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The unpredictable photography career of John Starks 

John Starks, one of four full-time photographers for the Daily Herald since 1997, has covered an array of events from the Chicago Cubs’ triumph in the 2016 World Series to the cleanup of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

“You face so many different situations every day, things that you’re never going to be able to anticipate,” Starks said.

Growing up in a small town in Michigan influenced Starks’ love for local news. He followed after his father who regularly read newspapers to stay connected to his community. 

Though he had an appreciation for photography, Starks struggled with taking himself seriously as a photojournalist.

 “I was afraid,” he said. “I didn’t think I had the guts to be a news photographer.” 

A motorcycle accident after high school inspired him to take pictures again and enroll in night classes at community college. Starkes later transferred to Central Michigan University where he graduated with a degree in journalism. 

Starks has had the opportunity to cover events in places such as Paris and Mexico, but local news remains a large portion of Starks’ work because it allows him to build close connections with his audience. 

“The job [of] community journalists is important because you’re reflecting community, people who care about each other and you have to care about them,” Starks said. 

Starks’ care for his community is exemplified in experiences like covering a high school volleyball game, during which he photographed a young player during one of their first games on the varsity team. After observing the athlete’s initial fear, he continued to see her compete and eventually become an all-state player.

“She became [a] fantastic player, and dominant player, and a great person,” Starks said. 

Starks recalls an emotional moment in his career when he attended a vigil held in memory of a young Barrington High School student who died while crossing train tracks in that suburb. 

“I was crying during this thing,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be in that situation to be trusted to be there and tell the story.” 

With the unpredictability that comes with being a photojournalist, some experiences stick with him more than others. 

During a court trial in Michigan, Starks was once assigned to photograph someone who had just been convicted of a felony. As the offender was escorted out into the hallway, he attacked Starks who was attempting to photograph him. Despite the aggressive manner of the encounter, Starks was able to learn from that experience. 

“You have to be human and respect even the despicable people in the job. You have to be neutral in every situation,” he said.

Starks said he copes with covering difficult events by participating in hobbies to unwind and avoiding letting work impact his personal life. 

“There is no slowdown in this business. You can get burned out pretty quickly if you don’t know how to leave it behind every night,” Starks said. 

Given his photojournalism tenure and his plethora of experience, he encourages others to find their voice and build experience in any situation. 

“Develop your instinct, and the only way to do that is to get out there and work. Get out there and make the mistakes,” Starks said, “you have to be a bit of a sociopath, there are times when the job is really scary.” 

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