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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Randy Allen: Molding the next generation of photographers


Journalism Professor Randy Allen talks in 2015 with the late Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records

Randy Allen: Molding the next generation of photographers

Steven Wayne Covington

Guest Writer

[email protected]


For the past 35 years, Randy Allen has been creating art through the lens of his camera. Now at the age of 60, he is teaching the next generation of photojournalists to do the same. As City College’s photography and journalism professor, Allen has a wealth of knowledge and talent to share with the world he’s been photographing for years.

Allen’s office is like a time capsule of his career. Cameras from recent and bygone days surround him like mechanical Cyclops, peering into his interactions with students and staff. Press credentials hang on a wall nearby; a timeline of past assignments. A cast of “Star Wars” figures stands guard over Allen’s right shoulder as a testament to his love of all things sci-fi.

Dressed in a button-down shirt, blue jeans and his trademark baseball cap, Allen’s laid-back demeanor and infectious enthusiasm for photojournalism immediately draws students in.

“I really like the idea that the job is essentially to go see cool stuff and show it to somebody else,” says Allen, who is also co-adviser to the City College newspaper.

“The idea that I’m the guy who is going to go see this thing for all these other people who can’t go see this thing, no matter what it is — if it’s a protest or if it’s a sporting event or if it’s just a famous person coming to speak. The idea that you are the one who gets to go do that and the admission price is to take really good pictures and let everybody else see them? I’ve always thought that was the big attraction.”

Allen is the definition of a Renaissance man. Photojournalist, sailor, sci-fi enthusiast, drone pilot, professor and photographic philosopher – all things that make him great at observing life and capturing it through the lens of a camera.

It’s Allen’s zest for life and inquisitive nature that has shaped his career. Allen’s sense of wonder has led him to experience grand adventures like flying with a stunt pilot. He once spent three days living with Sacramento firefighters at their firehouse.

“Having the chance to sort of parachute into a person’s life and live their life for a couple of days is kind of cool,” says Allen. “I would pick things based on stuff that I had a personal interest in, stuff that I thought would be fun to do and would provide good imagery.”

The curiosity that Allen has exhibited throughout his photojournalism career is now being passed down to his students.

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Another student of his, who has worked alongside Allen in the classroom as his teaching assistant for almost three years, is Vanessa Nelson. Allen calls her “V.”

“He’s always in my head when I’m shooting,” says Nelson, 38. “He’s that little voice that is like, ‘Hey V., get down more. Hey V., get a different angle. Get up higher, V., you’ve got to get that shot, you need that person in that shot.’”

Allen helped Nelson get a photography job with the Sacramento River Cats last summer. As a longtime San Francisco Giants fan, it was a thrilling job for her.

“It was kind of like a ‘Field of Dreams’ thing for me when I was there because I love baseball and the Giants,” says Nelson. “And here I have, like, Hunter Pence and Panda. They’re all walking by me and I cannot fangirl, right? I have to be professional.”

Nelson explained how her mentor was at the same game in the stands. When she called him on her cell phone and told him how she couldn’t believe that she was in the Giants’ dugout, Allen responded with his characteristic calm tone.

“V., you’re getting paid for it,” he told her.

Allen always encourages his students to try something new, to look at things from a different perspective. He’s not threatened by their success.

“He’s not afraid to give you advice or to help you advance in your career,” says Nelson. “Some photographers, they kind of keep secrets. Randy, he just doesn’t hold back. He sees that you want this, and he’s right there to kind of say: ‘This is what you do.’”

In a day when people go to YouTube to learn about a new subject, Allen has always felt that photography is best learned not virtually, but in an apprenticeship.

“I think it’s like any other art form,” says Allen. “You have to have somebody look at your work and point out what’s good or bad. You have to be able to say to them ‘this didn’t work, try this next time.’”

After years as a photojournalist at newspapers like the Sacramento Bee, Allen continues to share what he learned in the field with his students.

“I look back on my career and all the things I did right came from somebody else,” he says.


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