McClellan Street
March 2008

by David Turnley

At the tail end of the late Sixties, a generation was in the streets protesting the war in Vietnam. My sense of the world was of one in turmoil, but one with tremendous idealism. The two important visions of the time, John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "We are all created equal" were central themes in the way we were raised.

The "McClellan Street" project happened at this formative time of our lives when Peter and I were seventeen years old. We are twins and followed an older brother and sister in a family who sat at the dinner table every night, with our parents and our paternal grandmother and great aunt who lived across the street. While growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, an industrial city in the heart of America, our family was actively engaged in discussion of the national and world affairs of our time.

Tenacity is a quality that Peter and I embraced early. At first, this manifested itself in sports. We were actually pretty good football players and dreamed of playing pro one day. It was football, or to be more precise, a knee injury, that put Peter in the hospital our junior year in high school, at which time my parents gave him a camera. Peter began using the camera after school, to explore life in the inner city of Fort Wayne. Like most things at that time of our lives, as a twin, I followed suit.

The tenacity we had shown in football transformed almost overnight into complete enthusiasm for photography. I think what struck us immediately with the camera was that so much in the world seemed to not make sense. While having been taught that we are all created equal, our city's neighborhoods were mostly racially and economically divided, with the working-class poor living mostly in the inner city, and the mostly white, middle and upper classes living on the suburban edge of town.

I think that through photography we realized we had the ability to document what is equal--dignity, the human spirit--which has nothing to do with race, religion, ethnicity, or economic status. The camera gave us a voice with which to scream, an outlet for our creativity, and a window into a world filled with possibility and adventure.

What I remember most is the bond that I felt with Peter. We shared in the joy and quiet confidence of trying to avail ourselves to the people on this street, to make the statement that they were important. We spent months photographing on McClellan Street, and equally endless nights in our basement darkroom to make beautiful prints of our work.

Eventually, I was elected, again because of a football injury suffered by Peter, to take a plane, the first time in my life, to New York City to show our photographs. When I arrived, I went straight to the photographic agency Magnum. I knocked on the door; a debonair European man answered. I introduced myself and asked if I could show him our project of photographs of a street in Indiana. He smiled and gently said that I could leave them and eventually someone would take a look and send them back to us.

I responded that I was going to be in the city for three days with no other appointments. If it would be all right, I asked, could I sit on the couch to see if someone had five minutes in the following three days to look at our work? It would mean a lot to me.

He again smiled and invited me to have a seat on the couch. About five minutes later a distinguished-looking woman appeared and introduced herself as Lee Jones, the director of Magnum.

She invited me into her office and said she wanted to see the pictures. About halfway through the stack, she looked up, said she was impressed. She wanted to make a few calls to make sure that Peter and I got a good start in this business.

She proceeded to call John Szarkowski, the director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art; Bruce Davidson, whose book "East 100th Street" had been an inspiration; Cornell Capa, the brother of Robert Capa, who at the time was creating the International Center of Photography; John G. Morris, then the editor of NYT Pictures, a New York Times syndicate, and a former picture editor of Life and Ladies' Home Journal and former executive editor of Magnum; Howard Chapnick, with whom Peter and I later had the privilege to work at Black Star; and half a dozen other important people in photography in New York City.

In each case she suggested that these people give me five minutes of their time. In fact over the next three days, I was received by each of these people in their homes, where they looked at our pictures from McClellan Street, and, in each case, said something along the lines of "You guys know how to do this. Now get out there and make pictures. You have what it takes. No one will ever hold your hand in photography, but you need to know that the two of you have what it takes." With that I would call Peter each night. Our cups were bubbling over with excitement at the support we were receiving.

When I got to John Morris, he looked at the pictures and said, "If anyone in the city wants to publish these pictures, I would want to represent you and make sure the story is accompanied by a good text, is well laid out, and that you are well paid." In fact, Jim Hughes at 35 MM Photography magazine did want to publish the work. "McClellan Street" was given fifteen pages, accompanied by a spectacular text written by Richard Busch. John went on to become a lifetime friend.

I flew back to Fort Wayne, and with this encouragement, Peter and I have spent the last thirty-five years immersed in separate careers making pictures around the world, I think in many ways, really, not very far from McClellan Street.

© David Turnley

Born in 1955, David Turnley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and filmmaker. Considered one of the best documentary photographers working today, David was a staff photographer for the Detroit Free Press from 1980 to 1998, covering international assignments. In the process, he was nominated for Pulitzer Prizes four times; he won it in 1990. And in 1988 and 1991, he was awarded the World Press Photo Picture of the Year prize as well as the Overseas Press Club's Robert Capa Gold Medal. Fluent in French and Spanish, David is a graduate of the University of Michigan, and has studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and Harvard University. He has directed an Emmy-nominated documentary for CNN on the Dalai Lama, and a feature-length documentary set in a Cuban dance hall, "La Tropical." He is the author of two books, "Baghdad Blues: A War Diary," and "The Russian Heart: Days of Crisis and Hope," and the co-author – with his twin brother, Peter – of "David and Peter Turnley: In Times of War and Peace," and their most recent collaboration, "McClellan Street," featured in this month's Digital Journalist.

In December 2007, David traveled across the U.S. filming famous athletes and real people for the "Look Me in the Eyes" television campaign for Nike's Brand Jordan and Wieden + Kennedy. Throughout the shoot David shot 35mm film for a 60-second commercial and took thousands of photographs which are planned to be displayed at a gallery show and edited into a photo book.

Last year David photographed 36 athletes around the world including David Beckham for the 2007 "Impossible is Nothing" campaign for Adidas and 180/Amsterdam. These photos were used in a film about the project, a print campaign for Adidas, and a coffee table book.

David's latest book, MANDELA, a look at the leader's life and the South African anti-apartheid struggle, published by Abrams, will be released in April 2008.