A LENS DIMLY
REPORTERS AND STUFF
By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)
Newspapers had reporters long before photography made its presence
known. I suppose that this fact gives reporters the right to
be called the senior service. Perhaps this is why newspaper
have always felt that we were the stepchildren of the industry.
We always bristled when we heard ourselves being introduced by
a reporter as, “This is my photographer.” “My” photographer,
my ass What gall. How dare they
infer that we are nothing more than their subservient flunkies;
on hand only to do their bidding. And though I have heard some
and even publishers refer to our staff photographers as important
members of the journalistic team, it never seemed to translate
that way in the real world.
In spite of our own high-flown notions of being journalists and
part of the team, it didn’t stop us from referring
to them as "my" reporter.
Life is funny that way. Go figure.
In my forty-two years of service, I have endured many reporters.
Some treated me as equals and I loved and respected them for
that. I would go to greater lengths to produce story-telling
Unfortunately, most would just do their jobs and would perhaps
allow us to do ours as long as our needs didn’t conflict
with theirs. In such instances I would be allowed to photograph
I was supposed to endure their frequent interruptions whenever
they felt the need to interject yet another question. Such tactics
usually broke whatever mood I was trying to capture and having
the subject suddenly turn to face the questioner ruined many
a carefully thought-out photo.
More often than not, we photographers would get an assignment
to take pictures after the reporter had done his/her job. There
plusses and minuses to that method, especially when all we received
was minimal information regarding the story.
Frequently we were just given a name and an address and we would
have no idea why we were making a photograph. Of course we would
ask the subject, but we felt like such horses’ asses doing
so. But at least, in such cases, we didn’t have to endure
the indignities of a reporter’s interruptive questioning
Covering an assignment with a reporter did have some advantages
since we both would be starting on an equal footing. As the reporter
began probing, we would get a feel for the story and we could
seek out salient points to be illustrated. I would often flatten
into the woodwork and become invisible while making shots of
the subject being interviewed. If I was successful, I would be
with much more candid expressions than I would have gotten if
the reporter wasn’t there to distract him/her with questions.
Then there were the really great reporters who recognized that
if they treated a photographer as an equal member of the team,
the photographer would be more involved in the story and would
go to greater lengths to ensure that the images and words worked
together to make the story successful. Those were the times that
made it possible for me to endure all of the rest. And, those
were the assignments that are among my most memorable
Manny, however, was not one of those who felt that I was his
Manny was a squat little barrel shaped man with a round head
that rose from his shoulders without the help of a neck. He started
at the paper somewhere around the time that I did. The first
I really worked with him was when he was covering the Nassau
County Courts. Cameras weren’t allowed in the courtrooms at that
time. (With the exception of a brief test period, they still aren’t
in New York State.)
The modus operendi at most papers was to have a reporter cover
the trial and whenever something newsworthy occurred, a photographer
would be called for. This was a burdensome task for us. The reporter,
who could sit in the courtroom for the entire trial, would be intimately
familiar with the case and the
participants. We would
arrive outside the courtroom with only the instructions, “See
We couldn’t just walk into the courtroom to seek out the
reporter. We were carrying the forbidden camera. You couldn’t
leave it sitting on a bench outside the courtroom door while you
went inside. There are a lot of dishonest characters populating
courthouses. So, generally, it meant waiting outside the door until
the judge called a recess and the reporter walked out. Unfortunately,
the person that the reporter wanted photographed also walked out
before the reporter could finger him for us. In which case, the
reporter would give you a description of the person.
“Tall, bald, clean-shaven male wearing a blue shirt and gray pants.”
It might be a witness, a lawyer or Assistant District Attorney,
or even the defendant if he/she wasn’t in custody. And,
you’d have to wait until court was called back into
session to spot him/her and grab a shot.
Manny, our court reporter, would always go right back inside
after returning from lunch, to make sure that he got a good seat;
the photographer on his own to try to pinpoint the right person
based on the description he had been given. Do you know how many
tall, bald, clean-shaven men wearing blue shirts and gray pants
walk in and out of courtrooms every day?
Most of the people we wanted did not want anything to do with
us. They would go to great lengths to avoid being spotted. If
covered their faces with a newspaper, at least we could be fairly
confident that this was the right person. It also would have
helped if they covered their faces with Newsday, but more often
it was with the NY Daily News or the NY Post. Publishers don’t
like to promote the competition in any way. The NY Times was
the worst. That was a broadsheet paper and they could really
that. I never enjoyed chasing reluctant subjects through the
courthouse and its’ environs in order to get a photo. It
forced me to become a dreaded paparazzi. And, the worst possible
was when I ended up shooting the wrong person and it appeared
in the paper the next day.This required the paper
to print a correction the day after that.
One day, shortly after having made such a mistake and I had been
subjected to a royal dressing down for it by the Managing Editor,
I was dispatched back to the courthouse to see Manny and get
a picture of the “right” witness.
