Fifty Years On….

Like a few of my colleagues (David K, are you listening?) this year marks a rather major milestone for me as a photographer.  I came into photojournalism the same way a lot of my friends did: I signed up for the High School Yearbook, clueless about what the photo staff did, but became completely entranced when I saw that first 8×10 sheet of Medalist come to life in the Dektol of Mr. Blackham’s darkroom.  That was junior year of High School, and I got the bug.  I began shooting almost everything, and within a few months was trying to sell pictures at the local weekly paper (which my cousins bought the next year, and kept me on in what became my first and only “Staff” position.)  Basketball games were a good chance to try and shoot the first half, then drive quickly downtown and hope that the Salt Lake Tribune might a) care about that game and b) not having their own photog there, actually buy one of yours for $5 (and give you your exposed film back), give you a fresh roll of film, and then to top it off, put your name next to it in the paper.  Hailing the next day’s paper to see what it looked like was one of those exciting moments which I came celebrate both the pain and joy of in the magazine years.  
I went off to college in 1964 armed with my supposed smarts in advanced math, with the idea of building Moon rockets for NASA. But my math skills seemed to have given way to my photographic eye, and even though there were no photo classes at Colorado College, I shot on my own, sold weekend prints to the drag strips I would frequent (when you sold 20 pictures at a buck each, you realized that twenty bucks was a pretty good haul for a weekend in the early 60’s and a chance to have your ear drums blown out by a AA/S Automatic Hemi.  Talk about fun!

