Members of the football team at Monument Valley High on the Navajo Reservation practice on their field with the famous buttes in the background. This is just north of the Arizona/Utah border. Alan Berner

Members of the football team at Monument Valley High on the Navajo Reservation practice on their field with the famous buttes in the background. This is just north of the Arizona/Utah border. Alan Berner

‘Gone West’ photographer to speak at Peninsula College

PORT ANGELES ­— In making photos, as in life, Alan Berner keeps his aperture and mind open, open wide to surprise.

And he and his camera have been all over, across Berner’s home city of Seattle and across the American West.

The journalist explores both in a show at the Peninsula College PUB Gallery and in a talk Thursday in the Little Theater.

Both venues are on the campus at 1502 E. Lauridsen Blvd.

“Gone West,” Berner’s photography project spanning a decade of travel through the region’s rural places, is in the gallery through May 18.

Admission is free to the exhibit — and to the Studium Generale lecture to start at 12:35 p.m. Thursday.

In addition to his three decades — and counting — at The Seattle Times, Berner has embarked on this personal pursuit, inspired by a black-and-white photographer before him.

In 1935, Arthur Rothstein was asked to join the Farm Security Administration’s effort to document the conditions of the rural poor in America. Some seven decades later, Berner used Rothstein’s travels as a roadmap for his own photographic tale of the West.

Multilayered life

Berner, reached Saturday after a full day of work, said life as a photographer is a multilayered thing.

“I love that it can be filled with surprise. I get to explore my curiosity,” he began.

“But it also comes with a lot of responsibility: community responsibility.”

Berner aims to serve as “someone else’s eyes, as a visual reporter.”

With his media credentials, he goes where others can’t and seeks to convey what he discovers in one telling image.

Now, he also shoots video for the Times. But Berner believes that a single still photograph — not a video clip — has the power to define a moment, a day, an era.

Consider Nick Ut’s June 1972 picture of a little girl running from a Vietnamese village under napalm attack.

Berner believes that one frame — of then-9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc fleeing the town of Trang Bang — showed the world the Vietnam War.

And in a relatively small display — just eight photographs — Berner’s “Gone West” show offers a distilled view of the new American West.

It is a trip across rural farms and towns, where people, animals and grand vistas appear in stark black and white. Together, they show Berner’s gusto for capturing the unexpected image.


The photographer has received many an accolade for his daily work: the National Press Photographers’ Regional Photographer of the Year seven times over and The Associated Press Sweepstakes Award for Oregon and Washington five times.

A native of St. Louis, Berner is an inductee into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame and last year received the June Anderson Almquist award for distinguished service from the Society for Professional Journalists.

He’s also had his share of adventures, including one in Neah Bay.

Makah whale hunt

While covering the Makah whale hunt of 1999, Berner got tossed around pretty well in the waves where the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean meet.

When the boat he was in threw a propeller, he had to switch to the “TV boat,” aka the one carrying the television-camera people.

Once Berner was aboard the second boat, the captain of the first one hurled his camera bag after him.

Equipment and pictures could easily have gone into the drink.

“It was a crazy, loony thing to do,” Berner said.

But he and his photos couldn’t sit in the disabled boat all day.

First Amendment Fest

Berner’s talk Thursday about “Gone West” and his work as a newspaper photographer is the keynote address of the First Amendment Festival, sponsored by Peninsula College’s Journalism-Mass Media Program.

The festival will finish Friday with a screening and panel discussion of “Miss Representation,” a documentary film exploring media portrayals of women.

The movie will screen at 7 p.m. in the college’s Maier Hall. Admission is $5, free for Peninsula College students.

For more details about these and other activities on campus, visit, search for Peninsula College on Facebook or phone 360-452-9277.


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at

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