by Tom Hubbard
Emeritus Prof. Ohio State School of Journalism and Communication

Quirky things happen to photojournalists. Here’s a few of my experiences in Atlanta and Cincinnati.
This first one happened when I was a photographer for the Cincinnati Enquirer some time in the l960s. It was a routine Saturday morning assignment. Only one TV cameraman and I responded to a news release. Two University of Cincinnati music professors were going to receive an award at a campus concert. The PR person met us and gave us a concert program to let us know when the award presentation would be made.
After the awards, the music was going to be “Grand Canyon Suite.” The TV guy and I both recognized it. A small portion of Grand Canyon Suite was being used in a popular commercial, so it was probably the best-known classical music of the time.
We both saw something else at the same time. The program said, “Grand Canyon Suite, conducted by the composer.” The most famous piece of classical music, conducted by THE Ferdie Grofé, the composer! Is that right?"

“Yes, that’s him over there in the wheel chair."

We asked, "He’s going to conduct the symphony from his wheel chair?”

The professors didn’t make the paper. The Ferdie Grofé story and photo did.

A teenager tried to hijack a plane at the Greater Cincinnati Airport. He was about 14, never really had a chance. When the media got there, he was being held in the airport fire station. The fire station had a big mirror window overlooking the runways. We were all standing around waiting for him to be transported. We could cup our hands, creating a shadow area, and see him sitting there, inside the mirror window.
It occurred to me, if I can see through the window, maybe I could photograph him by shadowing my lens. I could barely see him but I made a few shots.
It worked! (I didn’t share this discovery with my colleagues.) We ran my picture, the only available picture of the hijacker. His mother called me. I steeled myself for some sort of tirade, but she was delighted with the picture. “Best picture I’ve ever seen of him. Will you send me a copy?” It seemed the best part of her day was getting a good picture of her son. How could I refuse such a gracious request?

It was the early 1970s. Miniskirts had just come out. The assignment was the new police recruit graduating class. This was once or twice a year, usually dull, just a bunch of blue uniforms in an auditorium. One feature; this time it was the first graduating class to include women police officers. Still, just a bunch of blue uniforms … until. As I looked down a long row of blue clad knees, there was one miniskirt in the row. What an unmistakable way to say “woman police officer.” I was standing to one side of the auditorium with a small group of reporters and photographers. When everyone’s attention was on the stage, I grabbed my shot.
I used the shot in class a lot when I taught photojournalism, partly so I could brag, but to make a point. Sometimes, the word content of a story reveals itself all at once in an image … and when you get a good shot, it’s a good idea to take it and not announce it.

© Tom Hubbard


Some times on an assignment, you allow yourself to be struck, “This is a romantic occupation.” I was on a liquor still raid in Georgia. I was the only journalist, benefiting from some sort of tip. We were sloshing through a swampy area in the early morning mist. Ground fog clung to the surface, silhouetting trees, which seemed to sprout from the fog at chest height. We were silently creeping along, guns and cameras drawn.
We found the liquor still functioning, but no one was there. A fisherman wandered by, got interrogated, and sent on his way.
The sheriff and a bunch of part-time civilian deputies busted up the equipment and carried all the gallon jugs of moonshine outside for a count.
The sheriff called everyone together for a solemn speech. “I’ve got to go back to town, but I want every one of those jugs to be busted.” Lots of solemn nodding, “Yessir, we wouldn’t think of doing anything else.”
The instant his car disappeared in the haze, the deputies were in a discussion, There was no preliminary of “should we” or “shouldn’t we?” They went right to, “How many should we bust (for effect,) and how are we going to divide the rest evenly?” Some times you witness such exquisite theater and don’t realized you are seeing an act.
At the Cincinnati Enquirer, I used my own car for work, which was equipped with a two-way radio. I had just photographed my new sister-in-law’s wedding on a Saturday and was headed for the reception with my wife in the car. I called the paper to check on what assignments I might have the next day. The city editor responded, “Tom, head for I-275 and Cleveland Avenue, I’ll give you instructions on the way.”
I responded, “Bob, I’m off today and am in the middle of covering a family wedding.” He ignored me and repeated, “Tom, head for I-275 and Cleveland Avenue.” I was recently married myself so this was a new adventure for my new wife. She was excited to be going on a spot news assignment. So, with wife in bridesmaid dress, I headed out.

On the way, we learned it was an ammunition truck on fire. A passing motorist had alerted the truck driver of a fire in his trailer. You can imagine how quickly the driver pulled over.

