Tell us a little about yourself? My name is Octavio Jones. I’m from Washington D.C and growing up I’ve also spent an extensive time of my life in North Carolina. I am a HBCU graduate of Saint Augustine’s College (now Saint Augustine University). I am an independent photojournalist who has worked assignments for several publications such as CNN, The Washington Post, and the Rolling Stones. Prior to going independent, I worked for the Tampa Bay Times for nearly 10 years. Tampa Bay is where I reside with my wife and daughter.
When did you first pick up the camera? I picked up my first camera in junior high school. It was a teacher named, Mr. Freshwater, who put us in a dark room and showed us how to develop black and white photos. He gave us a camera to take photos of our neighborhood and around the school. That experience led me to a summer job later in high school. I worked at a photography studio in Northeast D.C. That’s when I really learned about photography and it was an experience I’d never forget.
How did you get started with your career? I got my bachelor’s degree in business administration. I worked in human resources for many years before transitioning to photojournalism. I’ve always had an interest in architectural photographer. I would be in my cubical looking at the photography websites. What did it for me was seeing the work of some documentary photographers. I would see their work from all around the world and that what sparked my interest to change careers around the age of 30. I went back to school and got an associates degree in photojournalism. I did a few internships and got a job at a daily newspaper, Fayetteville Observer. This career change happened with me having a family and a newborn. It was a big risk but a risk worth taking.
What was it like starting a new career, pursing your dreams and making sure you’re upholding your duties as a provider? It was a huge leap of faith. It was tough because it was a huge sacrifice. I gave up my full time job. I took 12 hours classes while working a part-time job along with other side jobs. Having a supportive spouse was important. We had to create a system that worked for us so I could get through that transition. As my daughter got older, I would bring her with me on assignments especially if they were safe and family friendly.
Has there been an assignment you’ve covered that you found yourself emotionally attached to the story? Yes, a couple of times. Several years ago, there was a spike of rash killings, murders in the inner city of Tampa. These killings were teens as young as 14 years old. I’m photographing these images of kids in caskets along with their families. I had so many thoughts and questions that would run through my head. It wasn’t because the teens were black but the fact that kids were being killed. I’m usually objective and numb when doing this job but after a George Floyd protest, I found myself breaking down and crying. I’ve never gotten emotional like this but I couldn’t get over the question of why these things keep happening to us? But, I had to gathered myself and get the assignment done.
How do make connections with people when out on assignments? You have to get rid of whatever stereotypes you have of people. I think people want to think of themselves as a good individuals. You can’t let their environment or the hardships of life affect your thoughts of them. I try to break the ice with common grounds such as an interesting story about their town, places to eat or whatever makes you able to set the tone. Once you find that common ground with someone then they’ll usually open up.
What was your fatherhood experience like growing up and how did it affect you as father? My parents divorced when I was like 3 or 4. My father lived in the same city as me so I did grow up with him but you learn the difference of home life when a father is not present with you everyday. He was certified mechanic so I was able to learn a lot from him when fixing things. He was a no nonsense man. He would always tell us if we go to jail–he’s not bailing us out. But as I got older and learned about his past, I got a better understanding of why he was the type of husband and father he was.
The way he raised us made me to work to spend as much time with my daughter and give her the experiences of travel and extracurricular activities. Due to the industry I work in, I’m not able to make it to all of her events but I make sure that I’m honest with her when it comes to commitments. My daughter also is good about checking me and making me accountable as a father.
What is your top five assignments?
- Meeting John Thompson at the Final Four in Dallas
- Covering Barack Obama at Fayetteville North Carolina in 2008
- Dwight Gooden and the little league program
- Biking While Black
- Any election coverage which is always huge in Florida
What does success look like in your eyes? It’s all about perception. I’m a person that takes it by the assignment and whether or not I’m accomplishing my short term goals. It’s a grind for anyone who freelances full time but I felt 2020 was a successful year for me even with everything that’s gone on.
If you could write a short letter to your father starting with “Dear Father,” what would you say?
When we taking a trip to Buckingham County in Virgina?
Where can folks find you on the “innaet?”
Facebook: Octavio Jones