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
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
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
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
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
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
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
our shots. Each day we were frustrated and disappointed by the lack of staff
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
from the hall.
Damn!! I never even got to make the lemonade. Some days are like that.