Women Who Tell Our Stories: Regina H. Boone
“There’s just something magic that happens,” said Regina H. Boone.
A photo offers intimate insight into a moment, and a photographer is someone entrusted with the responsibility of capturing that moment. As an experienced photojournalist, Boone does not take this responsibility lightly. She uses her years of training, industry experience and compassionate nature to portray the stories of individuals and moments, while being on the sidelines of broader societal events.
Growing up, Boone was no stranger to the news industry. Her father founded the Richmond Free Press, a weekly newspaper her family still owns in Richmond, Virginia.
After completing her undergraduate degree in 1992 at Spelman College in Atlanta, Boone took the next few years to travel around the world. She was a member of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET), where she lived and taught English in Osaka. She then backpacked for 11-and-a-half months before returning to the United States for graduate school.
Boone pursued a master’s degree in photojournalism at Ohio University in the School of Visual Communication. Though she came into the program with prior industry experience, the VisCom school helped her hone her skills and be surrounded by peers equally as passionate about storytelling.
“To be able to be accepted into this program, and be surrounded by photojournalism, basically 24/7 was kind of like you died and went to heaven in many ways, in terms of your career, and in terms of your passion for photojournalism storytelling and truth telling,” Boone said of the program. “So being surrounded by these awesome professors, who were not just professors who were teaching from the book, but they were teaching from their experience in the field. So that's what really mattered, and was so beneficial, because they weren't speculating. You could trust your professors because they had been in the field.”
Boone has been on the sidelines capturing some of the nation’s most influential events: 9/11; Barack Obama’s election; the death of Rosa Parks; the Flint, Michigan, Water Crisis; the COVID-19 pandemic; and protests following the death of George Floyd, to name a few.
She recalls the first year of her graduate program, being tasked with the responsibility to drive the film of her classmates to Columbus, Ohio, to be developed for an assignment. The date was September 11, 2001.
Boone and a classmate drove to Columbus, and as they approached the city, they saw heavy traffic going in the opposite direction. They were tuned into the radio, listening for updates, and began understanding the gravity of the event. The photo processing store where they arrived was next to a federal building in the process of being evacuated. After speaking with police officers, they were allowed to check and see if the processing store was open.
“This is the first time we see images of what has happened,” she recalled. “We go in the back to the dark room, and they have a little tiny black and white TV, and we see the first images on there.”
Following their photojournalistic instincts, Boone and her classmate grabbed their cameras and started documenting the scenario in downtown Columbus. They then retrieved their class’s film and drove back to Athens where the entire campus mood had shifted.
As her time at OHIO ended, Boone accepted a staff photojournalist position at the Detroit Free Press, where she spent the next 14 years.
When asked about her how she approaches her photography process, Boone responded, “I’m really a people person that can connect with people quite easily. I think a lot of us are who are journalists and photojournalists just sort of ease into the situation and become a fly on the wall,” she explained. “Just constantly watching and locking in moments, different angles, all while still trying to make sure everything is just natural, not interfering, not being a part of the story. So, all those thoughts, while at the same time, you’re just trying to make the best images that can contribute to telling this story in the most powerful visual storytelling way.”
“I think building a relationship is so important but having that skill of being able to build trust in minutes. We have to do that in minutes, people have to let you in to their most intimate moments, whether it’s traumatic, whether it’s an intimate happy moment, they are letting us into their world. They are trusting us and trusting me that I am going to document the truth," Boone said.
One of the most memorable projects of Boone’s career was covering the Flint Water Crisis. It was also one of her last projects in Michigan.
Boone and a colleague were tasked with putting faces to the catastrophe. She then met Sincere, a two-year-old boy who was suffering from a rash as an effect of the water crisis.
“There was something that really hit home with me,” she said of his story.
Boone’s photo of Sincere was featured on the cover of Time Magazine.
The uniqueness of his name served as a catalyst for Boone to question the next step in her career and life.
“It started making me think about being sincere to myself," she said. "And sincere to my community, and was I living a sincere life?”
In 2014, as layoffs began affecting news organizations across the country, Boone volunteered to leave, and made the decision to return to Richmond, Virginia, and work at her family’s paper. Her father had recently passed away of pancreatic cancer, which also played a part in this decision.
“Do what I do for this big newspaper and apply the skills I learned in Detroit at the Free Press to my family’s newspaper, my community’s newspaper,” she said of her decision. “And do just the same, if not better, for people that I can tell the stories of in my world.”
Boone had the opportunity to do just that during the summer of 2020, as the pandemic was at its height and tensions were high across the nation because of the murder of George Floyd.
Richmond was experiencing added intensity due to its high number of Confederate statues. Monument Avenue in Richmond was the longest street with the most Confederate statues in America, and the largest Robert E. Lee statue in the country. Many local citizens were calling for the removal of such statues and succeeded in having them taken down.
“We were literally on the streets for about more than 65 days consecutively because there were protests every day,” Boone said of that summer.
The (Re)Framing Protest by photojournalists Regina Boone and Sandra Sellars exhibit can be viewed at this website.
Boone and her colleagues at the Richmond Free Press use the opportunity of working for a weekly newspaper to be more intentional through storytelling and tell more expansive stories.
“I’ve worked for a daily paper, and for a big company paper, and now coming back to a community paper and seeing how we really wanted to tell these stories from the ground and from the local perspective,” she explained.
Boone’s advice to future media professionals: “Always be respectful in every scenario that you are given the privilege of entering someone else’s life. It is a privilege to tell someone else’s story, and to remember that. Remember your role as truthtellers and to be respectful in all scenarios.”
March is Women’s History Month. This year, the theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” Stay tuned to learn more about Scripps alumnae who have shaped their respective fields with communication this month by visiting www.ohio.edu/scripps-college/women-who-tell-our-stories.