Mike Sheppard, University of New Mexico football coach, stares out the door of the University Stadium press box in the lead photo on the front page of the Nov. 5, 1991, issue of the Journal.
In the background of the photo, which is spread across four columns in the upper left portion of the page, television and print journalists are focused on a news conference in progress. The big, bold headline to the right of the picture shouts “UNM Sacks Sheppard As Coach.” In much smaller print, the photo credit line reads “Mark Holm/Journal.”
Fact is, for those who paid attention to photojournalism back then, the credit line was hardly necessary. Perhaps only Holm would have taken that picture, a picture that captured a man standing apart with his thoughts, his disappointment, his uncertainty.
“Mark Holm didn’t take a picture of Sheppard at a microphone or with his head in his hands,” said Phill Casaus, a former Journal sportswriter. “He took a picture that absolutely told you what happened that day, a photo of Sheppard by himself, looking into the distance over the south side of Albuquerque. It’s about a person’s feelings and a little bit about dignity.”
Photographer Craig Fritz, who worked with Holm at The Albuquerque Tribune, said Holm did not look for the obvious when shooting pictures.
“He wasn’t looking for a picture that summed the story up,” Fritz said. “He would come up with something that was unpredictable, that goes a level deeper.”
Holm, one of the most accomplished and respected photojournalists in New Mexico for 32 years, died Tuesday at his Albuquerque home following a nearly yearlong battle with cancer. He was 63. Survivors include his wife, Joan Marie Goessl, and their three children, Alison, Mary Kate and Luke Holm; four siblings and their spouses; and three brothers-in-law and their spouses.
A memorial service is planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 10, at the Albuquerque Jewish Community Center, 5520 Wyoming Blvd. NE.
Holm grew up in Freeport, Ill., attended Southern Illinois University and started his career at the Tazewell News in Morton, Ill. He worked at the Journal from 1985-2001, served as photo editor at The Albuquerque Tribune from 2001 until the paper’s demise in 2008 and was picture editor at Denver’s Rocky Mountain News when that paper folded in 2009.
More recently, he did freelance photography for The New York Times and The Washington Post and shot photos for the weekly Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa.
“Mark single-handedly changed my whole view of what I was going to do here,” said M.E. Sprengelmeyer, who bought the Communicator in 2009. “I wasn’t planning on having a full-time photographer working here every week. Then I brought Mark in to cover the Guadalupe County Fair. He changed my business model with one picture – a silhouette of a cowboy and his girl sitting on a pickup truck on the edge of the rodeo grounds, coming close to a kiss. That picture is what the county fair really is. It made me realize that visual storytelling was not an afterthought but that it could drive our journalism.”
An incredible talent
As respected as he was for his own photos, Holm was equally admired and appreciated as a mentor for newspaper staffers and for students at the University of New Mexico Daily Lobo and in Albuquerque-area high schools. And he was much loved for his generous heart and benevolent manner.
“What always come to mind when I think of Mark is that he was able to balance humanity and humility with just an incredible talent for photography and journalism,” said Casaus, now executive director of the APS Education Foundation.
In addition to the time they shared at the Journal, Casaus and Holm worked together at The Tribune and the Rocky Mountain News. Casaus was managing editor and then editor of the Tribune during Holm’s time as photo editor there.
“One of the most underrated things about Mark, where he is undervalued, is as a leader and editor,” Casaus said. “He worked with a lot of young, inexperienced photographers and turned a lot of those guys into people who could be really good. And he could work with people who were otherworldly talented and gifted.”
Kate Nash Cunningham, a journalism instructor at UNM, worked as a reporter at the Tribune and Journal and was the writing coach at the Daily Lobo when Holm was the photo coach there.
“Mark would take on any student – students with portfolios and students without portfolios, students with cameras and students without cameras,” she said. “He taught them to find a moment that told the story. I saw students he mentored get that, saw them take off in the way they saw the world as photojournalists.”
Stacia Spragg-Braude, a Tribune photographer who worked with Holm, said that as both a photo editor and as a friend he made you want to be the best person you could be when you were around him.
“He brought that out of people in a gentle way, even as a boss on deadline he brought that out, not in a demanding way but in an encouraging way,” she said. “The worst thing he could say about a photo is, ‘I don’t dislike it.’ He was unable to say he did not like your photo.”
Casaus said that’s the Holm his family, friends and colleagues will miss most.
“What is making everyone’s heart hurt so much now is who he was as a man, the person he was, his absolute beauty as a human being,” Casaus said.
In the Journal photo department, there’s a trash can with a dent in it. On that dent, inscribed in black marker, are the words “Mark Holm Memorial Dent.”
It acknowledges a time when Holm, upset about something no one can recall now, booted that trash can in a fit of frustration. It was such an unusual outburst for a man known for his peaceful nature that the incident was considered worthy of commemoration at the time it happened.
“That was the one time,” said veteran Journal photographer Jim Thompson. “You almost never saw Mark upset.”
Greg Sorber and Adolphe Pierre-Louis, two other longtime Journal photographers, agreed.
“There was a calmness about Mark,” Pierre-Louis said. “I never saw him lose his cool or panic over deadline.”
“He had this Zen-like quality as far as his outlook on life and his caring for people,” Sorber said. “And he always had the same approach to his photography, a professional outlook and a clear vision.”
Former Tribune photographer Spragg-Braude said Holm never believed his work was about him.
“He cleared a path for you to do what you do, to let you shine,” she said. “He was never motivated by ego, but by the love of living and telling stories about people.”