A passion for pictures
For nearly three decades, the thousands who read The Tennessee Magazine have benefitted from the work of Robin Conover, first as a staff writer and photographer, and for the past 15 years as editor, for the Volunteer State’s most widely circulated monthly publication. In June, the seasoned cooperative communicator’s talents and achievements were recognized by her CCA peers.
With a magazine deadline and the annual Washington Youth Tour looming, Robin arrived at the Institute only a few hours before the annual honors banquet. She thought she was being recognized for winning Photographer of the Year, an award she has received in multiple years including 2017. To her surprise, Robin was instead introduced that evening as the 59th recipient of the association’s most prestigious honor, the H.E. Klinefelter Award.
Robin took a few minutes between deadlines and travel to answer some questions for the Communiqué.
When did you discover your passion for photography?
I bought my first camera in high school. I worked at a horse stable in the summer of 1981 or 1982 and saved $125 to buy a Canon AE-1. Staying in the background watching people was my comfort zone back then, so being behind the camera seemed comfortable. I began taking pictures for the yearbook that year and was hooked.
In college, I started as a pre-med major and stayed in that track for about two years. My work study scholarship at Murray State University was free room and board for 10 hours of on-campus work each week. My original job was working at the library. Reshelving books was becoming a bit boring when a sign was posted about photography positions open at the campus newspaper and yearbook. I applied and got the job. It wasn’t long after that I switched my major to journalism and minor to art.
How did you become a co-op communicator?
My college suite mate, Sandi Wiseman, had landed a job at Tennessee Farmers Cooperative with Jerry Kirk earlier in the year. She called me one day to say they had a communications position open. I interviewed with Jerry and received the proverbial good news-bad news call a few days later. Bad news was that I did not get that job because I didn’t have enough of an agriculture background. Good news was an offer to interview for another publication. You see, Jerry was also serving as editor of The Tennessee Magazine. TECA offered me the job; I said yes, and the rest is history.
How has your work changed over the years?
When I was hired at The Tennessee Magazine we used a wax machine, pasteup boards and a real darkroom. Word processing was brand new, and we still used a Compugraphic to set type one line at a time. Communicators had to be jacks of all trades. We had to edit, write, photograph and design our own pages. With each promotion, I’ve added new responsibilities and skill sets but still use those original skills on a regular basis.
What are your job responsibilities?
I oversee a staff of four with our main job responsibility being The Tennessee Magazine. It’s a monthly publication with an average circulation of 580,000 and about 18 co-op versions. We do all of the prepress work in house using the Adobe Creative Suite and Quark. My responsibilities include anything and everything that needs to be done to keep our publication interesting to read, informative to co-op members and affordable for our member cooperatives. And, of course, any other job responsibilities as assigned, which includes assisting in video production, Washington Youth Tour, editorial planning, etc.
What are your favorite kinds of assignments for The Tennessee Magazine?
Any shoot where I can get out and spend time with our members and people in their communities doing good things. I love to tell the stories of real people doing real things to help others. I also really enjoy photographing nature, especially the light just before sunrise and just after sunset.
What are your hobbies or special interests?
For recreation I enjoy anything outside, especially hiking, camping and kayaking.
What might CCA members be surprised to know about you?
I still play softball.
If you hadn’t become a professional communicator, what would you be?
Probably a veterinarian. I would have saved myself thousands!
What are two odd things you keep in your camera bag?
Ear plugs because it is miserable when you need them and don’t have them. Bug spray because I am a magnet for ticks and chiggers.
Since you work in Nashville … What’s your best celebrity encounter story?
I held the door for Vince Gill one night at Douglas Corner. He said “thank you.”