Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Meek School Photojournalist Timothy Ivy: “He’s got that ‘IT’ factor”

Photo by Evangeline W. Robinson

Timothy Allen Ivy’s (’01) life has been a sequence of happenstance. He can’t predict his future, and he certainly could not have predicted his past.

Ivy was born the son of a preacher, an inner-city kid living in East St. Louis, Illinois. Even after his family moved to Oxford and he graduated from Lafayette High School in 1984, he had no idea where his life was headed.

“I just didn’t have really any direction,” Ivy said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

One day, Ivy was inspired to tour Ole Miss on a high school visit day.

“I had already graduated, so I couldn’t be an official participant. But I came anyway, because I wanted to check out girls,” Ivy said. “I just happened to look around, and I saw this guy with a huge camera and a light stand with an umbrella. And I started salivating. It was the biggest camera I had ever seen in my life.”

Ivy soon discovered that the man was Robert Jordan, photographer for the University of Mississippi public relations department.

“So I started asking all these questions, and he asked me if I was in school,” Ivy said. “I was like, ‘Nah.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what. Come to school. I’ll give you a job.’”

Ivy eagerly agreed. The next spring, he was enrolled at the university.

“I signed up for one class so that I could technically be in school,” Ivy said. “And I started working as a student photographer. It opened up a whole new world to me that I, prior to then, didn’t know existed: photojournalism.”

Not only did Ivy begin to learn about photography, but he was suddenly submerged in the craft. He gained access to magazines and newspapers as well as to unlimited black-and-white film and a key to the building where the darkroom was located.

“So I had unbound access to all these images, and I just studied them and studied them and studied them. And I went out and tried to emulate them, so that was basically how I learned it,” Ivy said. “I pretty much dropped everything else and became a photographer.”

Then something big happened. Just a few months into his new job, Ivy had the opportunity to cover a story that made regional headlines.

“It just so happens that I was working as a student photographer at the PR department, and one night there was a plane crash at the university airport. I was the only photographer on the scene.”

The next day, Ivy found his photographs picked up by the Associated Press and splashed across the front pages of The Clarion-Ledger and The Commercial Appeal. Unbeknownst to Ivy, it was the first of many times the nation would see his byline.

That same year, Ivy applied for another job in Oxford.

“I met Tim in 1986 when he was still a student,” said Neil White, creative director and publisher at The Nautilus Publishing Co. “He walked into my newspaper (The Oxford Times, a short-lived alternative newspaper in Oxford) with a portfolio. I hired him on the spot. His eye for composition and subject matter was extraordinary, even at his age. After that, we started winning lots of awards for photography.”

Unfortunately, even Ivy’s photography couldn’t keep The Oxford Times alive. After the paper folded, Ivy returned to the University of Mississippi PR department and transmitted photos to the Associated Press. He then became The Clarion-Ledger’s north Mississippi freelance photographer. In the summer of 1989, Ivy got an internship with The Commercial Appeal.

“That was a dream come true, because that was one of the main papers that I used as an instruction tool,” Ivy said. “So I had seen all these photographers’ bylines, and then I was working with them. I was like, ‘Wow. This is amazing.’”

After that summer, Ivy interned at the Birmingham Post-Herald in Birmingham, Ala., and for the StarTribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Then he contributed regularly to several national magazines and shot photos for nonprofit organizations. One of those organizations was the Foundation for the Mid-South.

“I did like three or four projects traveling the region, documenting the programs that they were funding. And that was fun,” Ivy said. “But then I started missing the day-to-day newsroom activity.”

That longing for adventure and excitement led Ivy to New Jersey in 2001. He remained there for 12 years as a photographer for various publications, but first and foremost for The New York Times. It was during the Staten Island ferry crash of 2003 that Ivy was hit with the realization of his success.

“I shot an assignment for the paper — like a feature assignment — and I came back to my office to process the images, and I got a call saying, ‘We need you to go back out.
There’s this ferry crash. We need you to go to the airport; we’re going to put you on a helicopter.’ “And that’s when it all hit me,” Ivy said. “It was a beautiful October evening, and I was flying over the New York harbor leaning outside of a helicopter shooting pictures of an international news event.”

After more than a decade of being on the East Coast, though, Ivy’s life and desires began to change.

“I lost my father in 2008 and then my mother in 2012,” he said. “I had been there for 12 years, and I was ready to do something else. The bad thing about New York is that I was covering mostly news stories — a few features, but no real rich, cultural stories. And I missed that, so I wanted to come back to Mississippi.”

While he was back in the South taking care of his parents’ estate, Ivy ran into Will Norton Jr., dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, on campus.

“You know, it’s just weird how all these things unfolded, because I hadn’t planned to be there,” Ivy explained. “I had stopped by to see a friend, and she convinced me to stay for a meeting, and (Norton) happened to walk past and invited me to lunch. We talked, and he asked me, ‘What are you going to do with the rest of your life?’”

That encounter led Ivy to accept a position at the Meek School as an adjunct instructor of photojournalism. Since then, Ivy has enjoyed handing over to students the lessons learned from his years of work in photography.

“It’s good passing on the knowledge and passing on my experiences,” Ivy said. “I enjoy engaging with the students and showing them the passion and thrill of knowing how to tell a story through a picture. I’m very passionate about that, so trying to express that and pass it on to someone else has been very fulfilling.”

Soon after Ivy returned to Oxford, he met Scott Coopwood, publisher and owner of Delta Magazine, Delta Business Journal and The Cleveland Current.

“Tim introduced himself to me at one of [Ole Miss professor] Samir Husni’s ACT conferences. He recognized me from my magazines,” Coopwood said. “Tim gave me his card, and I was stunned when I returned home and reviewed his website. On the site, I found an endless array of beautiful photography. Immediately, I knew I wanted to work with him.”

However, teaching photojournalism and shooting for Coopwood’s publications are just two of the many things Ivy is involved in since he returned to Mississippi. In addition to building furniture for his online business, Mimosa Modern, Ivy was granted a fellowship by the Mississippi Arts Commission in 2014. His purpose became documenting the culture and life of people in the mid-South — “just telling people’s stories,” he said.

“My motto is that everyone has a story. Having that challenge of hearing about someone’s life and their story and being able to visually put that together is very fulfilling.”

According to White, Tim’s success with people goes beyond the lens.

“Not only is Tim an outstanding photographer, he is one great person,” White said. Coopwood even claims that Ivy is one of the best U.S. photographers of today.

“He just has that ‘it’ factor in his work, and that is huge,” Coopwood said. “Most photographers strive for that uniqueness all of their lives and never hit the mark. Tim does.”

For Tim Ivy, though, it’s simple.

“We all have stories,” he said. “You have to put forth an effort to find out what that story is. Just talk to people. Just have a conversation.”

Do that, Ivy said, and things will fall into place.

By Anna McCollum, a 2016 graduate of the Meek School from Corinth, Mississippi.

The Meek School Magazine is a collaborative effort of journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications students with the faculty of Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Every week, for the next few weeks, HottyToddy.com will feature an article from Meek Magazine, Issue 4 (2016-2017).

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