Photographic Memories

Caddo Lake sunrise, 2019

By Ann GIll (M.A., ’76)

Draut in his digital lab

Joel Draut (B.A., ’64) was born in Kinsley, Kansas. He enrolled at CSU due to “a convergence of two factors.” First, CSU was “one of only two universities offering a technical journalism degree.” Second, both his father and brother-in-law attended CSU, but neither graduated; Draut decided “somebody in the family should graduate from there!”

After taking a required news photography course, his career path was set. He was on staff at the Rocky Mountain Collegian, Silver Spruce, and Mosaic, an arts magazine. His first professional job began while still a student. A friend in the Navy Reserves got called up and asked if Draut would take over his job at the Coloradoan. He became its photographer and engraver.

On New Year’s Eve 1964, Draut received a letter from the draft board. He immediately applied to other branches of the military, but they had no spots available at the time. Then Coast Guard recruiters called the Coloradoan wanting an article, which led Draut to Officer Candidate School. He then spent three years in New Orleans in charge of recruiting for the Eighth Coast Guard District; later he also assumed the duties of Assistant Public Information Officer. When called to Canal Street following a quick moving storm front, his report got picked up by the AP and UPI and was used in front page headlines around the region. He met wife Linda in New Orleans; they had four children – Richard, Douglas, and twins Joelynn and Kirk.

High Surf, 1987

They moved to Fort Collins, where he worked for the Coloradoan from 1968 to 1974, followed by two years at an advertising firm and a stint as chief photographer at the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph. From 1977 to 1995 he worked at the Houston Post, which at one point was the twenty-fifth largest newspaper in the country. He started as staff photographer; then, despite a vow “never to get involved in mid-management again,” he became assistant chief photographer, then chief photographer, then acting photo director. The photo staff shot professional sports, hurricanes, and fashion.

When an overwhelmed fashion writer had to fill in last minute covering the Paris fashion show, she demanded a photographer, and Draut was sent. He was good; over time, he shot fashion in Paris, London, Milan, and New York. One fashion editor took him to Hawaii, where a shoot involved a model wearing a one-of-a-kind hand-painted silk dress. The editor overrode Draut’s strongly voiced concerns and insisted she pose in the surf. Sure enough, after six gentle waves, the seventh rolled in, drenching the model, causing the colors to run and ruining the dress.

Winter Walker, 2019

After the Houston Post was sold, Draut began freelancing. Then, he heard about an opening at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, working with its photo archives. When he started, they had approximately 2.5 million images; today there are approximately 5 million. Working with this collection combines his love of photography and history, both of which began at CSU.

Looking back on this long and distinguished career, Draut says he is proudest of encouraging young people to launch their own impressive and award-winning careers, including Adrees Latif, who won a Pulitzer Prize for photography. After being the first in his family to graduate from CSU, this Ram has done his alma mater proud!