How many people do you know who have been at the same job for 10 years? How about 20 years? Thirty years? Anyone?
Rio Ranchoan Dean Hanson has seemingly been everywhere and “shot” practically everything, and after a 35-plus-year career as a photographer at the Albuquerque Journal, he is retiring.
“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s unreal to me, it’s been so long.”
A Rio Rancho resident since 1988, and at 65 years of age, more than half his life has been behind a Journal lens. Add in another 10 years at previous photographer gigs in his native Minnesota and North Dakota, he’s literally come a long ways.
That “long ways” has included junkets to cover national stories for the Journal in Oklahoma City for the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in 1995, New York City for 9/11 and Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He’s been the newspaper’s photo editor the past five years.
Hanson said he found 14,000 photos that appeared in the Journal credited to him, and that only dates back to 1999, when he “went digital.”
Growing up in Minnesota
He grew up in rural southwest Minnesota, on the prairie.
“It was a good training ground to become a photographer because it was so barren, you really learned to see things,” he said.
His hometown is Worthington, Minn.
“Some of the first photography I did there was Hubert Humphrey, the grand marshal of the Turkey Day Parade (in 1976 or so),” he recalled. “When I was little, I would chase down fire trucks on my bicycle and shoot pictures. … Then it was just a Polaroid Swinger, the little black & white (photo) you would pull out. So that was fun.”
His personality played a role
“I got into it mostly in high school because I was terribly shy and I could go shoot a roll of film and hide in the darkroom for hours,” he said. “I joined the Camera Club. …That’s where I really learned it; I made my mistakes there — you can learn so much by making mistakes.”
Hanson shot high school football games and other prep sports.
“It kind of evolved as I went through high school; I became known as ‘the photographer,’” he said. “And then I had to take pictures of the football players – the crew I wasn’t a part of. And the cheerleaders wanted me to take their pictures, and all of a sudden, I had to talk to the prettiest girls in school I’d never had anything to do with, and they wanted something from me.”
Hanson attended the University of Minnesota and shot for the school newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, and eventually worked as a lab tech at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
“That way I got to hang with those people, but not have to get my hands dirty, because it was a whole different world then,” he said.
“I remember working at the Worthington paper — you’d be working in the darkroom and you’d hear the siren go off for the volunteer fire department, and if you came out the side door with your camera bag and were waiting at the curb as the fire truck came by, they’d pull you on and take you to the fire with them.
“Of course, I knew everybody there and they knew me,” he said. “It’s a little different now.”
Along the way, and including two years at “another great training ground,” the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, before his 1986 arrival in the Land of Enchantment, he had great mentors who helped him learn his discipline.
Unlike so many people in the media, Hanson doesn’t remember getting an adrenaline rush at a scene.
“I always felt like I had a job to do and I had to stay focused,” he explained. “I think emotions maybe get in the way of what you’re trying to do, if you get too excited about it.
“I never thought of myself as a really hard-nosed, breaking-news type of guy. I like ordinary people doing regular things and trying to shoot them in a way other people can connect with,” he said, “and maybe bring a smile to their face — a little bit of a distraction from all the death and destruction and how hard life is and, thankfully, at the Journal there’s still a place for photos like that.”
Hello, Albuquerque Journal
It was at a photo workshop in Missouri where Hanson learned of an opportunity at the Journal, thanks to a couple of Albuquerque photogs who were there.
“I thought, ‘Well, if I’m ever going to make a major change in my life, this is the time to do it,’” he said. “I was in my 30s. I always felt I belonged here; I’d never been here. I don’t know why.”
The technology for photography has undergone myriad changes, from a variety of types of film to transitioning to full digital.
“That changed everything,” Hanson said.
He said if there hadn’t been a pandemic, he’d have retired last year.
“I wanted to see the photo department through it,” he said. “All the reporters worked from home, but the photographers have been out in this every day since it began — and I don’t think people appreciate that as much as they might, and might not even be aware. I would have felt horrible if anyone would have caught that.”
It might be a while before Hanson is comfortable with his decision.
“I wish there was a better term than ‘retire,’ because it sounds like you’re
old and you’re gonna watch ‘The Price is Right,’” he said. “My health is so good, and now I’m going to transition into doing my own photography again, instead of being assigned things.”
He really doesn’t have a bucket list, but said, “I’m on a 30-year plan to landscape my yard, and there are a lot of dirt roads I haven’t been down yet.”
Plus, he’ll have more time to spend with his wife, Gina, who specializes in photographing birds. Their daughter, Jordan, a 2013 Cleveland High graduate, is into art and works for an IT firm.
You still may see his photo credit in the metro area.
“I’m leaving the door open,” he said. “Maybe, come fall, I’ll be bored and I’ll want to string for the Journal and shoot some high school football, but it’s gonna be on my terms.”