the Grateful Dead  June 1967 – New York

Spring break of Junior Year, this was 1967, I bought a cheap (as they were then) United Air Lines ticket to New York, and spent a week trying to find a summer gig in the city.  In those days there were tons of classified ads in the Times  Help Wanted for Studio Assistant,etc., and while I did see a couple of them, that wasn’t my main aim.   My aunt had a good friend from Kansas City who had come for dinner the Sunday before I left, and as it happened she had an old pal, Ruth Lester, whose job it was to look at portfolios off the street for LIFE magazine.  A quick call was made, and I was invited to come see Ruth, showing off my pictures (which were, frankly, pretty lame….) in an attempt to get some kind of  summer gig.  Most of the magazines that did hire college kids limited their applicants to PhotoJ majors – usually from Missouri.  But I met a few contacts – friends of friends, who would call a photographer and ask if they would see me. (Steve Horn at Horn/Griner.  Katherine Abbe, are two I recall.)   I so remember the kindness that was paid to me, and have honestly tried over the years to return the favor to young photographers who want to talk about the business.  
Ruth was very welcoming, though I remember being so damn up tight on the 29th floor of the Time Life building, where LIFE Edit offices were.  Looking around you could see names on office walls who you had only ever seen on a page in the magazine.  She had, she said, nothing, but offered to call the Time B/W Editor (in the late 60s, the magazine could only use color with a couple of week’s advance, and so most pictures were in black & white, and that is what they spent most of their time working on.)  The Editor, Barker T Hartshorn was a jaunty New Englander, who I recall (Arnold I’m sure will correct me) wearing a lot of bowties.  In his charge was a large room of office cubbies, staffed by the women researchers (in those days, “Women” were the “Researchers”… it was one of those last (?)  bastions of male chauvinism) including Alice Rose George, Michele Stephenson [who became Photo editor twenty years later], and the unforgettable Evelyn Merrin.  “Bo” Hartshorn, as he was known, was very welcoming, and for reasons I have never truly understood, apparently saw in me someone who could eventually be of worth to both him and to the Magazine.  I briefly met Charlie Jackson, who was the overall editor in charge of pictures, and working with him, a  youngish editor named Arnold Drapkin, who was still a kid.  I left the building that day with no idea of what had transpired, other than I knew I’d been in the TIme-Life building, and that was pretty damn cool.  It was another three weeks later that I received the letter from Charlie Jackson offering me a 3 day per week internship at $85 per week.  How could I beat that?!  Couldn’t.  I can still remember the feeling of anticipation as I walked in from school the day the letter arrived. My  mom had placed it on my bed, the blue tinted envelope with the TIME logo sitting almost helplessly on the brown corduroy bedspread.  I don’t know if I ever opened a letter with such excitement.
I spent the summer in New York (for a month), Washington DC under the tutelage of Wally Bennett, the TIME staffer ( 6 weeks) and back in NY for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer.  I still had another year of college to go, but I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to work for a magazine.  Space, page size, and of course the attention that came with something which reached 25 milliion readers every week.  
My first few days that summer were a bit dodgy.  There was really nothing set up for me when I arrived in New York on the morning the 6-Day war started, so they just cleared one of the extra desks and that became my space.  There were still a number of NYC daily newspapers, and each day as they made the rounds, the papers would pile up on  my desk. I wondered, as I sat there in my coat & tie, my huge “everything I own in it” camera bag next to me, when I would have a chance to do something.   Sometime late in my second week, as I was about ready to give up in despair, Michele Stephensen, whose cubbie was just around the corner from my desk, gave a yell…”David!”   I sprung to life, grabbed my bag and asked her what was up.  “There is a new President of J Walter Thompson… Dan Seymour… he’s leaving town in half an hour, so get over there and see if you can make a portrait…”   I hauled ass out of the building, found a cab on 6th avenue, and sat nervously as the cab went almost no where in the slow sluggish traffic.  I hopped out, grabbing my WorldsLargestCameraBagWithEverythingIOWNinIT and ran the last half dozen blocks.  I was shown upstairs to Seymour’s office , panting like a race horse, and as he talked on the phone, shot about 30 frames on my one roll.  He hung up the fone, I shot the rest of the roll, him looking at me with the expression of someone who feels his wallet has just been lifted, and that picture was what ran in TIME  “The Weekly Newsmagazine” the next week.   I had to make a real decision. Michele (whose mom, as it turned out, had gone to high school with my mom in Salt Lake) asked me that most important of questions:  “Do you want the credit line to be Dave or David?”   It took a few seconds to react, but I decided that it was, safe for Facebook, the last time I would be known as Dave.  That next week became very collegial as many of the magazine’s regulars   –  David Gahr, Peter Polymenakis, and Burt Berinsky, among others, all said something nice about having my “first picture” published.  
Every week there was an adventure of some kind.  Photographing private aircraft for a story on General Aviation,Vietnamese business women touring the states, etc.    And one day, I had another of those over the cubbie-wall screams for my name  — this time it was Linda George.  She had another of those “get down there NOW!” jobs.  There was a band playing a free concert in Tomkins Square Park in the East Village (decades before it was remotely gentrified) and please get down there and make some pictures.  I was not exactly the greatest of rock & roll trivia experts, but young people who I’ve met over years still can’t believe I’d never heard of The Grateful Dead.  I arrived as they were playing in a small bandstand, and with several hundred devoted listeners having taken lunch off to hear them play.  I hopped on stage, and to me Pigpen was THE guy to photograph.  He looked as if he’d been there a half dozen lives already, and made for a good picture. At one point a young boy, probably lost from his pals (or mom?) broke out into tears on stage in the middle of a song.   I’m sure he ended up making it home ok, but it made for one of those pictures that you remember. Not because it’s a great picture, just because it’s a kind of weird moment.   Who is that guy?  He would now be in his mid or late 50s, and somewhere, I’m sure, has a very distinct memory of freaking out at the Dead concert.   
Fifty years is a long time to be doing anything, and I have to admit that had it been anything other than photography, I probably would have moved on.  I’m still kind of sorry I didn’t drive dragsters or work on the Saturn V  Apollo rocket program.  I studied Poli Sci in college, but have never run for anything other than one semester as Kappa Sig Grand Master.  You never really know where life will take you, but as long as you are able to be open to the things which present themselves you can make a life which won’t be full of regret.  I keep thinking that from the Class of ’46 —-   Donald Trump born June ’46, George W Bush born July ’46, Bill Clinton August ’46, that I, born in September ’46 should have really been the next President.  It would have made for a helluva lot less “Fake News,”  progress might actually have been made on a number of social challenges, and boy, would the pictures that the White House photographers make be damn good, or what!?  I don’t really  feel that bad about missing out on being POTUS, and I feel lucky and honored that I have seen as a witness with a camera so much of what has gone on in our time – in a hundred countries – over the last fifty years.  What better wish can a photographer have hoped for, other than, of course, ‘don’t fuck up.’   We’re just sayin’… David

