By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)
Greetings and salutations, youngsters.
Let me tell you a story.
A young bull and an old bull stood at the top of a hill and looked down upon a field of young cows grazing in the field below.
“ Let’s run down there and have our way with one of those young heifers,” suggested the young bull.
"Let’s walk down there and have our way with them all,” replied the old bull.
There has always been a generational factor in photojournalism. It was true in my day and I doubt that it has changed much in yours. Young bulls are always prone to rushing into things without much planning and are often loath to take suggestions from the old bulls. It’s only natural. The old bulls are past their prime and haven’t kept up with the changes of modern day living (and working.)
I was a young bull, many years ago, and when I was hired as a staffer at Newsday, I knew that I could shoot circles around the old bulls on the staff. Many of them had been there for years and years and were reluctant to change their old fashioned ways. We were transitioning from the old 4 x 5 Speed Graphics to small format 35mm cameras, and all you heard around the Photo Department was grousing and complaining that those new fangled “Mickey Mouse” cameras wouldn’t do the job.
Me? I couldn’t wait to start shooting with those light, compact, multi-lensed beauties. Those old fossils didn’t know what they were missing and they never would.
Ahhh, the ego of youth. When one is a newcomer in this very intense and competitive profession, ego is a necessity. It acts as a buffer against the cruel realities that you will face on a daily basis. You are young and unafraid. You are healthy and will live forever. You will tread where old bulls fear to tread. Your adrenaline courses through your body and your only concern is to make THE photograph, which will introduce you to the world of journalism as the Primo young photographic genius.
You just don’t know any better. You haven’t experienced the pain and misery of long, cold, rainy stakeouts. You haven’t been shot at or bullied by angry citizens or cops or soldiers or anyone who doesn’t like your face, your camera, your paper’s politics or the fact that you are sticking your nose in their business.
The old bulls know these things because they have experienced them many times over. And most of them will share their experiences with you if only you ask and take the time to listen to their rambling stories.
When I was a young bull, my ego told me that I was a better shooter than those relics that surrounded me in the Photo Department. But, I was wise enough to recognize that those old newspukes had something that I didn’t.
Street smarts.
Good God Almighty. What a fountain of information was available from those guys; Jim Nightingale, Jimmy O’Rourke, Harvey Weber, Walt del Toro, Cliff DeBear, Tom Maguire, Max Heine. There was several hundred years of collective experience there for the taking.
My wife used to get annoyed because I would leave for work early and come home late, in those early years at the paper. I would tell her that I spent those extra hours sitting at the feet of the gurus.
It was truly time well spent and it paid off throughout my long career. I learned from the old timers how to talk a reluctant subject into allowing me to take their photo. The bulls talked about how they got past police lines and avoid detection when law enforcement tried to restrict their access. I picked up tips on how to blend into the woodwork; to keep my mouth shut; and to shoot my photos without intruding on the scene.
I owe a good deal of my success in this profession to those veterans. And as my raging ego subsided, I came to realize that while they may not have had a lot of proficiency with the newer cameras and technology, the old bulls were every bit as good a photographer as I; especially considering the ancient cameras and technology that they grew up with.
And, one day I woke up and found that I had become an old bull, along with a number of other photographers of my era. And it bothered me that whenever we old timers would start to spin our tales of derring-do, the youngsters would slip out of the room to avoid being subjected to old war stories. I guess they figured that they knew it all and had nothing to learn from the veterans. That’s a pity because they were wasting a magnificent resource. They may have thought that they were better shooters than we, but they may have been wrong. Maybe their shooting responses were faster than ours and they had a better eye for a good photo, but maybe not. (Ooops. There’s that ego thing, back to haunt me.) Yet, there is still that thing about street smarts.
I love writing my journals for Assignment Sheet. It affords me the opportunity to recall some of the wonderful assignments that have enhanced my career. I particularly enjoy writing those “Through a Lens Dimly” recollections about some of the colorful characters with whom I worked. Many of them shared their wisdom with me and I am much wiser for having listened.
In my telling of these stories, I have included some of this wisdom. I can only hope that there are some young bulls reading them and learning from them.
Now, walk down the hill and have your way

Dick Kraus



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