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Through the lens: The Photographic Journey of Tracey Eaton

Jan 13, 2010
by Chrissy Makris, Student

Flagler professor Tracey Eaton’s photographs and articles have been published in more than 65 U.S. and Canadian newspapers.  He’s lived in 10 states and three countries and has covered everything from drug trafficking to Brazilian surfers and Cambodian gangs.  While his aptitude for journalism has proven useful in landing jobs at the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times, his photographic ability to tell stories without words has transcended cultural boundaries and brought attention to issues often overlooked by the media. Eaton’s photographic journey began in 1981 after receiving a Fulbright scholarship to study the myths and legends of primitive Indian tribes in the jungles of Ecuador.

“It was my first step into photography,” Eaton said.  “After I got the Fulbright grant, I knew it was time for me to get a camera.”

So he purchased a Canon AE-1 and set out to document his experiences.  He traveled throughout the country on foot or by canoe, sleeping on the dirt floors of huts belonging to the various tribe members he was studying.

“I was there to study their culture and beliefs before they die out and people forget them,” he said.  “Through photography, I could capture that moment in time.”

While Eaton’s passion for photojournalism is surely diverse, not all of the moments he’s captured have been pleasant.  While working for The Tampa Tribune after studying in Ecuador, Eaton volunteered to cover a story on the 1985 volcanic eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Armero, Colombia.  The eruption and preceding mudslide killed more than 20,000 people and buried nearly the entire town. 

“That is the biggest, most memorable thing I’ve covered,” Eaton said.

While Eaton’s photographs of the incident have faded over time, the memories still remain clear.

“It was horrific.  I remember dogs running around fighting over human skulls,” he said.  “It definitely left an impression.  I can still see it in my mind.”

As Eaton’s career began to develop, his love of photojournalism merged with his love of travel.  While working as a reporter for The Orange County Register, he spent four months in Mexico investigating underage drinking, which led to increased enforcement and several public awareness campaigns.  Police chased him sneaking across the California-Mexico border while covering illegal immigrant communities.  As a foreign correspondent for The Dallas Morning News, he covered breaking news stories on organized crime, drugs and political issues in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Costa Rica.  But after leading/co-authoring five Pulitzer Prize contest entries and working as the metropolitan editor for the Houston Chronicle, Eaton decided it was time for a change. 

Eaton began his employment at Flagler College in 2007, teaching several classes in the communication department, including photojournalism.  Teaching provided him with an opportunity to expand his career, as well as inspire future journalism and photography students. 

“It doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my passion, ” Eaton said of his transition from investigative photojournalism to teaching.  “Its important that I keep doing it so I can be a better help to students- I don’t want to be telling stories about what happened 20 years ago.”

Since his first encounter with photojournalism in 1981, more then 4,000 of his photos have been published in print or online.  Some of the stories he’s told through his photographs may be dated, but they haven’t lost their brilliance.  Eaton has told the stories of outlaws, rebels, criminals and outcasts.  He has documented the lives of people living on the edge of society and given voices to those who have been silenced.  His colorful, honest and often emotional photos have a sense of depth that transcends the written word.

“If someone looks at a picture and wants to know more–if you can provoke thought–then you are making a difference,” Eaton said. 

In addition to teaching at Flagler, Eaton works as a freelance writer and photojournalist for several different print and Internet publications.  His blog, Along the Malecon, which has been online since 2008, features stories and photos from Cuba and has received 127,873 hits from visitors in 169 countries. Eaton is also currently working on a photo book about Cuban Harley-Davidson riders, and is planning a trip to Cuba in the near future. 

“I spend a good amount of time figuring out ways to get out in the field, because I love reporting and taking pictures” he said.  “It nourishes my soul and my mind, and that’s really what matters.”

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