The Digital Journalist
Carl Mydans: A Personal Story
September 2004

by PF Bentley

When I first came to New York in 1979 as an aspiring photojournalist and assistant to then-Time photographer Neil Liefer, I met Carl Mydans while hanging around the 28th-floor photo stockroom, which was right next to the famed offices of the Time/Life photographers. Carl always had the time to talk with me, go over my pictures and give me words of encouragement. "Young man (he always called me that), I believe that you will do something great in photography; you have the drive and you need to believe in yourself because I believe in you," he told me one day.

Cut to December 1992. I was back off the road from the Clinton presidential campaign and ran into Carl in the photo department on the 25th floor. I heard that kind, wonderful voice I knew so well.

"You stop right there, young man. I'm so proud of you and what you have done this past year," he said. I was dumbfounded at that, but there was more. "You have single-handedly brought back black-and-white photojournalism to this magazine, and I just want to shake your hand." I was in shock and nearly in tears as I hugged him, thanking him profusely as I thought about what had just happened. Carl Mydans said how proud he was of me.

Carl then asked, in his typical fashion, where he could buy one of my Clinton "Portrait of Victory" books that documented my photographic story of the 1992 campaign. I told him I thought I could find an extra copy somewhere for him. Fifteen minutes later I was up in his office with a fresh copy, so happy that this icon of photojournalism wanted my book. Not content with just having the book, Carl asked if I could sign it to him. I wrote:

"To Carl - Thanks for always believing in me."

I hugged and thanked him again, reminiscing and thanking him for those times 13 years ago when I was a nobody, and he took the time to encourage me.

I then ducked into the men's room and broke down crying.

That day was one of the greatest moments of my professional life and I have never forgotten it.

Now, about 25 years later, I'm teaching photo and videojournalism at Brooks Institute of Photography and am pleased to be able to pass down to my students those words of wisdom and encouragement that Carl taught me.

I hope I've made you proud again, Carl.

© PF Bentley

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