Joe Bryksa was a photojournalist in the truest sense.
In reflection after reflection about Joe since his sudden death last week I was reminded of the impact he’s had on so many people, including the readers of the Free Press.
Joe started at the paper in 1994 after working his way up through the local community papers and the Winnipeg Sun.
His talent was hard to miss. He was always in the action. He got close to it, evident by the many hands-in-lens, get-out-of-my-face news photos he captured over the years.
But he could also step back and let the beauty of a story unfold in front of him.
In a series of tweets last week, Free Press writer Melissa Martin reflected on her many assignments with Joe and how his photos would tell their own story alongside whatever her words could. He was a master at telling a story; his telling was unique.
He was also my mentor, taking a keen young photographer on numerous weekend ridealongs and showing me the ropes.
I was fresh out of art school and wide-eyed to share stories from my own backyard. We got along instantly and I was lucky to witness Joe in action. He was assertive when he needed to be and sensitive when the story called for an empathetic touch.
I absorbed every second.
He was instrumental in getting my foot in the door with the Free Press after journalism school and helped me gain freelance work and, later, a part-time position.
He was in my corner as I applied for the editor position after our boss, Jon Thordarson, died of cancer in 2010. I would not be where I am today without Joe.
While looking through tens of thousands of his images shot for the Free Press over the last few days, it was clear his impact on the readers is undeniable.
He was at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan in 2008 and teamed with writers for stories from every corner of the province. He covered Grey Cups and both the loss and return of the NHL Jets.
His work in the No Running Water series, which he pitched, saw him take multiple trips to six northern First Nations over seven months in 2010 to document Manitobans struggling with poor water and sewage services.
The series is still being shown in schools today.
His list of accolades runs long and includes awards from the News Photographers Association of Canada, Canadian Association of Journalists and the National Newspaper Awards.
Joe believed a photographer didn’t need to leave Winnipeg and join a big wire service to be recognized as an accomplished photojournalist. The Canadian Press tried to pull him over, but he wouldn’t budge.
If he had gone, we would have missed his lighter side, which included a 30-day challenge for him to photograph a goose every day. Or his skill — some might say obsession — with photographing squirrels in mid-flight. I once called these projects "quirky," which didn’t sit well with him. I got the piercing glare, and part smirk, that only those that knew Joe could understand.
Joe could do it all, and he did it all with equal passion.
So while he is gone, his work remains, thanks to that passion to tell our stories.
Thank you, Joe.
Mike Aporius is Director of Photography/Multimedia at the Free Press