by Dick Kraus
Forty Years. Sheesh! It doesn't seem that long. Well, OK. Sometimes it feels like 80 on a day to day basis. But, when you look back at the entire span of 40 years, it doesn't seem that it was that long ago that I walked across Stewart Avenue in Garden City, from the parking lot to the newspaper office, on my first day of work. I don't think that my feet were touching the ground. I had the feeling that I was floating across the road, inches off of the asphalt. I grasped my trusty 4x5 Anniversary Speed Graphic in my right hand and hoped that everyone driving past would see me and envy me. Because I was now a newspaper photographer. One of the most coveted jobs in the world.
My interest in photography started when I was a young pup in the 5th grade. Edgar B. Woodard, Principal of the Ludlum Elementary School in Hempstead, NY, had started a camera club. He cleaned out a janitor's slop sink closet, screwed in a dim red darkroom bulb, and taught a few of us how to make a contact print using an antique 4x5 wooden printing frame. With negatives from our parents' old roll film cameras (this was in the 40's and there were dozens of odd sized film formats like 620, 626, etc. and the picture sizes ranged from something like 4 by 6 inches to 2 by 2 squares and smaller) we would place the film's glossy side against the glass and lay a sheet of contact printing paper, emulsion side against the film. Then the hinged back was laid over it and held in place with a pair of spring clamps. Someone would turn on the overhead white light while someone else counted. "One-one thousand one. One-one thousand two," until it was determined that the proper exposure had been obtained. The white light would be turned off and under the weak glimmer of the red safelight, we would watch as one of us slipped the sheet of photo paper into a tray containing some developer. We were dumb struck the first time we saw an image begin to appear beneath the ripples in the developer tray. I'm sure that the first attempt was so grossly overexposed that we could see an actual image for just a few brief seconds before the whole print turned black. But, at that very moment, I was hooked forever. I would be able to create art. I, who couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler in art class, could now produce art.
That was back in 1943. We were in the midst of World War II and, in spite of wartime shortages of film and chemicals, I commandeered my parent's box Brownie and whenever I could get a roll of film, I would hone my skills. And, when there was no film to be had, I would snap the shutter at scenes and imagine what they would look like on film.
It would be another 17 years before I would make it to Newsday's staff. One war ended. A police action war began and ended and then there was Vietnam. I was hired as a vacation relief photographer for a few short months during the summer of 1958. That was enough to convince me that my future was in news photography. I had to go back to working for a free- lance news and commercial photographer until the next summer, when, once again, I filled in for the summer. But, the Director of Photography must have seen some hope for this eager, but inexperienced shooter because he pushed the powers to be to hire me. They extended my temporary status for a few more months before they put me on the staff full time. That was the day that I described in my opening paragraph. That was the day that I floated across Stewart Avenue.
And, a few nights ago, at a lovely restaurant in Hicksville, our publisher called me to the front of the assembled guests who were there to receive their recognition for their ten, twenty-five or forty years of service to Newsday. There were only three of us on hand in the forty year category. The lesser tenured folks were called up front in groups, according to their departments. They received applause, a hand shake and a gift of an am-fm cd clock radio.
"Gee," I thought. "Those look neat. I hope that I get one of those."
When they got to us forty year dinosaurs, the publisher called on us one at a time. Steve Jacobson, a renown sports columnist was the first one called. Ray Jansen, the publisher, recounted some of the interesting stories that Jacobson had covered and repeated some of the clever quotes and quips that peppered Steve's long and illustrious career. He shook hands with Steve who was then handed a framed replica of a Newsday Front Page with his photos imprinted on it, and an envelope. Damn! No clock radio!
Then Ray called my name. As I made my way to the podium, Jansen told the story about the time that I was assigned to cover the ticker tape parade down New York City's Broadway, honoring Astronaut John Glenn's historic circumnavigation of the Earth from space. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Manhattan and opened my trunk to get my camera, there was no camera. I had left it back at the office. Jeez! I mustered up the courage to call my boss who had the presence of mind to call a mutual friend who was the Tech Rep at E. Leitz, in Manhattan and I was able to borrow a Leica and a couple of lenses, along with some film, so that I could cover the assignment. I've never been able to live that one down. Last year, when that same John Glenn became the first senior citizen to ride the space shuttle into orbit, he received another ticker tape parade. This time I was assigned to shoot aerials from a helicopter. But, don't you know, several people reminded me to bring a camera, this time.
As an interesting postscript, In a previous
journal in this Assignment Sheet feature,
Jansen also told the story of my coverage of Bobby Kennedy's funeral mass where I, a Jew, was assigned a spot in the confessional from which to take my photos. Well, Ray, if you happen to read this, you were given some misinformation. I covered RFK's funeral at Arlington Cemetery. The time that I was in the confessional was during Pope John's historic first visit to the US back in 63 or 64. I didn't want to spoil the fun, so I kept silent about the error. What the Hell. It's amusing, no matter what.
40 years. My God! If you've read any of my journals over the past few years, I'm sure that you are familiar with my bitchin' about the plethora of "head shots and real estate" that I and most of my associates have to make every day. And yet, looking back over 40 years of news photography, I have to come to grips with the fact that I was a working participant in some of this century's biggest stories. Not only did I photograph John Glenn (and several other astronauts), but I've photographed every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. I covered John F. Kennedy's funeral as well as that of Bobby's. I've been in the White House on numerous occasions and I've covered several presidential inaugurations. I have been at three national political conventions. I have covered the riotous 60's and 70's with demonstrations against our participation in Vietnam and against our racial policies. I've been around the country covering news and features and even some sports. I spent a summer aboard the tug that hauled the infamous Islip Garbage Barge up and down the east coast. I went to Germany and Normandy twice to do stories about the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I've made photos of presidents and popes and princes and entertainment celebrities of every size and shape. I have met some of the most fascinating people you could ever imagine. And not all of them were people of renown.
Oh, by the way. Speaking of money, in addition to the framed Page One with my mug on it, the envelope that I also received, contained a nice check. Thanks, Newsday. But, I would have paid you for the opportunities that you've given me.
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