I have often said that my early career as a staff photographer took place in a context that could only
be described as Runyonesque. I am, of course, referring to the renowned newsman, author and screenplay writer, Damon Runyon. He was born in 1884 and died in 1946. His stories were peopled with odd-ball characters, the most well known of whom were the gamblers and minor hoods in the stage play, which later became the movie, "Guys And Dolls."

As a newspaper photographer from the 1960's through 2002, I met many a character who fit the Runyon mold. Most of them were my associates at Newsday (Long Island, NY).

Over the next few months, I will introduce you to them. In many instances, I have changed names in the fervent hope that I not be thrashed for having exposed their idiosyncracies to the world. It is not my intent to ridicule or criticize anyone. The antics and the events about which I write did truly take place. Time may have dimmed the exact dialogs but I write these journals depicting these people as accurately as humanly possible. I hope that you will find them as interesting and as zany as did I.



By Dick Kraus
Newsday (LI, NY) Staff Photographer (retired)

We really looked forward to his “Atta Boy’s;” especially we newer shooters. It was a sign from above that we were doing ok. Web was pretty good about complimenting our best efforts to come up with photos that would draw the reader’s attention to the page. Web was Harvey Weber and he was Director of Photography at Newsday when he hired me in 1960. He was trying to drag our burgeoning photo department into the 20th Century; weaning us from the old standard 4 X 5 Speed Graphic Press Camera to the newer, more modern and versatile 35mm format.

The author showing the 4 X 5 Speed Graphic with film holders, on right. That's a 35mm film camera at bottom left and a digital in his hand.

His attitude was that newspapers were a word man’s business but we could earn our daily bread if we came up with relevant photos that would keep the reader from turning the page. Given the mundane kind of photo assignments we got, it was no easy task to fulfill his wishes. He knew that and showed his appreciation by tearing good shots out of the paper and scrawling across them in red grease pencil, ”ATTA BOY. HAW.” That “HAW” wasn’t a horselaugh. It was his initials. He would shove it into your mailbox and we collected them like campaign ribbons.

By the same token, we sometimes found another kind of note in our boxes. “SEE ME! HAW.” Life in Web’s Photo Department wasn’t all sunshine and roses. “SEE ME! HAW” meant you were expected to drop by his desk at the first available opportunity, whereupon you would receive an ass chewing for not doing a better job on some assignment. There were no alibis allowed. Web had cut his teeth with a camera on the street and he knew all the excuses. It behooved you to listen to his chiding and learn a lesson from it. I mean, the man was an excellent photographer and you could really learn news photography from him.

One his first jobs, after WWII was in Life Magazine’s darkroom. He had some great anecdotes about some of those storied Life photographers. One, in particular, was a woman who had attained stardom in her field. She was admired by many, but such was not the case in the darkroom. Web told us that whenever a shipment of her film arrived at the lab, the techs knew they were in for an ordeal. She never metered her exposures and in order to ensure that she had an image on the film, she would over-expose her shots to the point that during the enlargements, the techs would put a brick on the foot pedal controlling the enlarger light, and would go out for a smoke. Anyway, he came to Newsday soon after, as a shooter, and a damned good one, at that. So, most of us stood there and took our lumps and we did learn and became better photographers for it all. And, it wasn’t long before you got your next “ATTA BOY”

Web had enlisted in the US Army just prior to World War II and had gotten into the Signal Corps as a photographer. When war broke out, he went to OCS (Officers Candidate School) and became an officer. He did duty in Europe and photographed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps when they were liberated by the Allies.

He stayed in the Army Reserves and eventually rose to the rank of Colonel. He was a Lt. Colonel while he was running the Newsday Photo Dept. and sometimes he ran it like an Army Command. I had just finished a four-year tour of duty in the US Navy and thought I was used to the military form of meting out orders. But, I was a bit non-plused by his manner of marshaling us all together at the end of a shift; lining us up and dressing down the troops.

“ You’re getting lazy,” he would bark. “Your darkroom work habits are getting sloppy. The accepted development procedure is to lift the developing cans and give them a turn every 30 seconds. (There were no film processing machines in our lab, back then.) I’ve seen you people shake the goddam can like a cocktail shaker for 30 seconds and then not touch it again until the buzzer rings. Ya gotta get on the stick.”

He would march back and forth in front of the line of photographers like a Napoleon bawling out his army. Truth be told, he was very short and most of us towered over him. At least he didn’t stick his hand in his shirtfront.

As I said, I was non-plused. I couldn’t understand why he was yelling at me. I took this sort of thing very personally I broached the subject with his deputy, Max Heine.

“ Why is he on my case, like that?” I asked. “I really take pains to soup my film according to established procedures. So, why the Hell is he yelling at me?”

Good old Max had a perfect answer. “He’s not yelling at you, Kraus. Remember, he’s an army Lt. Col. That’s the way they do it in the Army to keep the troops on their toes. They line everyone up and fire broadsides at them. Eventually, one of those scattershots will have some relevance for you. And, you’ll know when that happens. So, don’t be so bloody thin skinned.”