I was blocked about a half mile away. There was no way Ingrid was going to run a half mile along a highway in a full length bridesmaid dress, so she stayed at the car. Believe it or not, she wanted to go. The fire was out, but there was an ominous burned out portion of the trailer body, revealing wooden racks of big artillery shells.
An on-duty photographer had been diverted from another assignment, so he took the pictures and I proceeded to the wedding reception.
This one was two sad assignments. A baby was murdered in a house. Apparently, the police were not concerned about the outside as a crime scene because we were standing right at the house, under its eaves because it was raining. About five journalists were standing there. I was with Kirby, a reporter from my paper. At one point, about five more journalists arrived and arranged themselves under the eves with us.
The door opened and a grim group of police and medics came out with a gurney, which they rolled to an ambulance and loaded it. Those of us who had arrived early noticed a small lump in the blankets, so we photographed the apparently empty gurney. The newly arrived group wondered why we were all photographing an empty gurney. After the ambulance left, we told them.
Two days later, a different sad assignment. My paper, the daily Atlanta Times, folded. The word went out around noon that the paper had ceased operation. I was standing in the newsroom with Kirby as outside journalists started wandering in. Kirby was understandably upset that his paper had just ceased operations. He looked at the invading journalists and said, “Look, the vultures are descending on us.”
I said, “Kirby, what do you think we looked like two days ago, when we were standing under the eves of that house, waiting for the baby’s body to come out?”
Kirby was famous in the Atlanta Times newsroom. The Civil War battle of Atlanta took place in 1864. In 1964, all the Atlanta media made a big thing of the centennial. Kirby was assigned to write the lead story on the Battle of Atlanta special section. The section was a pre-print, so there was some flexibility. But, Kirby missed his deadline by a day or so. Kirby had to endure many times the question. “Kirby, it happened a hundred years ago. Why are you late?”
John at the Cincinnati Enquirer didn’t miss a deadline but he made the newsroom bulletin board. A destructive tornado hit Cincinnati in 1974. John was assigned to edit a special anniversary section a year later. The section included unpublished tornado pictures that had surfaced, stories on rebuilt neighborhoods, etc. There was an info box, “What to do if you experience a tornado.” The box was pinned to the bulletin board with an addition to the list. “Wait a year and call John.”
Another John, a reporter at the Enquirer, had come from a small paper, apparently a really small paper. Another photographer told me this story. The PR person at the Cincinnati Zoo handed John a news release. John sat down, opened his portable typewriter and proceeded to copy the news release. John was next to the lion cage. The photographer used to love to tell this story. “The lions were sitting there watching him type the release!” It turns out, where John came from, PR people typed one copy of a release and loaned it to John to re-type. He carried his portable typewriter to copy releases. John was delighted when he was told he could keep his copy of the release. The joys of working in a big city.
John had another quirk, maybe picked up in that small town. If you politely asked, John, how are you? He took it literally and launched into a long detailed description of his health. He took it literally. When you met John on an assignment, you hoped you would not forget and automatically ask, “How are you?”
On one occasion at the Atlanta Times, I was embarrassed, but I got in, so I didn’t make a fuss. The Atlanta Times was a conservative paper started by Georgia politicians as an answer to the more liberal Atlanta Journal and Constitution. It was a startup daily in 1964. In those days, any good journalist was already employed, so the startup Atlanta Times newsroom was a mixed bag. About the only thing in common was that the reporters and photographers were mostly progressive and liberal thinkers, to the consternation of the owners.
Well, the assignment was to cover a Ku Klux Klan rally. The Klan was suspicious of the media so they weren’t letting journalists in. When I identified myself as “Atlanta Times,” they said, “Oh, you’re from the good paper, come on in.” I’ve never before or since been identified as a friend of the Klan, but that night, I smiled and went in.
Christmas Eve, I was covering a fire with Dan, a very young looking reporter at the Enquirer. At the fire, he looked like a curious kid the police should have held back. I had my pictures, the fire was over. I’m not sure the fire officer thought Dan was old enough to be a reporter, so he gave Dan a hard time. He kept putting off Dan who needed fire damage details. In desperation, Dan told him, “We’ve got an early deadline tonight because it’s Christmas Eve.” That set off a tirade from the fire officer. “You want to rush me because you want to get off early for Christmas Eve.” Dan tried to explain the early deadline was so printers could be home for Christmas Eve, not for Dan or me. Somehow Dan finally got the information, but I kidded Dan about his lack of authoritative presence, all the way back to the paper.
The Cricket was a restaurant/bar next door to the Cincinnati Enquirer. We were a morning paper so our mid-work meal was dinner, often at the Cricket. In that age, through the 1970s, reporters, photographers, copy editors might finish their shift with a few belts in them. (It was another era; think of the drinking as historic precedent.)

A new publisher was appalled at this situation. A grizzled old guy on the copy desk answered him, “You think we get these headlines from Pablum!?” It became a historic sentence. If a reporter came in with a great story, or a photographer came back with a great shot, he or she might endure some Pablum jokes, “Did you get that from Pablum?’ “See you’ve been eating your Pablum.”

Journalism was certainly more interesting back then.

Tom Hubbard
Emeritus Prof. Ohio State School of Journalism and Communication


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