James A. Finley served as a photographer for the Associated Press for more than 25 years in the St. Louis AP Bureau. He is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, IL, receiving a bachelor’s degree in math studies, 1959, and a master’s degrees in education, 1976. Finley fell in love with photography at an early age while sneaking out to make pictures with his uncle’s camera. He later was able to get his hands wet (learning to print black and white photos) while serving as a U.S. Marine.
Years of other photo experience with various newspapers, including the East St. Louis Crusader and the East St. Louis Monitor, prepared him for an introduction to Fred Waters in St. Louis, where Finley worked as a freelance photographer covering many assignments including St. Louis Cardinals baseball and Cardinals football, University of Missouri football and visits of U.S. Presidents, while learning from Waters.
Finley worked five years as a freelancer with Waters. Then, while covering a cargo plane crash along I-70 in the dead of winter, with the hands of Finley’s mentor swollen, Waters passed his film to Finley and said, “I’m done.” (Waters was inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame in 2008.)
Paul Stevens, AP Bureau chief, had the opportunity to hire two new photographers in Missouri: Cliff Schiappa in Kansas City and Finley in St. Louis. Finley joined the AP in May 1984. During his years as the staff photographer in St. Louis, Finley worked Super Bowls as part of the AP staff, covered baseball playoffs and World Series, other news and sports events, and memorable assignments such as the Times Beach environmental disaster and the Great Floods of 1993.
Finley retired from the AP in 2006, and today he sees “Everyday as Saturday.” He enjoys traveling and seeing some of the places where he worked, including Oklahoma City’s Federal Building explosion site. Finley lives in St. Louis, takes photos for himself and attempts to encourage young photographers during a difficult time for the wire service and newspapers in general.