David LaBelle began his photojournalism career at the Ventura County (California) Star-Free Press as a weekend sports shooter and lab man while still in high school.
Throughout his 40-year career, LaBelle has been a photographer, editor, teacher and author and lecturer. He has worked for 20 newspapers and magazines in nine states, including the Ventura County Star, the Anchorage Times, the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, The Chanute Tribune, the Ogden Standard-Examiner, The Sacramento Bee and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he was assistant managing editor for photography. LaBelle joined the faculty at Western Kentucky University in 1986 and taught photojournalism for more than a decade. In 1989, while at Western, LaBelle published the first edition of The Great Picture Hunt. LaBelle is also the author of the book Lessons in Death and Life, which was published in 1992 and deals with the ethics of photographing grief. In 2004, LaBelle taught photojournalism at the University of Kentucky and advised the award-winning daily student newspaper the Kentucky Kernel.
LaBelle’s love for feature photography and his ability to hunt out feature ideas has helped him win numerous awards. At 19, he was the National Press Photographers Association Region 10 Photographer of the Year, an honor he repeated the next two years. He was runner-up to W. Eugene Smith for the first Nikon World Understanding award in 1974 and runner-up for the NPPA National Photographer of the Year award in 1979. In 1991, the National Press Photographers Association honored LaBelle with the Robin F. Garland Award for photojournalism education, and in 2002, the Photographic Society of America Inc. honored him with the International Understanding Through Photography award. The award judges said, “LaBelle’s background and accomplishments in photography have contributed to greater understanding among people everywhere.”
LaBelle is known for his ability to speak and motivate others to do their best work; seven of his former students have won Pulitzer Prizes.
After two years freelancing in California and Tennessee, LaBelle now lives with his family in Kent, Ohio where he teaches and directs the photojournalism program at Kent State University.