journalism. And I think that's really where I started thinking about journalism and photojournalism, and probably really felt then that that was going to be my calling, that I was switching from one to another.
So that was pretty pivotal, and photography was there again to bring me through that. (Music playing.) Really though, there is nothing like this smell, absolutely nothing like this smell in here in the dark.
I mean this is the other birthplace. I spent so much time in the darkroom, it's unbelievable. I mean, I started here, mixing chemistry and being taught how to do all this stuff. I mean, this is amazing, isn't it? I mean the hours I spent here doing this stuff is outrageous. There is a red light here. This is a darkroom like any other darkroom. This is the Ventura Star darkroom. It's every other darkroom I have made in my house and everywhere else.
I mean this is really the roots of where it all began. This is where I learned everything, the magic and discovery of watching something develop in a tray. It's a lot more hands-on too, which was amazing. And quietly I come back here, and I still print and I still work and develop film and keep a little bit of that going because it's really so important. There is really nothing like it. In a real importance sense, I'm sad that this will eventually be gone. I'm lucky that darkrooms still exist, that I can sneak into a darkroom and do some of this, because it's my beginnings, but because I still think it's very important stuff to do.
In Bonus Features, Koci is interviewed by Graduate School of Journalism colleague Jeremy Rue at the Pacific Film Archive Theatre, University of California, Berkeley.