By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (Retired)

Continuing my series on Greatness.

Did you ever make some photos that at the time you didn't really consider as having much worth, only to find out years later that the subject matter did have some importance and some worth?

Of course you have. We're not omniscient. At least I'm not. And, because I am not all-knowing, there have been quite a few occasions where I wish that I had more awareness of my subject matter, long after the assignment had passed and I finally woke up to the fact that my pictures might have further served me.

Alas; part of the problem is that most photographers for daily newspapers are just handed assignments with no possibility to do any research to discover much background about their subject matter. So, off we go, blindly into the day, making the best possible photos that we can, with little or no knowledge of our subject or the reason why we are doing a story in the first place. I have to say, that in an effort to be a well-rounded journalist, I did, in the course of my career, ask reporters and their editors to try to add some background to their photo requests so that we photographers might do a more relevant job with our photography.

I also have to shoulder a lot of the blame for all of this because I never read as much as I could have. I never paid as much attention to current events in the media if it didn't particularly affect me in any way. I liked what I liked and everything else just happened without much impact upon my being. Mea culpa. I have to admit that it's just plain laziness on my part. For any journalism newbies who might be reading this, take a lesson from an old dinosaur. Make yourself knowledgeable. Keep up to date. Read newspapers and magazines and watch tv. Use your computer to do more than gaming, blogging and fun stuff. Over the years I have become better informed. But, I wish I knew then what I know now.

If I had, I would have saved some of the photos that I took in this particular instance that day, July 18th, 1964. They would have come in handy now, to go with this journal. I cudda, I wooda, I shudda. Who knew?

So, when I was handed an assignment sheet that told me to meet a reporter at an address in Northport (Long Island) who was doing a story on Jack Kerouac, I didn't have much background on him. I remember Kerouac as being an author. I had heard of his mid-50's hit novel, "On The Road" but had never read it. He and his books represented "The Beat Generation," and that certainly wasn't my lifestyle. I had just gotten out of the Navy in 1955, was married in 1956 and was busy trying to earn a living and take care of a growing family. He and his books held little interest for me and in my fashion, I paid little attention to him.

Now, here I was, driving the few miles to Northport, where Kerouac was living with his mother in an old house on a tree shaded street a few blocks east of the harbor. When I got into the house, Kerouac was sitting in a darkened living room with reporter Val Duncan. I have just now located a copy of Duncan's interview using Google. It's called "Kerouac Revisited" In it, the reporter says, "He spots the photographer and fingers the heavy stubble on his face. 'If you're going to take pictures, I'd better get rid of this.' "

Probably. I don't remember. It was 44 years ago. But, I do remember photographing him with his mother and one of him holding the family cat who I seem to recall played a roll in one of his books. But, I really did make photographs of him. Val Duncan documented that in his story. I wish they had used some of my pictures in the reprint. He died about five years later. Newsday has run several stories on Jack Kerouac over the years. But, they never ran any of the pictures that I had made. The prints and negatives from that far back were moved to some storage warehouse a long time ago to make room in our morgue (which is what papers used to call their libraries in bygone days.) It seems like nothing can ever be found from those old files now, since all of that was in the days before computerization. So, whenever a Kerouac story runs in Newsday, it is accompanied by a wire photo or an old hand-out from his publisher.

Now that I recognize that I had been in the presence of greatness I wish I had one or two of my photos to run with this story. But, I don't.


Dick Kraus

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