In a two-part series, Courtney Doucet, a senior professional writing and rhetoric major at Baylor, takes a look at professional photographers Rod Aydelotte and Robbie Rogers. Both men combine full-time photography jobs (Rod with the Waco Tribune-Herald, Robbie with Baylor’s Marketing and Communication Division) with teaching responsibilities as part-time lecturers in Baylor’s Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media. In this first installment, Doucet profiles the background and extensive careers of both men.
By Courtney Doucet
Students, alumni and the faculty and staff of Baylor University come together every year for Homecoming weekend, an exciting and exhilarating few days of high energy and fellowship. Amid all of the festivities, you are sure to find photographers Rod Aydelotte and Robbie Rogers with their cameras in hand, capturing every moment.
Rod Aydelotte is currently a photographer for the Waco-Tribune Herald and a part-time lecturer in photography in Baylor’s Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media. His career behind the lens began as a photographer for both Baylor’s student newspaper, The Lariat, and yearbook, the Roundup, while he was a student at the University in the late 1970s. After graduating with a BA degree in 1977, he began work as a professional photographer four years later.
Aydelotte’s job as a photographer for the Waco-Tribune Herald, which began 37 years ago in 1981, requires him to be alert and quick in his approach to capturing images. Most of the photos he takes are of events and activities around Waco, and he usually has to cover more than one event in a day. Because of his need to keep up with the bustling nature of Waco, he has mastered the art of being everywhere at once. His coverage is crucial to the paper, as he adds visuals that animate the black text of the articles. The fast pace of this style of journalistic photography often emphasizes successfully completing the day’s shooting assignments over laboring to capture the “perfect” photograph.
“My life is built on production, and the last photo I take is the best photo because it’s all production,” Aydelotte said.
When asked what motivates him to wake up every day to pursue photography, he said “the hunt” is his main inspiration.
“The best thing I can say about my photography is that it’s kind of the thrill of the hunt, which a lot of photographers would say,” Aydelotte said. “You have to go out and find that moment and capture that moment, and then you have to be able to present the photo.”
Aydelotte’s line of work and natural knack to chase and capture the next big thing have landed him in some interesting, and sometimes dangerous, circumstances. Most notably, during the 1993 Branch Davidian FBI raids near Waco, he was lying in a ditch along the edges of the Branch Davidian compound with his camera in tow, stationed for hours capturing photos of armed conflict that are still used in discussions of the raids. Just a day before he was interviewed for this story, Aydelotte was chasing tornadoes near Waco, getting as near as possible to the twisters to get good shots.
“We record history. We’re there for a minute and we’re going to take a photo, and that’s going to define that moment in history –– no matter where we are or what we’re doing,” he said.
Through years of capturing photos and recording history, Aydelotte has been able to have new experiences and develop relationships with the people he photographs.
“The experience is the key to anything we [photographers] do. It’s all about how you approach the experience,” he said. “The best thing about my business is not the photos, it’s the people you meet and the experience you get. The older I get, that’s more important, I think, than a photo. It’s so cool to see someone you might have taken a photo of three or four years ago. There are people I meet only on Black Friday, because they are in the line and I am shooting the line. When I get to the Veteran’s Day parade I see the same family once a year, so when I don’t see them, it makes me wonder where they are.”
Aydelotte believes these kinds or relationships and special experiences have been the most important part of his job over his long career. He has grown to learn that these moments make his demanding work worthwhile.
“I’ve been shooting for over 40 years, (but) I don’t think until after 20 years I knew what I was doing,” he said. “You can go and get a shot, but you really don’t understand why it is important.”
Despite being in the photography business for decades, Aydelotte said that he still gets nervous in the hours before an assignment.
“I’ll get nervous. I still get excited no matter what the event is. I get excited about every photo, it doesn’t matter where it is,” he said. “I thinks it’s kind of cool that I still get nervous because it makes you think more.”
In his Baylor classroom, Aydelotte’s main goal is to transfer this excitement to his photography students, along with the skills and tips he tries to instill in them.
“We [photographers] don’t have to think about things — it’s all automatic,” he said. “We know what to do in any situation, and trying to transfer that to my class is one of my biggest goals or obstacles because they tend to think too much. And when you start to think too much is when you start not grasping the best photo you can get.”
Surprisingly, Aydelotte takes very few personal photos on his own time, as photography for him is strictly a job and not something he does as a hobby. Almost every photo he takes is for the Waco-Tribune Herald, and once he is done with work he rarely picks up a camera again until he gets the call for his next assignment. When he does take personal photos, they are usually only quick snaps on his cell phone, which he also uses for work.
“The last time I shot on my own, I was coming back from somewhere and a storm rolled in, and I didn’t have my camera, so I shot this storm with my iPhone. I got a pretty great shot and sent it into the newspaper,” Aydelotte said. “I’m never off of work. If I’ve got my camera with me, I’m working. I don’t go out and just shoot, I don’t need to.”
If you ask Aydelotte for his expert advice on what he thinks makes for a good photographer, he’ll begin by listing practical skills: “Energetic, well-rounded, can take orders, understands the principals of photography, angles light.” Then, he’ll spill the real advice.
