Raymer’s ‘Somewhere West of Lonely: My Life in Pictures’ captures life lessons and historic moments

Audrey Deiser • April 20, 2018

Professor Emeritus Steve Raymer said he might not have ever written a book if not for The Media School’s tradition of a last lecture.

At retirement, most professors give a last lecture to colleagues, friends and others. Raymer pulled together pictures and words for his in spring 2016, with an emphasis on ethics.

“At the reception, everyone said, ‘You have a book,’” Raymer said.

He went to IU Press with a proposal and suddenly he had a book contract. Raymer’s Somewhere West of Lonely: My Life in Pictures was published April 1 by IU Press.

Raymer knew he didn’t want to write a normal photography book. He didn’t want to tell too many war stories, and he wasn’t going to write an autobiography. Instead, he focused on ethics. As a seasoned professor of J410, The Media School’s ethics course, Raymer said training is key to any journalist’s success — and that he tells his students an old adage from the army.

“We’re going to train like you’re going to fight,” he said. “Then you’re going to fight like you’ve trained.”

Raymer recalled a time when his training took over, a moment he also describes in the book. In late August of 1984, he was in Delhi, India working on a story about New and Old Delhi. He was waiting to go to Russia to report on the Soviet Union, but his editor had other plans. Instead, he was sent to Kabul, Afghanistan to write about Soviet control of the area.

Fresh from a Baltic storm, snow brightens the ninety-six neoclassical columns of the Kazan Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, capital of imperial Russia. The cathedral was completed in 1811 during the reign of Tsar Alexander I, whose ambitious construction schemes transformed Saint Petersburg into a European capital with an architectural lavishness rivaling that of Rome.
Provided courtesy of Steve Raymer, National Geographic Creative, and Indiana University Press.
FROM FILM: January 1993

Raymer was in the Kabul airport waiting for baggage claim when a bomb detonated.

“It knocked me over,” he said. “Sucked the air out of my lungs.”  Raymer described the scene as chaotic and bloody. So bloody, in fact, that he didn’t even realize he wasn’t injured at first because he was covered in it.

He had a choice: document the event or try to save some lives.

He chose the latter. Raymer ripped off his belt to create a tourniquet for the man next to him.

“From time to time we have moments where our personal and professional values conflict,” he said. “These moments can ruin your life or challenge your career. They can define you as a moral person.”

Raymer went back to work, where he was reamed by his editor for not getting the picture. To this day, he remembers exactly what his editor said to him, but he doesn’t regret his choices.

“I chose not to be a vulture and get the picture. Which is what I normally do!” he admitted.  

Raymer’s book continues on in much of the same way, with stunning visuals partnered with life stories filled with ethical dilemmas and lessons. The book ends with his five years in the Soviet Union. He was there at the end, watching the Soviet flag coming down over the Kremlin on Christmas Day.

“It’s one of the great rewards of journalism to be present when history is made,” he said. “It’s a privilege.”