Photographer of Life: As a Staff Photographer for the Los Angeles Times, Ginny Dixon Covered the O.J. Simpson Case, the 1992 L.A. Riots, and the Northridge Earthquake, Winning Two Pulitzers in the Process. Her Latest Daring Project? Portraits That Show the Beauty of Women with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Suddenly on the afternoon of February 8, photographer Ginny Dixon got a call from the Associated Press: The news agency could not get its photographers out of Miami fast enough to cover, a few miles north, Anna Nicole Smith's death in Hollywood, Fla., where Dixon lives. Could she, a former member of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo team at the Los Angeles Times, rush over to Memorial Regional Hospital right away and document the troubled model's final demise?

Sure, she said. But when she arrived at the hospital, Dixon discovered that a promised press conference was not to be, leaving little to shoot. With nothing to do, some journalists began pulling random people from the nearby Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to ask how they felt about the death of their fellow hotel patron. "That was such a farce," Dixon says, remembering the day. "It was chasing around nothing."

But as with so many other occasions, Dixon knew how to turn "nothing" into something. The 5-foot-6 blond went over to the Broward County medical examiner's lab, muscled her way past the aggressive paparazzi, plunked down the three-foot stepladder she always carries in her car for such reasons, and found the perfect angle to snap a decent portrait of the medical examiner his expression tired, his brow furrowed--telling the waiting press that the autopsy results could take weeks. By early that evening the shot had been beamed around the world on AP's various wires.

For Dixon, 46, who is out, the experience was business as usual. No longer a staff photographer for an outlet, her well-honed eye now focuses on a wider range of freelance projects, many with a charitable bent. They include her ongoing series "Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty," which shows off the beauty of women with disabilities rather than the disabilities themselves. The portraits will soon be turned into a book and exhibited across the country.

Dixon's early life sounds like the plot of a 1960s beat novel. At 19 the Florida native left the safety of her family in Fort Pierce and drove cross-country to California with a friend. When she arrived in Los Angeles she knew just one person: her uncle, a mortician. So she started a business to help him write death certificates. In five years she turned a profit, sold the business, and bankrolled an education in photojournalism.

"I was always messing around with cameras," Dixon says, "but I never thought I could make photojournalism a career."

It certainly helped that she started out at the Los Angeles Times, where she won a coveted internship while a student at California State University, Long Beach, that she parlayed into a full-time job. Although she ascribes her big break to luck--"Everything just fell into place," she says friends say she was simply talented.

"She was different, and differences always connect," says Jorge Carreon, a fellow journalism student and later Dixon's roommate. Carreon is also out, and both shared a passion for their college newspaper. "She has this incredible ability to sit back and listen," he says. "She cuts through all that bullshit, and her work, even then, showed you what's real."

Carreon has met his share of celebrities in running a successful movie publicity company in Los Angeles, but he still keeps a picture from those days of him and Dixon posing with Annie Leibovitz. The two had waited outside Brentano's, where the famed photographer was doing a book signing, to request an interview with her. Leibovitz gave them 10 minutes.

"We were so young and stupid," he says. "We felt like intrepid reporters, hot on the story, and when we got up the nerve to finally ask her really politely if she would step for an interview and picture, we were amazed when she did.

"We were thrilled when Annie shot a photo with Ginny's camera," he adds. "I think she signed Ginny's camera strap."

At the Times, where Dixon worked for eight years, local stories turned into international headlines: She became part of the pool at the O. …