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 photographers 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 editors 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 images for those individuals.

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 our subject, but 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 were 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 myself into the woodwork and become invisible while making shots of the subject being interviewed. If I was successful, I would be rewarded 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 equal.

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 time 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 the reporter.”

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; leaving 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 they 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 than not 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 hide behind 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 scenario 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 at me with his close-set beady eyes as he pulled his overcoat over his shoulders.

“ 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 your professionalism.

There are other reporters who stand out in my mind, for one reason or another. Amei Wallach was our Art Critic. Our differences of opinions about art were made evident one day on an assignment at the Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City. We were standing in front of a huge canvas labeled “Black On Black.” The entire canvas was filled with one solid black tone. It could have been applied with a roller since I saw no texture or hint of 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 of crap 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 to 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. Shirley treated me as a partner on this story and made sure that I had as much information as did she. She never gave up even though the story seemed to be slipping away from time to time.

Kudos, Shirl.

Arnie Abrams was a pleasure to work with. He was intelligent, a good reporter and a terrific writer as well as being fun to be around. He and I enjoyed the same acerbic kind of sarcasm which we practiced 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 from 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 ones that 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 innuendos with the best of them and her language was as salty as any career sailor’s. 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 of the basement stairs. He had been arguing with his son’s girl friend and she was suspected in the old man’s demise.

I was sent to the neighborhood to get what I could and to find Suzie and work with her. The cops and detectives were still on 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 deceased’s 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 was he?”

“ 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 out and I live long enough, I will probably get around to writing about them in future journals.

Stay tuned.

Dick Kraus



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