Editor's note: The TimesDaily staff, with profound gratitude, collectively sends our best wishes to longtime photo editor and journalist Matt McKean as he retires from full-time journalism. On this page, he shares a few reflections, and a handful of his favorite images from the thousands he has photographed. 

Reflecting on my career as a photojournalist the past 40 years, I am amazed by how quickly the time has passed.

I have been blessed to be able to cover all sorts of events, many wonderful and some terrible. But in the end, it was the people I have met whose lives I have been able to document that have had the greatest impact on my life though my work.

I have covered presidents, vice presidents, all-star athletes, celebrities, and famous entertainers and musicians.

I have flown in helicopters, hot air balloons, gyrocopters, jets and World War II bombers.

I have stood outside on the top of the Renaissance Tower, and crawled through caves.

There have been presidential campaigns, national championships, tragedies, once in a decade storms, and college football rivalries such as the Iron Bowl and the last-minute Alabama win over Auburn with Van Tiffin’s field goal at Legion Field.

Being allowed behind the scenes has given me a glimpse into the lives that I recorded with my camera. Being an artist at heart, but not being able to draw a straight line, I found that a camera was the only option I had.

I do have to say, though, the memories of the people here in the Shoals have lasted the longest with me. People like Eddie Byrd, who used to drive his mule wagon to the lumber yard in Tuscumbia once week to get firewood — a wonderful man with great stories. Or World War II veterans Betty Martin, Ambrose Underwood and Miles Carter.

So much incredible humanity in such a small area. Sadly, many of them are no longer with us, but I will always carry the moments we shared every time I see their pictures.

During my initial years of shooting pictures for the newspaper it was simply black-and-white film and prints. To shoot a simple assignment meant hours doing darkroom work, developing film and printing photos.

Since the turn of the century, we are able to take a photograph and upload it directly to a laptop, and then to the newspaper or to our smartphones and back. What took hours now takes minutes.

What has been lost is the process of learning how to make great pictures with just a few frames of film.

In the past, I would shoot four rolls of film at a sporting event, a total of 144 images. Of those, many were unusable for one reason or another such as being out of focus or a poor exposure. Each roll cost, as did the processing. We had a room here at the paper for only the commercial film processor.

Things have changed. Last fall, it was not unusual to take 800 to 900 pictures at a football game. It takes longer to edit, but with computer software, most of what was, back then, not usable is usable now, and I can upload pictures from the front seat of my car at halftime. When I'm finished, I erase the card and get ready for the next one.

I will miss being sent out to photograph an assignment where I have the opportunity to meet someone new, or an old friend to make new memories. Life is just an adventure that we embark on each new day, and I look forward to what God has in store for tomorrow.

Thank you for the honor of being able to be a small part of your day and part of the lives of the incredible people in the Shoals.

(1) comment

Dianne Richerson

Thank you for your great work, and your friendly nature. We will miss you, and hope you have some fun in retirement!

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