One day during the time that I was the picture editor of the New York Times Magazine I received a call from a correspondent who was about to write a piece for us about the People Power movement in the Philippines and its leader, Cory Aquino. He was requesting that he work with a certain photographer with whom he had always wanted to work, but had never had the opportunity. The picture department never looked too favorably on such requests. We were the decision makers when it came to assignments. In this case, however, it was different. The correspondent was Seth Mydans, and the photographer, his father Carl. So we sent them off together to that island so full of memories for the Mydans family. Carl was nearly eighty at the time, and he did a great job. Good pictures, perfect captions, and a note from Seth to say that his father had had to climb up a street lamp to get some of the shots, Carl's physical stature being the complete opposite of his stature as a photographer.
I have often watched Carl talking to zealous young photographers each year at the Eddie Adams Workshop, and wonder if they realize that he is in fact showing them the secret of success for their chosen profession. Carl's a great photographer. He can pull an image out of the air that a lesser shooter would miss. He's also the most persistent man I think I've ever met, and to me that's the secret of success that those students are so eagerly seeking. When I was at Life he came to me with a story proposal to do a piece about some tracks in the Californian desert that Patton's troops had made with their tanks when training. Because of the desert conditions these tracks had remained unchanged since the early forties. I thought it was a really dumb idea, and turned it down, but I was intrigued by the proposal and supporting material, because they looked as if they had been around the block a couple of times. It turned out that he had originally proposed the story to one of my predecessors in the sixties, who had also thought it a dumb story and turned it down. Twenty five years later Carl thought it was time to try again.
I did publish a story that he had done about Welsh miners in 1951 in a
little photography magazine that I briefly produced called Outtakes.
He had done it for Life, and it had never been published, but he'd never
forgotten about it, and forty years later he found it a home. If anyone
wants a copy of this e-mail me at email@example.com. I've got thousands
of them providing temporary insulation in my basement. The photographs
are simple, powerful images full of sympathy and dignity. I don't know
why Life didn't print them, but I'm glad and proud that I did. Pictures
like that don't come along every day, because photographers like Carl are
exceedingly rare. Anyone who can wait twenty five or forty years to get
their pictures printed gets my lifetime achievement award.
Corbis - A new way of looking at the world.
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