Meet Tom Meyers
It’s ironic that Tom Meyers drives a brightly painted car that represents the television station where he works as a photographer. It’s also ironic that he has an iconic, thick head of brilliant white hair, bottomed-off with a handsome beard, because Tom is not one for attention.
He is a reserved, quiet guy who has learned through his life in photography that you have to be quiet and listen to others to understand what’s going on in the world and – that you have to make opportunities happen.
Tom has been a photographer in one way or another for almost all of his life. Growing up in Bloomington, Illinois, “My mother was a shutterbug. She was quick to hand me a camera.”
On top of that, a neighbor had a garage sale one day. “He had cans and cans of 35 millimeter black and white film in his freezer that he sold to me for a quarter a can. I had all the black-and-white film I could shoot.”
He set up a dark room in his closet, listening to his snoring grandmother, with whom he shared a room, as he developed film. Self-taught in photography, when he took a photography course in high school he was way ahead of everyone else. “Like anything, when you do the same activity over and over, you become skilled in it.”
Tom was given a unique opportunity growing up. He attended a university high school on the teachers' college campus that later became Illinois State University. “As a freshman in high school I had a university ID which meant I could sit in on classes. The high school was made up of local kids, professors’ kids and orphans of Illinois soldiers and sailors.” The varied lives of his peers gave Tom a great perspective on different lifestyles and how to relate to others.
He also made great opportunities for himself. “During the summer I was painting a horse barn. I could see a rainstorm coming, so I climbed down and then had nothing to do. I decided to go onto campus and into the TV studio. It was summer and they needed help. The engineer asked me if I could run a studio camera and I said, sure!” Tom said with a shrug of his shoulders and a sly smile.
He recalls that back in 1973, he only worked in black-and-white images. The students put on news programming five nights a week. “We only worked in black-and-white broadcasting and we had to know all parts and pieces – camera, audio, directing.” Everyone involved had to learn every aspect of the process.
Once again, Tom set out to create opportunity for himself. He was studying television/art/theater in the school of arts. “I went to the Dean and said I like all of them.” Tom loved to illustrate and work in the production (lights/sound) in theater. His professor told him to write a contract, which he did, creating his own major of visual education. “I got exactly what I needed.”
When he graduated a semester early, “My mother was unhappy. She always wanted to see me in a graduation ceremony. Instead, I was sent to cover the graduation. My dad was thrilled – I had a job.”
Tom went on to work at the television station in Peoria, Illinois. He found himself working in both film and digital formats. He would work in film in the morning “because it still needed to be developed and edited.” As the day wore on, they turned to video in order to make the evening news in time.
In 1978 he went on a road trip and found Colorado. “I was in Denver and I went into a television station that was looking for a photographer.” He shrugged again as if to say, the rest is history. “My career has always been in general assignments.” In 1981 “I changed TV stations and lived on the Western Slope in both Carbondale and Frisco. It was like having your own business. There were only two of us; we had to be like entrepreneurs.”
By 1995 “the business had changed; there was 24-hour news, the Internet had taken over You could see technology changing how people got their news. Broadcast news was evaporating.”
He decided it was time to get back to the core of news and he returned to the Denver market, purchasing a home in Evergreen with his wife, GSu. They had met in Aspen and married in 1985. In 2001 she came down with an incurable illness, and Tom became her caregiver. She passed away in 2012.
“I went about six or eight months where I didn’t want to even leave the house.” Then friends invited him to join them at a fundraiser at Seniors' Resource Center where he met his current wife, Janie. Janie had lost her husband, Robert Weinberger, only months earlier. “We had an understanding that others simply don’t see.” He paused and reflected and then added about his new marriage, “It’s been fun to learn about the Huskers. (Anyone who knows Janie knows she loves her Huskers.)
“I was fortunate to be in an industry that grew. It peaked in 1988 and has been declining ever since.” Tom is well aware of the changes in his industry.
“The job for the news is to be a fact checker. With social media, each person has to be their own fact checker.” He sees the problem today that “half of the facts are wrong and the other half has no place to confirm it.”
He describes a situation of arriving at a fire and getting three different stories of what happened. In the end, he returned and talked to the fire marshal and learned that the real story was completely different from the other three accounts. “Who in this age of media is going to take responsibility to check facts? It seems people are willing accept hearsay.”
His career has made him ask his own questions, “Why do people let me take their picture? Why do people take so many selfies?” Tom answered it with conviction. “Some people have to strive to be noticed."
In Tom’s case, his quiet demeanor, his hard work, and his dedication to sharing through pictures what happens in our world, makes him someone worth noticing when all he really wants is to be unobtrusive. “Unobstrusive” – he reflects, “I think we’ve lost that.”