Writer’s Block: Remembering Joe Beautiful

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

I was in a rut— working scattered hours in a coffee shop, a couple years out of college and thinking I’d never realize my dream of turning my passion into a career. It was during one of those shifts at the coffee shop that my phone rang and a man named Paul Binz asked if I still wanted to be a photojournalist.

Binz was then the editor of the Valley Morning Star newspaper in Harlingen. He’d gotten my resume from his colleagues at his sister paper, The Monitor. I’d almost forgotten I had submitted it. It had been so long.

I said yes immediately.

It was at the formal interview a few days later that I first met Joe Hermosa, formerly of the Brownsville Herald, and then photo editor of the Star. He was a jolly man, with a generous smile and striking blue eyes which shined from a well-tanned, weatherworn face — evidence of a career spent in the field.

Joe didn’t waste any time. He introduced me to one of the sports writers, Eladio Jaimez, and sent me off with him and staff photographer Theresa Najera to test my chops in a live scenario. Off we went to a practice football field to shoot a portrait of a gridiron star.

I was about as successful at making that portrait as Bambi was when he tried to walk across the icy surface of a lake, but Joe was nothing but kind. He offered helpful criticism of my photos, complimented what he could, and gave Paul his recommendation to hire me.

I reported for my first official day just a couple of weeks later. I must admit, though my chosen field of study in college had been photography (fine art), I wasn’t very adept at the different set of rules required for news photography. Joe was patient. And funny. We’d have long conversations in between assignments where he would just talk shop.

Not long after I started at the Star, so did another young photojournalist, Josh Bachman. Together, our trio lived in our own little universe of sorts, as the space which had once been the Star’s darkroom had been transformed for the modern age into a digital photography lab.

Gone were the enlargers, red safelights and trays of pungent chemicals; in their place stood fast computers with lots of storage, CF card readers, and bright fluorescent lights. We were tucked away from the rest of the newsroom, which allowed us to form our own little community. I swear, I could still smell the vinegary scent of fixer and acid every time I walked into the room, though.

“Hello, my friend!” Joe would exclaim when Josh or I returned from an assignment. He almost always had a smile on his face. And when the stress and pressure of deadlines became too much, reporters and editors would often find their way to our little enclave, where Joe had an extra chair sitting by his desk. He always had time for a short chat. For a joke. For a moment to reminisce.

And if no one came to visit, then Joe would regale me and Josh with stories. We would good naturedly rib each other constantly. Josh would call him “Old Man,” then laugh.

Joe’s stories often times contained hidden wisdom, a realization I didn’t fully make until after he retired. Not understanding that sooner was my own misfortune, but, in speaking about Joe to others this week, I’ve realized I’ve internalized more of his lessons than I thought I had. The smaller, more subtle lessons that have nothing to do with light, exposure, shutter speed or composition.

His lessons return to me when I have to navigate some of the more tricky situations we encounter as journalists — moments when emotions are high, or when a story requires careful discretion and sensitivity. His lessons still resonate in the small things, too, such as how I carry my cameras with their lenses safely protected against my body, versus jutting out into the air where they can bump into things.

There are so many moments about my former boss that I can recall. Like the times his wife, Lynn, would visit, often with homemade treats. Her quiet cheerfulness was a perfect complement to his boisterous, booming laugh. At the time, Lynn also served as one of the paper’s freelancers and she often accompanied Joe to cover Friday night football games.

He was known as “Joe Beautiful,” partly because of his last name, but partly because that’s simply who he was. I’ll always be thankful to him for giving me my first shot in the newspaper industry, which has since become a decade-long career. A dream realized.

Jose Luis “Joe” Hermosa died on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.* He was 70 years old.

*Correction: The PRESS listed the date of death as Jan. 19, 2018 in the print edition. It was Feb. 19, 2018. 

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