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Published on May 02, 2023

Reflections of a Photojournalist

John Shishmanian

John Shishmanian (photo by Jack Shishmanian)

John Shishmanian ’77 retired this past November after a 43-year career as a photojournalist for the Norwich Bulletin. Born in Norwich and still living in southeastern Connecticut, Shishmanian said his job was “challenging, informational, exciting and, most of all, just a lot of fun.” 

“One of the reasons it was never a boring job is that technology changed dramatically over the decades.” From developing black and white film in a darkroom early on to using digital cameras over the past decade or two, Shishmanian says he has truly enjoyed the benefits of technological advances.

A selection of memorable photos

Salem volunteer firefighters Andy Frausini, in water, and David Musto rescue a deer from thin ice on Jan. 22, 2007, at Gardner Lake in Salem. The deer was pulled to shore and ran off into the woods. Photo by John Shishmanian

These beautiful horses, a Quarter Horse and a Gypsy Vanner, run in the snow after seeing their owner Kathy Daudish was about to feed them in Colchester. Photo by John Shishmanian

A full-sized replica of The Statue of Liberty hot air balloon is about to take off from Kelly Middle School in Norwich on June 23, 1986. The Girard brothers of Griswold hand-sewed the balloon in their garage to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty gift from France. Photo by John Shishmanian

Mural artist Ben Keller of Vernon works on this 50x60 foot mural at the soon-to-be Jubilee Park, a public space at Castle Church in downtown Norwich. The mural depicts two important Black figures in Norwich’s history — James Lindsey Smith and Sarah Harris Fayerweather. Photo by John Shishmanian

During his career, he took photos of seven different U.S. presidents, including George H. W. Bush touring a submarine in Groton. He also took photos of Walter Cronkite, braved the storm to capture the fury of Hurricane Gloria in Norwich in 1985, and covered the fateful launch of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. 

Shishmanian especially appreciated taking photos of a natural birth in the mid-1980s: “I was called at 3:30 a.m. and arrived to get my photos. The paper ran a full page of photos and the parents and grandparents said they were very thankful that I was there. I will always cherish those moments and sharing such an important time in a family’s life.”

A selection of memorable photos

Norwich firefighters battle a massive house fire on Deepwood Drive in Norwich on May 14, 2007. “Even at a distance I could feel the heat from the blaze. I knew the family from taking photos of their children involved in local sports events.” Photo by John Shishmanian

Grace Ormerod, 5, of Killingly and Jack Ferra, 3, of Brooklyn were named Little Miss Brooklyn Fair and Little Mr. Brooklyn Fair at the 172nd annual Brooklyn Fair on Aug. 25, 2022. Photo by John Shishmanian

President Elsa Núñez addresses graduates on May 15, 2018, during the Eastern Connecticut State University commencement at the XL Center in Hartford. "I stopped Dr. Núñez before commencement to tell her my son would be graduating from Eastern the next year and I would not be taking the graduation photos in 2019. She smiled and told me to apply for VIP seating so I could get a good photo of Jack.” Photo by John Shishmanian

As a student at Eastern in the 1970s, Shishmanian paid his own way and majored in applied social relations, “which helped me greatly in dealing with a variety of people and situations in my newspaper career.” 

Shishmanian was also a champion ping-pong player, making his own paddles and beating most other players who dared to play him. He also worked in a summer counseling program for area children. 

All photos ©John Shishmanian - USA TODAY NETWORK

Written by Ed Osborn