Photojournlist Marcus Donner

My Favorite Photo

Sometimes the best tool you have in your camera bag is patience.

I waited 20 years to take a single photo on July 25, 2016.

Really, I did.

But this was not just any photo; I was waiting to recreate a photo of my great-grandfather Fred Donner. To do it, I needed at least 15 cantaloupes, a pair of overalls, and a good hat.

Many years back, I was looking through old family photos at my folks’ house and came across a photo of my great-grandfather on his farm packing cantaloupes with a farmhand. My great-grandfather was a melon farmer and farmed up and down California over the years.

I love so many things about this photo. I love the hats my great-grandfather and the farmhand are wearing. I love that it’s a slice of my great grandfather’s work day. Most of all, I love that he’s doing what he loved to do.

And, I know exactly what day the photo was taken. We all have old family photos that we have to guess when they were taken, but for this one photo, I know exactly when it was taken. Painted on the front of the photo is “Irwin, CAL July 25 1916 Packing cantaloupes.” Bingo!

Looking at the photo, I had this idea to shoot a recreation of the photo 100 years apart--with me and my Dad.

There is a lot of craft, composition, lighting, and tools I use to make great photos. But to make this one, I had to use patience--about 20 years worth.

After years of waiting, I finally got the chance to take my recreation photo last summer. It was a hoot and a half, but sadly, I’m the only one wearing overalls. My Dad hates them.

P.S. My great-grandfather Fred Donner hybrided one of the first watermelons that would fit in an icebox.

My Story

I’m a Seattle native. Well, actually, I grew up across the lake in Bellevue, but I've lived in Seattle most of my life so I think that counts.

I loved art as a kid and my eighth-grade homeroom teacher encouraged me to take photos for the yearbook. In high school, I bought my first camera from a local pawn shop, and the rest, as they say, is history.

After graduating from Bellevue High, I attended Bellevue Community College (BCC) and took every photography class BCC offered. During those two years of liberal arts studies, I asked every photojournalist I met where I should go to school. They all said, “Mizzou,” aka the University of Missouri, home to the nation’s oldest journalism program. I applied and was accepted. In fall 1985, I packed my one wool sweater, along with anything else that could fit in my car, and headed east to Missouri.

It was at Mizzou's J-School (the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism program), that I truly learned to be a professional journalist and photojournalist. It was a lot of hard work, but also a lot of fun, and I graduated top of my class in Photojournalism in 1989.

While I could have joined members of the “Mizzou Mafia” in cities such as Chicago or New York, I opted instead to return to the city and state I loved: Seattle, Washington. I talked my way into an internship at the Valley Daily News, which then led to a position as a staff photojournalist, and then later to Director of Photography of the King County Journal. I was grateful to have a fulfilling 19-year run with a daily newspaper.

When the paper closed in 2007, I went freelance and opened Marcus Donner Photography. I’ve enjoyed many of my freelance assignments, but one of my all-time favorite gigs was when I got the chance to be a Venue Photo Manager at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

After taking pictures for most of my life, I still love what I do every day. For me, people are the most interesting subjects in the world, and I love telling people’s stories through pictures. When I’m not taking pictures, shooting videos, or teaching others about photography, you’ll find me enjoying the arts, watching movies, viewing nature, and doing other creative things with my wife, author Peg Cheng.

I never know where I’ll be or what I’ll be shooting next...and that’s just the way I like it.

P.S. I’ve also flown the Goodyear Blimp. Yes, really.

National Award Winner

Photojournlist Marcus Donner

“I especially appreciated the details of color, lighting, clarity, and composition of pasta maker Martha Francis rolling plin... Donner had to be very patient...in order for him to capture these wonderful photographs, which added significance to the food story.”
     — SDX Awards judges

I’ve twice received a national journalism award from the Society of Professional Journalists for feature photography in a non-daily publication. In 2009, I received a Sigma Delta Chi award for a photo feature on Tod Leiweke, CEO of Vulcan Sports & Entertainment, who manages both the Seattle Sounders FC and Seattle Seahawks. In 2012, I received the award again for a feature story of renowned chef and restaurateur, Tom Douglas, and his team. Both stories were shot for the Puget Sound Business Journal.

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