As a matter of fact, Web was perfectly correct in his assessment of our darkroom habits. One day, while we were all out on assignment, he took his Leica and a tripod and went across the street to our parking lot. He snapped on a 35mm lens and mounted the camera on his tripod. He framed a shot looking down a row of parked cars. Taking accurate readings with his hand held exposure meter (Oh yes, children. There were no automated exposures or built in meters back then) he ran off a half a dozen frames. He reloaded with a fresh roll and did the same thing. When he had enough exposed rolls, he packed up and came back to the department to wait. As each photographer came back from his assignment, Web hand him one of his rolls and asked if the photographer would put that roll through with his own. We did as we were asked and Web collected each roll without a word and cut it up and sleeved it. He marked each sleeve with the name of the man who processed it and when the last roll was collected, he called us over to the light table and displayed the assortment.

“ I’m tired of flapping my gums about sloppy darkroom work,” he said. “I asked everyone to run a roll of film that I shot, when they developed their own work. Now step over here and take a good look.”

No two rolls looked the same, even thought each contained the same subject matter and had been meticulously exposed. Some looked two stops underexposed while some went two stops over. Some were right on the money, compared to the one roll that Web, himself, developed. I was happy to see that mine was one of those. Anyway, the Colonel had made his point and the sloppy darkroom problem went away. At least for a while.

I don’t know if he was as casual in his social contacts with his Army underlings as he was with his photo staff at Newsday. You know; that non-fraternization of officers with enlisted men thing. At Newsday, he was a party animal. Web encouraged us to socialize. He and his lovely wife, Maddie, opened up their home to all of us on more than one occasion. The photographers and their wives were treated to barbeques and cocktail parties. We would reciprocate at our homes. Newsday was also very generous with company parties and our department would always sit together.

Maddie Weber and her husband, Harvey taken at Web's retirement party in 1979.

When Web was handed leadership of the Photo Staff in 1958, he inherited a department of old timers who were pretty set in their ways. They were seasoned photographers from the old school who were wedded to their big press cameras and not inclined to accept the change to the 35mm format espoused by their new leader. But, undaunted, Web rose to the challenge, and while the older guys may not have risen to the point where they could utilize the full potential inherent with more versatile and modern cameras, he was able to improve their work. One of his techniques was the very clever use of friendly competition between the old staff and the younger men that he began to hire. We were separated into two groups. You were either a “Mature Master,” or a “Snot Nose Kid.” Each group strove to out-shoot the other and garner the most “Atta Boys.” And he encouraged all of us to learn from one another. The “Mature Masters” taught us newbies the street smarts required to be successful out in the real world. The “Snot Nose Kids” taught the old guys how to take advantage of the new equipment and radical new photographic techniques. All of this created a very cohesive staff.

We were still a small staff, as far as New York newspapers went, and if more than one shooter was assigned to a story, you know it had to be a major event. Whenever that happened, Web always cautioned each of us that he had better see the other photographer in the other guy’s shots. In other words, he didn’t want his shooters standing next to one another, getting the same shots. This was a common bad habit among news photographers. We all wanted to stand near our associates so that we could gossip. But, that resulted in each of us coming back with similar photos. Why waste the manpower for that? Under Weber, one of us might work with a wide angle lens to get the broad view while the other would have a long lens attached and would concentrate on close-ups. If it were something like a court case where the person we were after had a choice of exits to elude the media, we would work out a plan to cover as many contingencies as possible. We often out-shot the competition even though we might have been outnumbered. Web repeated his order that we treat the wire photographers as members of our own staff and not stand with them. Rather, if AP or UPI were on the scene, they would cover the “safe” shot. We were free to look for a better angle or to try something off the wall to come back with something better than any one else. There were never any repercussions if the wire shot was the best and was used instead of a staffer’s photo. It’s always a crap shoot, and sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. Nor did we feel cheated if our shot didn’t make it. Web taught us that by acting in this manner, we were better serving the paper and our readers by having the best shot published.

He was a great storyteller and a good listener. Whenever a group of us was able to get together at lunch or dinner, he would get us going by relating some off-the-wall event from his past and we would contribute our own outrageous stories. He would laugh along with us at some of the incredible stories being told. His laugh was a gutteral “Wutsa wutsa wutsa” that we would imitate at parties. And he often said that we should sit down, one day, with a keg of beer and a tape recorder and commit these stories for posterity.

“ No one would ever believe them to be possible,” he would say. “And after we’re gone, these stories will be lost for ever.”

He was right, of course. Which is why I have made an effort to make them available here, on The Digital Journalist, in my series “Through a Lens, Dimly.”

And, I dedicate them to my friend and mentor, the late Harvey A. Weber.

Atta boy, Web. Wutsa wutsa wutsa.

Dick Kraus



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