By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published May 28, 2021
ATLANTA—For nearly 25 years, the pages of The Georgia Bulletin have featured the photographs of Michael Alexander. On April 30, Alexander retired from his work at the archdiocesan newspaper.
From portraits of people to Masses and other events, Alexander’s photographs are records of Catholic life in Atlanta.
On May 3, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer celebrated Mass for Alexander in the St. Dominic Chapel at the Chancery. The archbishop remarked that Alexander is the only employee he’s known for 25 years, starting during his time as a priest in Atlanta and while Bishop of Savannah.
“I’ve never seen Michael flustered or irritated. He’s as quiet as a church mouse, and when he photographs events, he does so without being noticed,” said Archbishop Hartmayer. “Michael, on behalf of your colleagues here at the Chancery and the entire Archdiocese of Atlanta, I thank you for your commitment to the church, for your professionalism in the workplace, the quality and creativity of your photography and for your friendship.”
Alexander was working in the business world in the 1980s and would come to daily Mass at the Catholic Center in Atlanta. There, he met Gretchen Keiser, then-editor of The Georgia Bulletin.
Alexander was interested in photography and hoped to make it his career. Keiser started giving him freelance assignments as the paper had no full-time photographer and limited funds.
“It was an answer to prayer. That was the way the professional relationship began between Michael and The Georgia Bulletin,” said Keiser.
The freelance work led to a full-time job at Catholic Standard in Washington, D.C. In 1997, a full-time photographer’s position was created in Atlanta, and Alexander returned to Georgia to fill the role.
Keiser, who retired in 2017, calls Alexander’s work a “treasure trove.”
“It is impossible to imagine how the Archdiocese of Atlanta would document its history, capture its sacred and human moments and show us the full breadth of the church here without his photographs,” she said.
Even more significant, said Keiser, is the spiritual impact of the photos.
“For me, they expand our recognition of who makes up the body of Christ in the archdiocese, the old and young, the many nationalities and cultures, the strong and the broken,” she said. “And they help us see God truly present in our midst.”
Alexander created the popular Then & Now series, which catches up with people featured in his photos from decades past. He also initiated coverage of sports at Catholic schools, both stories and photography.
Alexander’s vocation as a photographer in the Catholic press has been recognized with many awards. He is one of the 2021 finalists for the Catholic Media Association’s St. Francis de Sales Award. It is the highest honor the association presents for individual contributions to Catholic journalism.
Close collaboration with reporters and making connections with others are hallmarks of Alexander’s service.
Erika Redding, former staff writer at The Georgia Bulletin, said she has always been proud to work with Alexander. During her time at the newspaper, her last name was Anderson, and she and Alexander referred to themselves as the “A-Team.”
“I was immediately better by association because I was on Michael’s team,” she shared.
Redding recalled Alexander’s humbleness and thoughtfulness.
“He is more than just a coworker and collaborator to me—he is family. He and his wife, Trammell, came to my wedding. He was there for me when both of my parents died. He is forever part of my life,” said Redding.
Her most memorable assignment with Alexander came upon the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when they traveled to New Orleans to do a story about the St. Augustine High School’s famed marching band resuming performing after the hurricane’s devastation
“When we left the school, both of us looked at each other with excitement and awe,” said Redding. “We knew we’d stumbled upon a truly special story. And Michael’s photos of the band—just like all the assignments in New Orleans and all the assignments throughout Atlanta—elevated my writing to something with a much greater impact.”
A new path ahead
Alexander’s colleagues from his time in Washington also remember him with professional and personal respect.
Richard Szczepanowski, managing editor of Catholic Standard, worked closely with Alexander during the four years of his photography work there.
They once covered a story on a day in the life of the cloistered Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration.
“We were granted unprecedented access to their cloister. At Mike’s prompting, we continued a relationship with those nuns long after our assignment was over,” recalled Szczepanowski. “For years afterwards, we attended weekly Mass with the nuns and visited with them afterwards. He would often bring his young daughter and son with us on those visits, making sure they developed a love for the Mass that Mike had and was eager to share.”
They also traveled together to Israel and Egypt, with Alexander visibly moved by the experiences and holy places.
“With his incredible talent, he was able to capture with his camera what his heart was experiencing. These many years later, I still look at those photos and can still sense and feel what they tried to convey,” said Szczepanowski.
Mark Zimmermann, editor of Catholic Standard, said Alexander always took great care in covering assignments as well as carefully organizing photos and negatives in binders for archival purposes.
“He covered each assignment as a photojournalist with a Catholic heart,” said Zimmermann. “My favorite photo that he took for the Catholic Standard was a smiling portrait of Mother Teresa during one of her visits in Washington that we later used as the cover of our edition after she died in 1997.
The issue won a top Catholic Press Association award.
In a hand-written letter, which Alexander is known for, he informed Zimmermann of his retirement and openness to God’s plan for the next path in life.
“As a photographer these past three decades in the Catholic press, Michael Alexander has been a great storyteller, with his photos telling the stories of how the love of Christ has continued to unfold among Catholics in the Washington area and then the Archdiocese of Atlanta,” said Zimmermann. “Now as his life’s new journey unfolds, his own story of faith will continue to inspire others, as his photos have done all these years.”