By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

OK. So where were we? Oh, yeah. It was the 1984 National Democratic Convention in San Francisco and Walter Mondale was the front runner. And if memory serves, I was bitchin' about us Newsday Photographers not having credentials to do the job. And, oh yeah, there was a lot of office politics happening between the former Chief Photo Editor and the new guy. And Dick Yarwood pulled a coup that scored us two tickets to the most sought after party in town. The two of us going to that shindig with tickets meant for our Publisher should have been our swan song, but somehow, we managed to bite the bullet.

We spent the next few days spinning our wheels chasing pictures for stories that never ran. We had to do most of our work outside of the Mosconi Convention Center since we didn't have floor passes for the actual convention activities. The former Chief Photo Editor who was running the photography efforts in San Fran had our four photographers zipping all over town trying to come up with pictures for stories being written by the dozen or so reporters that we had out there. But, for the most part, the stories that were getting in the paper were coming from the floor of the convention and we couldn't get out there. Even though we each stood in line at the credentials desk every evening to get a crack at the few rotating passes that were being doled out, they were only good for a short period of time. You were expected to present yourself at the credentials desk by the time your pass expired or you were dead meat as far as future passes were concerned. There were far too few of these passes for the hundreds of photographers who wanted to get onto the floor. So the chances of you being there when a "big moment" happened were slim, to be sure.

Copies of Newsday were flown out to San Francisco and rushed to the convention bureau, each day. And each day we would eagerly scan the pages, looking for any of our shots. Each day we were frustrated and disappointed by the lack of staff art and the rampant use of wire photos.

It looked as though our efforts for the entire week would be in vain. We had all covered political conventions over the years. But in the past we had the proper credentials and were able to get onto the camera platforms and the floor positions. We had made good photos that ran in our paper and were even picked up by the wires to run in papers around the country. And now, to be frozen out of the action demoralized us beyond belief. If only one of us could get a key shot, we would all feel vindicated.

At one point, I was asked to run something up to one of our reporters who was sitting in the writer's section, above and to the right of the speaker's platform. I was given a spare writer's pass to enable me to get up there. How strange, I thought, that there were spare writer's passes, but none at all for the photographers. When I got there, I saw that this was a fantastic vantage point from which to photograph one of the best shots to be made at any convention. Later that night, Walter Mondale would take the stage to accept his party's nomination. Just as in past conventions, the nominee and his running mate and their families would step to the railing at the edge of the speaker's platform. The house lights would go down and the spotlights would illuminate the winners and their families. They would raise their arms over their heads, holding each other's hands as the balloons and confetti rained down upon them from the rafters of the hall while they bathed in the limelight and the cheers of the assembled multitude. That picture would be tomorrow'
s front page across the nation and perhaps the world. If you were fortunate enough to have a camera position high and to the rear, you could capture that dramatic moment and it would be rim lit by the spotlights and you would see the crowds cheering in the background. And, I had found the perfect spot from which to make that shot.

Of course, that area was off limits to cameras. None were allowed in the reporter's sanctuary. There were security people stationed all over the place to make sure of that. Or so they thought.

I was tired of being dealt lemons. It was time to make lemonade. I just needed to be resourceful. I talked with our reporters in that section and they had no objection to my scheme. I figured that when that magic moment occurred, everyone's attention would be focused on the candidates on stage and no one would notice me. The timing would be crucial. I couldn't tip my hand until the balloons started to descend.

But, first, I had to smuggle my equipment up there without being seen. It would have been no problem to bring up a Nikon body and a small or medium lens. However, that wouldn't do. This shot called for a long lens, like my trusty 300.

In order to avoid suspicion, I had to make several trips. I couldn't bring anything up there in a bag or container, because these were subject to scrutiny by security. I had to bring the camera body tucked into a loose shirt. I also stuck a few extra rolls of film in my pocket, even though I didn't expect to need it. I would be lucky just to squeeze off a few frames before I had to hightail it out of there.

My next trip was an awkward trek up those many flights of steps because I had my 300mm lens taped to my leg, preventing me from bending my knee as I climbed. It reminded me of a crude joke. A woman asked her man, "Are you glad to see me or do you have a 300mm lens in your pocket?" Ouch. Sorry.

I assembled the pieces when the security wasn't watching and I stored the equipment under the counter that the reporters used while writing. And then I sat and waited. When Senator Ted Kennedy rose to the platform to make a key speech, I was sorely tempted to try to sneak off a couple of frames. But, I didn't want to blow my cover and I resisted the urge. It would have been a beautiful shot from my vantage point, but I knew that a better shot was in the offing.

The tension in the hall mounted as the hour grew late. These things are staged with tv prime time in mind. The crowd was growing restless as they listened to speaker after speaker praise the party and the nominees. At last the moment arrived. The convention chairman announced that the nominees were coming to the platform. The house lights dimmed, swallowing the crowds in the murk of the huge auditorium. I reached under the counter and felt for my camera. As the spotlights caught the party's choices in their glare, the cheers of the crowd swelled to a crescendo and I brought my camera to my eye just as huge flags unfurled from over the platform, blocking my view entirely.

Son of a bitch! I had never seen that happen in the past. The delegates in the front had a clear view of their candidates standing with upraised arms in front of a backdrop of American flags. But, all I could see from behind the platform was an occasional partial glimpse of one or two of them between the flags.

I leaped up on the counter and raced forward, hoping to find a vantage point that would give me a clean shot. Reporters from other papers screamed at me for trampling their notes and for violating their sacred sanctorium. I never did find a clear shot and the fuss that was raised drew the attention of the security people. Whereupon I was given a tongue lashing and was escorted, unceremoniously from the hall.

Damn!! I never even got to make the lemonade. Some days are like that.

Dick Kraus



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