A Holga Moment

When former Ambassador Joe Wilson ended up on the White House ‘shitlist’ for having dared speak publicly about his report on the lack of uranium shipments to Iraq, he and

The March of Women

It was my intention to write about the wonderful party we attended last evening. Who doesn’t love Diana and Mallory Walker. In addition to being gracious and elegant they are the World’s Cutest Couple.It was a birthday party for Diana. All her and our friends, family and colleagues gathered to wish her continued joy. That’s what I intended do before “The Women’s March.”

The Last Man: On the Moon

He was a tough guy to track down. I was assigned by ZEIT magazine to photograph the “Last Man on the Moon”… Eugene Cernan was the last man up the ladder to the Lunar Excursion Module in 1972 – Apollo XVII. It’s hard to imagine now that what would have gone on next – Apollo XVIII – was cashiered because of money issues.

Those Natty Ole Reporters

Photographers make photographs for Memory. We want to remember a place, a person, a moment, whether it’s warm, wonderful and uplifting, or something horrible on the other end of the human scale. For while we may not always change many opinions, there is certainly nothing to be gained by the willful disrgarding of history, of the past, or even what happened yesterday. This year has been full of what seemed like “one of…” moments. I was watching TV live the day that Donald Trump said of John McCain that he preferred heroes who hadn’t been captured. At that moment I was convinced that his campaign was over, finished, unable to recover from yet another crazy comment. But, of course, as we all learned, his campaign might have been the called the campaign of “one of’ moments: they just kept coming for the whole 18 months. And each time you would recoil, or laugh in disbelief.

Robert L “Bob” Williams 1923-2016

On the eve of the Eve, I received some sad but not unexpected news. Robert L “Bob” Williams, 93, passed away today after a long illness, and a very full life. Bob grew up in Kentucky and Ohio, joined the Army early in WW2, and ended up as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division.

Half a Life Ago….

I guess when you have been doing something for nigh on’ fifty years, there aren’t many weeks that go by without some kind of memory, some anniversary which hops out from the cloudy mess of “today,” and reminds you that there was Life in a previous era. For the most part, even as an ex-math major I have some disbelieving moments when I try and do the calculations of some thing which has very clearly made a long term impression, but seems impossible to really be “that long ago….” And so it is that yesterday marked a day which I shall remember for a very long time. It was the beginning of winter, 1981, in Poland, at a time when Solidarity and its vibrant leader Lech Walesa had created what would be come one of the first crashes of the Eastern bloc underpinnings. From small beginnings at the Gdansk shipyard, and building into something which spread across the whole of Poland, the movement itself became one of the “intolerables” which the Soviets, in their role as leader of the Warsaw Pact countries had decided must be put down. Like Hungary in 1956 and Prague Spring in 1968, Solidarity was a force which came from within, the “effect” which had been borne by the stilting force of the Communist orthodoxy. A human reaction to a not terribly human stimulus. It was clear in the fall of ’81 that because of the rise of Solidarity, and the consequent flummoxing of Polish officials, that year-end articles in all the weeklies would look upon this social uprising as something of note. I was the recipient of another of those “magic phone calls…” — an out of the blue call from Arnold Drapkin of TIME, who dangled one of those photographic trinkets in front of me. TIME was putting a team together to cover the next couple of weeks of activity in Poland, and would I join that group. Those calls which came the first week of December usually meant just one thing: MOY — or as it was then known… (because it was mostly men…) the Man of The Year. Then as now it was one of the biggest stories in print journalism, and to most of us, it was pretty clear that Lech Walesa would be that Man. As usual I pretended that I had to check my schedule, but internally, from the moment Arnold say “Hi…” I was up and running. “Yes… ” I said with a mildly diffident conviction. I mean, really, you never wanna let on that you’re totally psyched to be asked to do that story, do you? Or maybe, just maybe, you do.

