I was given the opportunity to talk to Mr. Caronna a few weeks ago to recounts his incredible journey. Growing up in a diverse school, not unlike our own, in New Jersey sparked his interest in Asian languages and cultures, and set the foundation for his learning for years to come. It wasn’t something that had jumped out at him, but had rather seeped into his everyday life and become a passion that he continued to explore.
His commitment to it was evident and he learned Japanese independently while at school simply as a hobby that was motivated by his curiosity. This bled through to his college years at the University of Pennsylvania where he was able to further explore his interest in the Asian, especially Japanese region, but was also able to dabble in other areas including Computer Science and Physics, culminating in a degree in East Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. This is what really caught my attention because I for one have not met many people with this background or who have gone into this stream, so I was curious to see what could be done with this.
This, for me, was the real beginning of his journey. He began in a small, virtually unknown city in Japan as part of the Japan Exchange in Teaching (JET) Program as the mayor’s interpreter and translator. The two years spent teaching children, doing school visits opened the doors for more opportunities in the future and he soon found himself situated at a translation business in Tokyo. This acted as the catalyst for his interest in journalism and acts as proof that one passion can stem from another and that they can change and evolve over time.
Even though this began as a result of his interest in language, it brought Mr. Caronna back to New York as part of a business magazine while he waited to attend Columbia University’s journalism course, proving that change might not be easy or come quickly, but is definitely possible. Despite moving back home, he didn’t lose his connection to Asia and after graduating he worked in a Japanese newspaper’s New York office. This then propelled him to greater heights and he moved on to write at the Wall Street Journal, which ended up being the turning point for his career once again. While he was there, he took photos for some of his stories, and in doing so discovered his true interest in photojournalism. To pursue it, he took a risk and quite his job at the Journal to take up freelance photography in Hong Kong- a precarious position for anyone, but really difficult to imagine in today’s world.
One thing led to another and Mr. Caronna found himself being requisitioned by the New York Times for what was supposed to be a one-day job. This turned into something bigger, and the next thing he knew, he was in Australia, a testament to the unpredictable nature of his line of work. Eventually, however, he was taken on full-time by Bloomberg News in Tokyo, and primarily covering Business and Politics stories. Two years later he joined Reuters where his focus broadened ranging from sports to natural disaster, and in doing so provided an end to his somewhat sinuous tale.
As someone who was considering journalism, but was only really aware of text-journalism, it was really interesting to see this completely different facet in the form of photo-journalism. As someone who had done both, I asked Mr. Caronna why he preferred the latter to which he said that his experiences as a text-journalist were far more removed from the situation on which he was reporting, whereas as a photographer, he was forced to be present in the moment and was always fully involved in every story. He’s felt the blood and sweat of a boxer from the ringside, been in the pit of a Formula One race as the driver’s took their stops and been up close to the Emperor and Empress in the Imperial Palace. These are encounters that most of us would never be able to have, but they don’t come without their pitfalls in the form of strain on family caused by long and unpredictable hours and stories that can stretch on for days and on top of that it’s dangerous. But at the end of it all, that’s what characterizes the job and what makes it so spontaneous and exciting.
His seniority as the head of the Global Editing Operation now, has seen a transition from the photography that he used to do as a freelance journalist, to more of a behind-the-scenes editing position, managing a team of 25 people and the massive inflow of photos from across the globe. Although vastly interesting, the job comes burdened with ethical challenges when covering sensitive topics. “Will their coverage reveal the peoples’ identities?” “Will it lead to more abuse?” These are questions that he must consider everyday and as he says, “it’s about balancing peoples’ need to know, and protecting the source who may be in a vulnerable position”. But, for him, this has become the most captivating part of his profession.
Mr. Caronna took a long and winding road to get to where he is now, and for most of us that’s what we can take away from his experience. He, like many of us, didn’t know what he wanted to do until much later in life, but he didn’t box himself in. He used his time in university to study more generally and explore what he enjoyed but what he really gained from the experience were communicative and connective skills that weren’t necessarily taught, but were learned all the same. From translation to text journalism and eventually to photo-journalism, he hasn’t shied away from taking risks in life to pursue his interests and in the end they all paid off because it isn’t always about the end result, but rather about the journey to get there.