National Geographic : 2011 May
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: COURTESY ARNOLD FAMILY A photographer as well as a photo editor, David Arnold traveled to Alaska for a story in October 1977. Photo editors are the behind-the-scenes heroes of a photographer's work. The editor sees every single frame and picks up on every mistake and missed opportunity. Then he or she uses everything at hand to correct, coach, and inspire. David L. Arnold was the best of the best. He was not easy to please, but I trusted his judgment, even when his criticism was tough to hear. When he told me I'd made a memorable photograph, I trusted that too. One of those memorable photographs was of a honeycreeper, a beautiful bird native to the forests of Hawaii. I'd spent five days on a tiny platform 30 feet off the ground waiting for that bird. I was cold and wet. The tree I sat in swayed alarmingly. The photo I finally made wasn't good enough, David gently told me. He encouraged me to go back and do better, supporting my obsession to get it right. I repaid his support with a photograph of the bird that ran on the September 1995 cover. David died a few months ago. He'd retired from the magazine in 1994 after 27 years of inspiring photographers. But his spirit can still be seen and felt. He was a role model for Kathy Moran, who photo edited this month's story on the Great Barrier Reef. "I learned from David to be honest with photographers at all cost," she says. "I learned that to edit a story you need to know the subject thoroughly. David always did his homework. He had a Ph.D. in every story he worked on." David pushed photographers to think about how best to tell the story. He had an unshakable belief in excellence. These are lessons I have taken to heart. I would not be Editor in Chief of this magazine if I had not worked with him.