Just 8 Years Ago….

 It was 8 years ago this week that i received a phone call from Katie Ellsworth, then the Washington photo editor of TIME Magazine.  I had worked for TIME over five decades, covering politics, business, general news stories, and the occasional gig at the White House.  Her call was to see if I could make it early the following morning, to do a portrait of the Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulsen, the former chief of Goldman Sachs (did someone say “revolving door?”) who had been the Treasury chief for two years.   We were in what seemed to be a roiling in the credit markets, and an incredibly fast-moving series of collapses of some of the biggest and most noteworthy financial institutions in the country.  (I wonder why they are always “financial institutions” instead of “financial companies” – I guess because we think they will always be there.)  In the middle of that September, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns each disintegrated within days of each other, turning billions of dollars into nothing more than mere dust. And not Gold dust.  Just dust.  As if the country was the Titanic, and one by one, bulkheads popped, letting waves of seawater rush in, and if you had been the Captain on the bridge, you would have understood that in just a few minutes, the mighty behemoth would be nothing more than a metalic ruin, easily overrun by the sea.

I arranged with the Treasury  Public Affairs folks to show up about 7:15am the next morning, giving me time to put up a portable backdrop, and even set a light or two if needed.  Paulsen was leaving a live Today show interview in his office, was en route to the Oval to see President Bush, and I would have about a minute or three on the West end of the Treasury building, on a small veranda of grey marble, as he left one building headed for the next. 

I had probably two, maybe three minutes with him.  In those pressure-packed moments where you realize it’s quite easy to blow it, you become surprisingly unaware of the passage of time, other than it always goes too quickly.  In your head you want to slow everything down, have a minute to ponder, engage the subject, come away with something remarkable.  But it almost never works like that.  So you shoot a few this way, a couple that way, maybe a third something of some kind, and by then the press secretaries are chomping at the bit, trying to get their boss to the White House without getting yelled at (which is, by the way, the main reason anyone does anything in Washington.)

I shot furiously with my 5D, and did manage to make a couple of frames of Paulsen with my Speed Graphic.  In 2008 I tried to shoot a few large format pictures on every job.  The old camera usually was self-supporting: that is, most subjects would find it curious enough as an artifact to actually let me stretch another minute or two of their time, to make a picture.  But here is what I really remember from that morning:  Paulsen, the boss of the Treasury, the lion of the FInancial industry, a man who made more million dollar phone calls in his life than probably anyone I’d ever photographed, was scared shitless.  Positively Scared Shitless.   He knew what had broken, he knew what was about to break, he understood the depths to which the waves of catastrophic collapse were about to occur.  That is what frightened me.  I’d been listening to the news of that week with increasing worry, like most people.  But it was what I saw in Hank Paulsen’s face that scared the shit out of me.

It’s rare as a photographer you are in the position where time, space, and circumstance intersect, and that you can make a picture which reflects it all.  I’m not really sure my Type 55 of Hank Paulsen rises to that level, it probably doesn’t.  But what I do know is that whatever one’s personal view is of the Obama 8 years, it’s simply unimaginable to hear people say that things are worse now than they were in 2008.  We have a helluva lot of problems to deal with, both at home and in the world at large.  But the demeanor of Hank Paulsen, as he saw the world he intimately knew starting to crumble before his eyes, is a reminder that we were perilously close to a ruin far beyond anything any of us have ever known.  We’re just sayin’… David

