My first meeting with Nick Oza happened in the middle of the week, late in the afternoon near the beginning of the semester. Like most journalism students, I was undecided about what I wanted to do or where I wanted to work and was looking to a weathered veteran for words of encouragement and hard-luck advice.
I met nick as he was pulling out of the Arizona Republic employee parking structure. He stopped in the middle of the road and yelled out to me from a partially lowered window. Nick, who had promised me an interview, was between assignments and was planning on picking up a friend at the air port. Nick informed me that he only had a few minutes, but he wanted me to ask him whatever questions I had.
I reviewed my questions carefully scribed on my yellow legal pad: “How did you get involved in photojournalism,” “How do you approach a subject bout getting their personal information,” etc.
As I began asking my questions, Nick pulled his car into a Circle-K convenience store and instructed me to follow him. I kept trying to ask questions about aperture and lens section , but I didn’t know that I was ging to walk away with something so much more valuable.
I patiently waited in line with Nick as he purchased a new pack of cigarettes. watched as he unwrapped the Marlboros’ and perched a fresh stick on his lower lip. We went outside and stood near the front of the convenient store, surrounded by the homeless, the wretched and the forgotten.
“I belong to the streets, man” he informed me. I like to tell their stories.
I have been fascinated by Nick’s work, the stories he captures following gang street violence and families torn to shreds by drugs. He gets so close to his subjects, but still tells a startlingly accurate story.
I felt when I asked him how he got so close to his subjects, I was asking a magician how they cut someone in half. But he was very open and immediate with his response:
“I just do…stories don’t happen from nine to five,” you have to follow your story, and be there when it happens. Maybe you will get lucky.
Nick told me that he told stories of humans and he didn’t like to incorporate elements such as flash and lighting. He liked to present an accurate transmission of what happened.
I quickly abandoned my generic list of technical photo questions and kept asking him questions about ‘story’. Where do you look for good stories, how do you follow a good story, when do you know you have a good story?
He told me the best stories are the ones that challenge you. You can only tell a good story if you change as a person, and learn something.
Before I had a chance to ask him about internships and job prospects, we were back at the Republic building, shaking hands and bidding farewell.
I left our conversation still unclear about where I wanted to work, but I was confident about what I wanted to do.
I want to tell stories about humans.