As an intern for Quincy’s Patriot Ledger from 1986 to 1987, Susan Walsh was the butt of a running joke about unglamorous assignments.
“Give it to Susie Walsh, she’ll shoot anything,” Walsh (COM’87) remembers her colleagues saying. “But what position was I in to pick and choose? I’d go anywhere and try to get the best picture I could.”
Now a staff photographer for the Associated Press, former president of the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) and 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner Walsh will speak at the College of Communication today at 4 p.m., hoping to show students that a willingness to shoot anything is the first step to success.
Walsh will present a slide show from a career that has taken her to five Olympic Games, six Super Bowls, and countless political events.
She was a member of the AP team that won a Pulitzer for a series of 20 photographs chronicling former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Her contribution was a photograph of Clinton thanking Democratic members of the House of Representatives who supported him, with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the background.
“It was great to be a part of that, because it was so significant at the time,” Walsh says. “And it’s good to know that when I die, they can say I was a Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer.”
A native of Las Vegas, Nev., Walsh came to BU in fall 1983 with dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer. First semester Ds in physics and calculus quickly had her looking for classes that would boost her GPA.
Her work in a second semester basic photography course won her an A and a new interest. She continued taking photography classes and joined the yearbook photo team. Because she didn’t want to wait months to see her work published, she handed many of her photographs to the Daily Free Press.
“I’m impatient and I need that instant gratification,” Walsh says. “I was always meant to be a wire photographer.”
After graduating in 1987, Walsh daily called the Boston bureau of the Associated Press, asking if they had any assignments. After three weeks of hearing “no,” she finally got one, which led to a freelance job.
By 1991, she was on staff. After her stint as president of the White House News Photographers Association, from 2001 to 2006, she returned to the AP, this time in its Washington bureau.
Walsh says she’s a “paid busybody who gets a front row seat to history.
“I’ve had so many cool ‘firsts,’” she says. “My first time on Air Force One, my first Super Bowl, my first Olympics. It’s been a great way to see the world.”
While she’s photographed Presidents Clinton and Obama, she had the most contact with former president George W. Bush, in office during her time at the helm of WHNPA. “I really didn’t expect to like him, but if you take politics out, he’s just a super-nice guy,” she says. “He’s genuine and thoughtful, a bit emotional, a real human being.”
At today’s talk, Walsh hopes to make it clear to aspiring photographers that the best tool a good photographer can possess is a good attitude. “I wasn’t the best photographer when I graduated from COM,” she says. “But I listened and I was enthusiastic, and that’s what made the difference.”
Peter Southwick, a COM associate professor of photojournalism, who invited Walsh to speak on campus, says her talent and willingness to work hard make her an exceptional role model.
“Even though she is a Pulitzer Prize–winner and a veteran of many high-profile assignments, she hasn’t lost touch with the lessons that got her started,” Southwick says. “I think it will be inspiring for students to learn from a top-flight photojournalist whose career path has taken her from the COM photo lab to the top of the profession.”
Susan Walsh will talk today, Wednesday, March 17, in the College of Communication student lounge, 640 Commonwealth Ave., beginning at 4 p.m. Walsh’s photographs will be displayed in nearby halls, and light refreshments will be served.
Caroline Hailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.