Forty Five Years On…

I sometimes wonder if our parents thought about time, and the passage of time, in the way we do. Though I can’t recall any conversations with my folks about it, I suspect they were more concerned with just trying to deal with the next day, week, or month, and didn’t have the time or inclination to ponder their aging world and how they fit into it. My whole adult life has been spent taking photographs, for the most part for magazines, as a story teller of the most-decidedly analogue variety. For most of the five decades I’ve been working, film and the necessities it demanded were part of the picture (literally!). But tonight after dinner, I had one of those moments when all of a sudden, the date gave me pause. It’s July 23, 2016, and being a former math major I started doing the obligatory backtracking, and realized that this week is the 45th anniversary of my first TIME Magazine cover story. Forty five years. It’s not Diamond, nor Silver, and probably not even Tin. But it might be The Plastic Stuff Film Cans Were Made From. Yeah, forty five.
A man carries his mother through the rain to a refugee tent cover, W. Bengal
That summer of 1971 I had been living in Saigon for the better part of a year, had more or less become one of the TIME photographers working that bureau, and that is when news started flowing out of West Bengal about the refugees fleeing persecution in East Pakistan. (Six months later, following a war between India and Pakistan, East Pakistan would re-emerge as Bangladesh.) David Kennerly, then working for UPI out of Saigon had just come back from spending a week in India working on the refugee story, and told me it was one of those stories which really needed to be covered. People needed to know this was happening. I had sent a note to Timepix New York for approval to head to Calcutta to cover the story, and the next day a telex came confirming that I was on assignment.
a young boy clings to someone close, Refugee camp, W. Bengal
I arrived at DumDum airport late the next night, my first time in India, and soaked up the amazing, unforgettable sights, sounds and above all, smells. The woody smoke from cook-fires mixed with the myriad sounds creating that first impression that still remains. I took a room at Grand Hotel, and though it wasn’t as Grand as Garbo’s, it was a great place to operate from and featured a bar whose denizens of the Fourth Estate gave unending combinations of fact and fiction over Pimms and Gins. I hooked up with a Bengali photographer from the Statesman (Symadas Basu) and we roamed the border areas for the better part of a week, searching for photographs. You didn’t have to look very far or very hard to find something. There was a virtually unending stream of people, on foot or oxcart, slowly but inexorably heading West. I remember looking at the faces of those people as our paths crossed, thinking that what they were fleeing must truly be awful. Millions would not simply give up all, and move, unless there was something very terrible on the other end.
crowds of refugees seek space to lay down, to sleep, in a W. Bengal camp
Each night when I’d return to the Grand, I would make a packet of film (Ektachrome 64) for New York and through the miracles of modernity, 30 hours later my cassettes would be on John Durniak’s desk. Captions were always rather broad and hazy, but the pictures for the most part would speak for themselves. It was still very much the age of Telex (look it up!) and when I received word that the next week’s magazine would feature my picture on the Cover, along with a four page spread inside, I felt I had done right by the story. It was truly a different time, and while today’s weekly magazines are a slim notion of their former selves, at the time there was satisfaction in knowing that in the week following, some 20 million people would see your story. (This was still a decade before the founding of CNN!)
D.B.  age 24, Khe Sanh, VN  1971  (*photo © Chris Callis)

When you have worked for nearly fifty years as a photojournalist, almost every week offers some modest or major anniversary of some kind. Most are forgettable to all except the few that lived them. I noticed in the last few years that too, too many of my discussions with friends would start with something like “…that reminds me of a story I did 35 years ago,….” and I think that perhaps I’m the only one finding those moments so prescient and full of vibrant memory. We Baby Boomers were given much, perhaps too much, but perhaps the one thing we might be worthy of are our memories of the 20th century. I have worked long enough to see many of my stories morph from journalism into history. That alone has reminded me that a life with camera in hand was perhaps a worthy one. But I’m sure I’ll keep doing the math here and there, finding some little anniversary which will let us focus again, if briefly, on a moment of our times.  We’re just sayin’…. David

