If you keep up with my photo blog then you know that I've been chasing my 75th cover photo with Kentucky Living Magazine the past few years. I got to number 60 in April of 2018. Honestly, I thought it would take longer to get here, just because I never know and have no control over the magazine's production schedule. Number 75 is a great story about a Korean War Veteran named Joe Graber from Somerset. It was perfect a blue-sky day with a veteran in uniform at a national cemetery! I couldn't have scripted it any better.
I have no idea of how many total stories I've shot for Kentucky Living over the years, other than a lot, because most weren't cover stories. Just know, there's something special about a cover photo! And as I count the 75, I'm not including those from the Washington Youth Tour, because I've done several hundred of those covers since 2009, and they're in their own little category. The 75 are true statewide covers, with the first one coming in July 1992.
It came from an article that I wrote for Dr. Liz Hansen's Magazine Writing class at Eastern Kentucky University in the fall of 1991, about a volunteer rescue team in the Red River Gorge in my home of Powell County. Then Kentucky Living editor Gary Luhr spoke to our class one day that fall and Dr. Hansen suggested that I pitch my story him. After class, I stood in the back of the room on shaky knees and gave him my spill as a college student who didn't have a lot of confidence at the time. I wish I knew the date because I'm a historian at heart and it turned out to be such a milestone in my life. Gary liked it and told me he would pay me $200 for the story and photos...if I could provide them. I was thinking, "Well hell-yeah I can provide photos!" I was scared to death a few weeks later as I repelled over a cliff in the Red River Gorge to the get said photos, but I wasn't going to pass up my big opportunity to get published in a real-live magazine.
And the rest is history.
We did the shoot early in the spring of 1992 and the magazine cover ran a few months later in July 1992. I was on Cloud 9 when the magazine came in the mail. Along with my parents, I showed it to anyone who would look at it! Forget the $200. I was actually published in a magazine. My dreams had come true! Later that summer, I put the $200 toward my wife's engagement ring.
I photographed several more stories for Kentucky Living in the early 1990s, but it wasn't until I had given my notice and was resigning my job as University Photographer at EKU in December 2003 that the magazine's current editor called me out of the blue. His name was Paul Wesslund. It truly was a God-moment because I knew in my heart that it was time for me to leave EKU, as great as it had been, but I had no earthly idea how I was going to make a living as a freelance photographer and support my family of a wife and three kids. So when Paul called and asked me to shoot a cover story on the All-A Classic basketball tournament that was held annually at EKU, I did a little happy dance while I was talking to him on the phone, trying to maintain a sense of coolness and calm. Even though my insides were turning to jelly, I still had to maintain a sense of professionalism, HA!
Paul Wesslund has since moved on to the greener pastures of retirement, but I can honestly say that the staff of Kentucky Living, at any point of my tenure with them has always set the bar for journalistic excellence. The irony of that is, technically, they're a PR magazine, but they have always been the epitome of sound community journalism and cutting-edge design. Editor Anita Travis, Managing Editor Shannon Brock, and their three designers, Katy Hurt, Kacey Harmeling, and Jessica Hawkins continue to set the bar so high!
Who knows. Maybe I'm making too much out of all of this. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll make it to 100 cover photos someday. One of my mentors is the great Annie Lebovitz, who spent her career churning out cover photos for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. If I had studied algebra in high school the way I've studied the photographic work of Annie Lebovitz I'd be a freaking rocket scientist! I'm no Annie Lebovitz. But I'll always appreciate the importance of a good cover photo.