I got there just as the trial recessed for lunch. I grabbed Manny
as he came out the door and told him that he had to point out
the witness and stay with me until he could do so. Manny glowered
me with his close-set beady eyes as he pulled his overcoat over
I don’t have time for that,” he hissed. “I have
to get to lunch.” And with that, he disappeared into the
lunch bound crowd.
YOU BASTARD,” I shouted after him.
There was a tap on my shoulder from behind. I turned to see Bob
Weddel, another reporter.
The guy you want is right over there, with the blue shirt and gray
pants. He’s talking with the DA.”
Now that’s a real reporter. And, Bob didn’t even work
for Newsday. He worked for our competition, The Long Island Daily
Press. I hugged him and ran over to make my shot.
I have always held Bob in my highest esteem. He wasn’t betraying
his own paper by helping me because the Press didn’t have
their own photographer there. He saw a chance to help an associate
in need and he acted on it. The Long Island Press is long gone,
and Bob, who went on to work for the NY Post, has long since retired.
But, if you happen to read this, Bob, I am eternally grateful for
There are other reporters who stand out in my mind, for one
reason or another. Amei Wallach was our Art Critic. Our
of opinions about art were made evident one day on an assignment
the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City. We were
standing in front of a huge canvas labeled “Black On
entire canvas was filled with one solid black tone. It could
have been applied with a roller since I saw no texture or hint
brush strokes. Curious, I stepped up close and that is when
I saw the
pencil-thin line in a lighter shade of black that extended
across the horizontal plane of the painting.
Black On Black?” I said. “My 3rd grade son could do
that in ten minutes. That’s not art. That’s 'The
Emperor’s New Clothes.' This guy is scamming the
art world who is too embarrassed to admit that it is a piece
because it's hanging in the Guggenheim.”
Amei countered with a discourse on my inability to perceive
what the artist was saying in his work.
I didn’t agree. But, I liked Amei and I liked working with
her. She is the only reporter that I knew who could question
a subject while looking him in the eyes and never drop her gaze
her note pad while she wrote down his responses. I admired that.
Shirley Perlman was a tenacious reporter. We spent months together
in 1987 on the story about the Islip Garbage Barge. We chased
the notorious garbage laden barge up and down the east coast.
treated me as a partner on this story and made sure that
I had as much information as did she. She never gave up
the story seemed to be slipping away from time to time.
Arnie Abrams was a pleasure to work with. He was intelligent, a
good reporter and a terrific writer as well as being
to be around. He and I enjoyed the same acerbic kind of
on one another with regularity.
We were thrown together for several weeks, one summer,
doing a story on our military’s readiness, or lack, thereof, during
the Iran hostage crisis. We traveled around the country, visiting
Army and Marine bases, questioning everyone from pfc’s to
three star generals about whether we could respond to the brush
fires that were springing up in trouble spots around the world.
I sat, with my jaw dropping, as I listened to Arnie finesse
the truth from a high ranking general who admitted what
problems we had logistically in getting troops and materiel
Point “A” to
Point “B.” He was making statements that could
have resulted in his court martial had Arnie not diluted
what he was
divulging. The story came out with facts in regard to this
problem, but Arnie was careful not to publish anything
that could have been
used by our enemies. He had an uncanny ability to be able
to bring his subjects into his confidence as he dug for
the facts in the
story. Then, at the end of each day, while we sat over
dinner, he would test his story lead on me and would actually
take seriously, my suggestions
for changes. He would also go over his notes and
I would describe photos that I had taken that day, emphasizing
I thought were strong contenders to go with what he had
written. If I had made any really strong shots, he would
try to punch up
his prose in the hopes that the strong shots would get
used. Now, that’s really teamwork. What a joy it
was to work with him.
Suzie was a good-looking young gal who worked the police
beat in Nassau County. She could trade jokes and sexual
the best of them and her language was as salty as any
She was a tough cookie and was able to take care of herself in
the rough and tumble world of cops and robbers.
There was a murder in the Italian neighborhood of Westbury.
A young man and his girlfriend shared a house with his
father. The old
man turned up dead, one day; lying crumbled at the foot
basement stairs. He had been arguing with his son’s
girl friend and she was suspected in the old man’s
I was sent to the neighborhood to get what I could and
to find Suzie and work with her. The cops and detectives
the scene and I got shots of them searching the crime
scene as curious
neighbors looked on.
Suzie spotted me and came over while I was shooting.
She pointed out some of the neighbors whom she had interviewed
and I made
some shots of them.
Then she told me about her interview with one of them.
He was an old Italian Immigrant who was a friend of the
family. She asked him what he knew about the dead man and his son.
Niza family,” the old man replied with a heavy Sicilian accent.
How about the son?” she asked. “What kind of a guy
Niza family,” was his answer.
Suzie was getting the idea that those two words might be the only
English that the old man knew. “What did the other
neighbors think of him?” she probed.
Again. “Niza family.”
Suzie told me that she made one more attempt to see if
he spoke any English.
She said, “The neighbors say that you’re hung like
a horse.” And she held her hands about two feet apart.
Niza family,” he said.
Then she knew.
There are many other reporters with whom I have worked who
were notable in one form or another. If my memory holds
and I live long enough, I will probably get around to writing