D-Day+ 72

The trip began as a diversion from the post-election blues in Paris, 1974.  The French had just elected a new President. I’d been lucky enough to be his personal photographer (if you have a choice between driving to the event in Clermont-Ferrand, or hopping the candidate’s private jet, take my advice, go with the jet!)  Two good friends, Tom Herman and Robert Wiener, both of whom were living in Paris, reminded me that as it was the beginning of June, we should head on up to Normandy for what was billed as a big “thank you” to the Allied troops who had, 30 years before, taken part in the D-Day assault which eventually drove the Germans out of France, and ended World War Two.   So off we went in a rented car.   At the time, I hadn’t really put together that anyone I knew at home in Salt Lake, had much to do with the War. Mr. Tolman, whose magic at teaching History only became obvious to me decades later, had been a bomber pilot, and was perhaps the only one I’d met growing up who shared his experiences.  And his take, more impish and full of humor than heroism, included his description of the mandatory  “… and there I was…”  moments which I’m sure he’d heard too many of from his veteran friends.  (His “and there I was” moment usually involved a description of his plane dropping its bombs on a cow pasture….)  Later I would understand that those who lived though the tough stuff were generally much less inclined to share their stories than the REMFs who seemed to tell stories at the drop of a hat. 

On arrival  in Normandy, we made our way to most of the official events.  There was a mock-assault by current-duty US troops up Pointe du Hoc, watched by some of the Rangers who’d been there in ’44.  A tribute to General Omar Bradley, accompanied by his iron-willed wife, he being the last senior US commander to attend a reunion.  And the event which moved me the most, and opened my eyes to the reality of who these solders really were:  A lunch offered by the town of Vierville (Omaha Beach) for hundreds of vets and their wives that became a focal point for all my attention.  It was another chance for the citoyens of Normandy to say thanks.   

At the lunch, wine was served probably accompanied by a few things that most of the vets might have seen as inedible.  The French can be like that.   But beyond the dishes, there was a warmth and welcoming feeling, one which totally belied the old saw about the French being aloof, and not friendly towards the Yanks.  There was a moment when it all came into a frame for me (the Leica M4/35).   One of the vets was sitting opposite a very elegant French woman.  Well, at the least, she had very elegant hands.  Given this was the 30th anniversary, the vet was probably in his early 50s.  He looked as if he were still  of a working age, wearing an early version of a leisure suit.  There was nothing about him that seemed terribly special, but as we all know, special pictures can happen anywhere. 

He had handed over a snapshot of himself from the war, one of those portraits that everyone had done, and you can absolutely see his whole life.  From the rakish young man, mustache carefully trimmed, hair slicked back,  uniform fitting to a T, to the look of insouciance, as if he didn’t really have anything more important to do. He seemed very much at home with himself.  Comfy in his uniform, if not his skin.  Near me, on my side of the table, with a bottle of Muscadet on the ready, the French woman holds the picture, using her thumb and 3rd finger, her forefinger busy holding the most elegant cigarette ever.  You see the space of the the thirty years.  And in that moment something struck me.  The combination of American spirit, and Gallic formality.  The saved thanking the saviours in the manner they best know. 

I began coming back to Normandy again in 1979, then in 1984, and every ten years since.  It has become a story I can’t stay away from.  When you meet the vets – literally our uncles, our dads, our folks’ school buddies, you feel the appreciation for what they did, and how they did it.  They spent several years in uniform understanding they wouldn’t come home till the war was over.  They did their part.  Some saw months of combat, some drove trucks, some flew planes.  But they all understood that the ultimately the  job was about finishing what they had to do.  Over the years have I have done this story, I’ve felt a sense of envy for the camaraderie that they shared with each other.  How do you acknowledge those who did something for a cause greater than themselves.   I guess you say Thanks.   
June 6, 1974   Vierville sur Mer