Toronto. This is a review of the April 2017 PHSC meeting on News Photographers. Who would have thought Toronto would have two sports teams in the playoffs? Between this and medical issues, we changed the speakers to Spike Bell of Windsor along with our own Bob Lansdale. Both Spike and Bob have a long history as photographers. Both have written books on photography. Both are comfortable talking to a room full of photographic enthusiasts. Note that the images below are off the screen and cropped so the quality doesn’t approach the original prints.
We saw two different perspectives in the art of news photographs. Spike talked briefly about the challenges and dwelt at length with his impressive itinerary of subjects across North America. Meantime Bob talked in depth of facing the news with dicey gear and deadlines, choosing to show just one of his illustrious subjects.
Spike began with his news shots of the 1967 Detroit Riots across the river from home. This was followed by photos of the Beatles who visited Michigan three years earlier in 1963).
Spike captured many American politicians – often in close ups – Kennedys, Eisenhower, Nixon, Regan, Humphrey, etc. And personalities galore like Martin Luther King. In Canada he met Pierre and Margaret Trudeau, John and Olive Diefenbaker. In Europe, he captured on film the Queen and Prince Philip.
As a wrap, Spike showed a cover shot of his book “Memoirs of a Border City”. All of the images he used in his talk are in this book including his photographs of eight American presidents and five Canadian prime ministers!
The book’s cover shot of the two cities, Windsor and Detroit, was taken on film with a Hasselblad. At the last minute, it was noticed that a building had the sign DaimlerChrysler illuminated on it. A quick pass through Photoshop and the sign simply said Chrysler and an awkward situation was avoided (the DaimlerChrysler arrangement was a very uncomfortable one for Chrysler and fell apart before the book was printed).
Bob began with an explanation of the camera (Speed Graphic) and flash strobe gear (Multiblitz) (http://www.multiblitz.com) he used in the 1950s after graduating from Ryerson. To speed his photographs up, he used a Grafmatic back (holds six cut films) on his camera. The six-pack Grafmatic worked well with the strobe but was prone to jamming. His solution (using a real Grafmatic) was ingenious – involving tilting the camera and film holder on the side and hitting the Grafmatic sharply with his fingers to clear the springs and letting gravity smoothly slide the next cut film piece in place.
Bob worked for Federal News Photos, but in Toronto they did so many Toronto Star assignments they were considered Toronto Star photographers. He was in Europe on a junket doing PR photos of the military bases when a telegram directed him to go to Calais ASAP to photograph the Toronto Telegram sponsored Marilyn Bell as the youngest person to swim across the channel.
Bob arrived in Calais lacking any information. He found the United Press gang. Friends at last. They directed him to the time and place for the swim. At 7am next morning, Bob walked into the cold channel to get a photo of Ms Bell starting her swim. He had sent his luggage, shoes, money – and passport on ahead. It was a long walk in shallow water to get a good shot with his strobe (contrary to warnings by others, he didn’t suffer a shock from the strobe).
Later, he was told to wait on the beach for a pick up. So he waited – hours and hours and hours – no money, no shoes, no passport. He had been forgotten! Finally the hotel people found him by accident and arranged to get him to Dover and clothed a bit better, When it came to his shoes, only tennis shoes were found – and those a size too small.
He was worrying about customs with no passport when a launch came back to get lanolin for ms Bell who was struggling with jelly fish. (Now, did the Toronto Tely folk leave Bob behind because he was known as a Toronto Star photographer?) Arriving late on the launch turned out to be a saving grace – the photographers who left earlier ended up sun-burnt and sea-sick.
He got a couple of shots before the launch captain decided to drop him off on the beach under the cliffs of Dover where Marilyn was expected to reach land (she could have landed anywhere within a couple of miles but she came within ten feet of him)! Using his strobe, Bob was able to set the camera aperture and speed for the background while the strobe froze the action of Marilyn getting up from the water (she had to touch the beach without help).
Most of the other photographers had flashbulbs (burnt out foreground; jet black background). Worse, many managed to get on the wrong side of the action. Bob rushed up the stairs to Dover to get the shot of Marilyn being carried up by an athlete. Fortunately, it was a holiday weekend in Canada – an extra day to get the film to Toronto before the papers came out. Bob had two front page shots and 50% of the coverage inside…. in the Telegram!
Bob wrapped up his portion of the talk with a nod to his late wife Margaret and her PPOC columns which he published in a book they called ”…a funny thing happened on the way to the darkroom!”. It has illustrations and anecdotes about photographers of the last half of the last century.