“You have to understand people. You have to be willing to be patient. You have to be willing to expand your horizons. You have to work hard, start early and stay late sometimes,” he said. “And you cannot take it for granted because once you take it for granted you lose the whole concept of trying to get a great photo. You have to push yourself, you can’t be satisfied.”
When asked if he ever plans on one day stopping his work as a photographer, Aydelotte immediately responds “Yes!”, although he admits that it is still fun for him to compete, get good photos and see people’s reactions to them.
Robbie Rogers is director of Baylor photography and video productions in the Division of Marketing & Communications, and also serves as a part-time lecturer in the Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media. At the same time, he is pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at Baylor.
Rogers’ interest in photography began when he talked himself into taking a photography class in his junior year of high school. He went on to work at newspapers and even spent some time as a team photographer in the National Football League (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Major League Baseball (the Tampa Bay Rays). He also worked as a photographer for Sports Illustrated.
When Rogers began his career in photography, he was an introvert who hid behind the shield that the camera created between himself and his subjects. He said that distance protected him and made him feel safe. Today, Rogers could be characterized as an extreme extrovert who wears a constant smile, and he credits photography for his shift in character.
“Later on in life, I learned to put the camera down and interact with people and build deeper relationships. That way I could tell their story accurately and with some integrity,” he said.
Telling these stories has also changed Rogers’ approach to photography. He admits that when he was younger, he viewed photography as a competition, which caused him to miss out on capturing memorable moments that portray deeper meanings and relationships. He believes that now he takes pictures more purposefully than he did before, which he has discovered is the key to getting good shots.
“When I was younger, I would just chase after stuff like a crazy squirrel without intention. I’m thinking more [now] and being much more intentional about what I am doing than I have before. I was much more reactionary at first and now I am more strategic,” he said. “Some of them aren’t all aesthetic. I remember these stories [in my photographs] that have changed my life somehow. I’ve been a part of the story, whether I knew it or not.”
Rogers’ photos are featured on every institutional Baylor social media site, publication and communication platform. He can be found taking photos at just about every major Baylor event, and at smaller events put on by different campus organizations and departments. Some of his favorite Baylor events to cover are Christmas on 5th Street, Homecoming weekend and Move-In Day. Since beginning his career at Baylor in 2005, Rogers has cherished the memories he has captured on and off campus, and said that the diversity of his career has taught him the value of photography.
“I’ve had some great experiences. I spent a month in Africa documenting different Baylor groups over there. Having a camera has let me go place in the world and see things,” he said. “I’ve been to Super Bowls, in courtrooms — the diversity of it is sort of like not having an average day. I don’t have an average life either. That’s the beautiful part about working at Baylor is that we’re capturing and were learning along the way, too. When you feel like you are a part of something, it is easier to document it.”As a part of his job as director of photography and video, Rogers covers every football game, yet he still gets excited by the adrenaline of each one. When shooting photos at a football game, Rogers is on the sidelines, moving with the action of the game to get shots to post on Baylor platforms. This gives him as much of a workout as the players get, and he is easily spotted from the stands due to his iconic blue hat that he wears while down on the field.
“Football is my specialty and I enjoy it. I have loved it for many years,” he said. “I have rituals where I will pace, and I wear a blue hat. I’m easy to spot. It has many meanings, its more than just a hat. It reminds me of a friend who helped me who died of skin cancer. It’s a sunscreen hat. It’s a little bit of everything.”
Rogers still deals with nerves before every new assignment, despite having taken pictures around the world and for major publications. He said that those nervous fears are what motivate him and inspire his photography. He’s found that in the end, his trust in his skill is enough to pull him through.
“I totally get nervous,” he said. “I still plan. I wake up before the alarm clock. If I set it for 3 o’clock in the morning, I’ll wake up at 2:58. There’s that anxiousness and that excitement that motivates me. I’ve minimized that thought that I’m going to be an epic failure. I still am going to fail because I’m human, but realistically, I’ve been flying on this tightrope without a net for many years now.”
Every case of nerves dissipates once Rogers snaps a few photos, and the results are always front page-worthy. Viewing his photographs can make you wonder if he has a field of vision that other human beings don’t possess, as he tends to know exactly when a snap-worthy moment is about to happen.
Rogers said that he has come to a point in his photography career where he no longer lets outside criticism affect him, and he no longer operates under the stress of trying to capture every moment in hopes that he will obtain the perfect shot. The result is that perfect shots seem to come naturally to him, now that he has dropped the burden of being flawless.
“There’s about a thousand perfect pictures going by me, and if I just get one, that’s awesome. We will be provided many opportunities,” Rogers said. “Initially, I thought it was my role to get them all. But now I’ve come to realize that it is my role to get the ones that are meant for me. I’ve come to a point where I’ve become satisfied. I’ve come to the point where I enjoy the pictures, and I enjoy what I have done.”
Rogers said that he has no plans of quitting photography any time soon, and he’s awaiting the pictures that he will have the opportunity to take next. He is on a constant journey to improve with every new photo that he takes.
“The best picture I have ever taken is my next one. My best picture is ahead of me, rather than behind me,” he said.