A natural disaster nearly 40 years ago motivates young news photographer to open his own business

It was May 25, 1980, and Mount St. Helens had been erupting for a week in southwestern Washington and would become one of the most destructive and significant volcanic eruptions in United States history.

A young 22-year-old photographer for a local newspaper, Robert Severi, circled the volcano in a small plane with a Nikon F3 camera around his neck.

What Severi saw that day would end up being images the nation would see in newspapers all across the country about the scary disaster in the Northwest.

Thirty-eight years later Robert Severi is no longer a part of that newspaper staff. And he is no longer in Oregon.

But he now owns and operates Robert Severi Photography, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC.

The experience of that day in 1980 is one he has never forgotten, however.

“It was just incredible,” says Severi. “It really is a testament to some of the amazing things you can be a part of in this field, and it’s something that I’ve prided myself on throughout my career.”

For the past 25 years, Severi has been building himself on a different kind of photography. He now brands himself as an advertising, corporate and magazine photographer, working with clients from a wide range of industries.

Severi has worked on projects such as photographing Magic Johnson as part of a Pepsi campaign and working with Delta Airlines on photographs that would be featured in their commercials.

He says that the way to keep these clients while also attracting new ones is to first and foremost create quality work. The ability to do this comes from a “willingness to work with and be flexible with clients.”

“I always want to create work that the client loves, but I have to love it too,” he adds. “I would never present work to a client if I wasn’t proud of it myself.”

Severi admits that he doesn’t do it all by himself, however. He often employs one to two assistants at any given time. They help to set up and organize Severi’s shoots, and Severi says they are essential to his operation.

Recently, Severi has worked with the Discovery Communications and will soon be starting an ongoing relationship with Under Armor.

What does Robert Severi still enjoy most after several decades in the business?

“Getting a call from a new client for the first time,” he says. “The excitement of a new project is like flying around Mount St. Helens all over again.”


by Brett Lemmo

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