SOJ Insider | Bill Seymour

Late professor taught photography as a career, not a hobby

By Sarah McLean

Not only did Bill Seymour have a good eye for photography, but he also had a talent for teaching his students how to find emotion through photojournalism.

Professor Emeritus Bill Seymour died on Dec. 31, 2007, in Mount Morris, Pa., at the age of 70. Seymour joined the SOJ faculty in 1975 and taught for 27 years before his retirement in 2001.

According to Seymour’s former teaching assistant Bob Gay, Seymour taught students more than just how to take a great picture – he taught them how to make a living as a photographer.

“Bill was the ideal journalism professor because he taught photography through his own personal street experience, and he lived what he taught,” said Gay, who currently works as a staff photographer for The Dominion Post in Morgantown. “Bill was hard on you, but if you did good work, he was not shy to tell you.”

Seymour taught by example and encouraged students to carry their cameras around with them at all times and to be ready in case anything happened. One time, he even set up a staged police arrest to test students but did not tell Gay that Gay would be the one “arrested” during class time.

“The first arrest stunt assignment was done on me and from then on Bill’s students made sure that they had their cameras by their sides,” said Gay.

Seymour joined the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) in 1967 and was a former Region 3 officer. He also served as the editor of Region 3’s magazine, Bootstrap, which received NPPA’s Outstanding Publication Award in 1983.

Seymour’s service to NPPA and photojournalism was also recognized when he was presented with NPPA’s Joseph Costa Award in 1984, a Morris Berman citation in 1981 and a Kenneth P. McLaughlin Award in 1979. The Costa Award is presented to an individual for “most outstanding initiative, leadership and service in advancing the goals of NPPA in the tradition of Joseph Costa, a founder of NPPA, its first president and chairman of the board.”

Seymour also was a member of the WVU Faculty Senate for six years.

He made an impression on his fellow faculty members, as well as the students he mentored. SOJ Professor Emeritus Paul Atkins worked with Seymour for 11 years.

“Bill was always outspoken, and you always knew where he stood,” said Atkins. “I will always remember the main hallways of Martin Hall being filled with his students’ pictures – many were very handsome.”

Former SOJ Dean Guy Stewart recalled that Seymour was the perfect addition to the faculty in 1975 because an architect was finalizing additions to Martin Hall to include a photography lab. Seymour left directly from his job interview with Stewart to help with the photo lab plans.

“Bill was a very enthusiastic fellow, and photography became very popular all around the University because of him,” said Stewart. “I had a very good working relationship with Bill, and I was one of his strongest supporters.”

When Seymour retired from teaching photojournalism, he served his community in many other ways, including volunteering for the Monongalia Emergency Medical Services for nine years as an emergency medical technician. Seymour also worked as a part-time photographer at The Dominion Post.

Seymour will be remembered by photojournalists for lobbying to create the 1977 West Virginia state law that allowed cameras inside courtroom proceedings. However, his former journalism students and SOJ faculty will remember him best for his passion for teaching photojournalism.

“Bill was a great asset to the J-School, and they will never find another Bill Seymour,” said Gay. “I can’t imagine what my life would have been without him.”

Perley Isaac Reed SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM

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