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The Real Deal

Nov 8

In Friends, history at 7:19am

Taught again this year at the Santa Fe Photo Workshops, as I usually do. I really enjoy my occasional visits to the Southwest. Over the last few years, I’ve regularly brought my classes to the Monroe Gallery, run by Sid and Michelle Monroe. Great people, and close friends. They are the real deal.

I am very determined about this (especially when I teach young shooters who’ve never had a whiff of dektol) as a way of acquainting folks with work that is really the shoulders upon which we all stand. Digital photo fever is at an all time high, which is a great thing. It’s just important to know where we came from.

And, I have to admit, there’s the curmudgeon in me who’s determined to avoid much of the rest of the chic, super heated bubble that constitutes the Santa Fe spa/art scene, which, at least occasionally, makes me chuckle. I mean, there are so many galleries on Canyon Road, and such a cacophony of art that it veers damn close to outright tragic. I’m sure this is my own demented imagination at work, but I can conjure a day for the cognoscenti down there beginning by putting down the lemon scented loofah, removing the cucumber slices from the eyelids, rinsing off the sea salt scrub laced with all natural oatmeal and tinged with the scent of free range apricots, and chugging through gallery after gallery. In those shops are mult-hued Kokopelli statues, intricately fashioned wind chimes, and fantastically bent pieces of metalwork, many of which, to me,  look like the product of a welder having a seizure. It’s all okay. Art is many things to many people.

I prefer the simple white walls and the largely monochrome environment at Monroe. Their gallery is like an oasis of unflinching, heartfelt reality in the midst of the ephemeral, land of enchantment swirl. What hangs on those walls makes a connection. Some of it entertains the eye in a delightfully kinetic way. Other pictures stir memory, nostalgia, and an echo in your head and your heart. (Where was I when this happened?) Other images up there are like a punch in the gut.

rfkburncopy2.jpg

What I truly believe about a powerful picture is that after viewing it, you are never the same. You have been changed, forever. You might not realize it at that moment, but you are. There’s been an interior, seismic shift in your emotional substrata. The plates tilted, just a little bit.  These pictures linger, like a persistent thought. Or, like someone shouting to you in a rainstorm, it gets your attention, even if you can’t completely make out what it’s saying. Sometimes, they’re like a wound. Photographic scar tissue.

The Monroe’s concentrate their eye and their gallery on historically important photojournalism. Even a quick pass through one of their shows is like looking at your memory of the last 50 years, right there, in one place. Currently, they have a show of Carl Mydan’s work. Carl, a diminutive, gentlemanly sort, was a giant, and a tiger with a camera in his hands. Under that affable exterior was steel. How else could he have withstood the firestorm of ego and bluster that was General Douglas MacArthur to get the pictures that he did?

Also up this fall was the work of Bill Eppridge. (Very appropriate to look at Bill’s work during campaign season, and remember that once upon a time, images of politicians had some grit, and were the product not of “photo opps,” but of real access and relationships.)

Saw Bill at Photo East, still carrying a camera. Still crusty as ever.  He’s earned the right to be crusty, I can tell you. He’s done it all, and his work remains a benchmark for all of us who have ever picked up a camera with serious intent.

I won’t make a history lesson out of this, but the story of the picture above, which was on the walls of Monroe, might not be so well known. What is well known is that Epp covered RFK’s run at the presidency, and grew close with the Senator. He was there in the hotel kitchen when he was gunned down, and made that awful, famous frame of the busboy cradling the Senator’s head as he lay dying. Given the dicey light, it was a thin negative.

The Time Life photo lab, now no more, was the stuff of legend. They pulled from this neg a master, elegant print and copied it. It was from this copy neg, derived from that one print, that many, many reproductions of that moment came.

When Bill’s tenure with LIFE ended, and the weekly mag folded, he was asked if he wanted the master. In the interests of storage space, they were taking 16×20 prints and cutting them down to 11×14′s, as hard as that may seem to believe. So of course, he said yes. They said, okay, where do we ship it? Bill said nowhere, and got on a plane. He took physical possession of this legendary print, but with a profound sense of ambivalence. The night of the assassination, he did his job, magnificently. But at that terrible moment, his job entailed photographing a man he had grown close to, dying in front of him. So the print did not go on his wall.  He put it out of sight, behind his couch in Laurel Canyon, California home.

Wildfires came to the canyon, and destroyed almost everything in their path. Bill’s home burned to the ground, along with just about everything in it. Except the master print, charred, as you see it above.

Some pictures just stick with you. More tk….

49 Responses to “The Real Deal”

Pierre says:

on November 8, 2010 at 7:37 am

Woooh… Being from Canada, I didn’t know that such a picture existed and with your now legendary story telling style, you brought chills down my spine. Thanks Joe for the punch in the gut at 7:30 on this snowy Monday morning.

Kyle Jerichow says:

on November 8, 2010 at 7:47 am

wow, Joe. This was definatly a hard hitting entry, these always resonate with me so deeply.

Thank you for putting into words this deep passion of photography.

All the best, Kyle

Lewis W says:

on November 8, 2010 at 8:38 am

Whenever I go to the Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe, I always tell them Joe McNally sent me.
Mydan’s work was up last time I was there. The show “Forty Years Ago Today”, was up with Eppridge’s work the time before.
I DO believe we stand on the shoulders of giants. Thanks,Joe.

Gary Mencimer says:

on November 8, 2010 at 9:01 am

Joe, if this photography thing doesn’t work out, you may have a career in the wordsmith biz. Great stuff.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on November 8, 2010 at 9:09 am

Bill is the real deal. That image still burns in my mind where I was when Bobby was shot, and how we lost him, Martin and John (sorry Dion) in such a close bit of time.

The rescue of the print reminds me of the exhibits Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick have done in the Lower Ninth ward in New Orleans, just down from Fats Domino’s house. They had all of their double shotgun studio flooded, prints and negatives. When they restored their double shotgun, they put up the framed photographs they rescued. Emulsion damaged, but the image still remains. They did an exhibit in Prospect 1, the Biennial in New Orleans in 2008. A very stark reminder in this digital age to save your images- 3-2-1 – three copies of the files, in two different medias (hard drive and DVD or blu-ray for safety) and at least one off site. Still trying to do this on a regular basis, but in this day and age, it is worth it. Preserve for the future.

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Susan says:

on November 8, 2010 at 9:21 am

Joe, very moving and eloquently written.

Margaret says:

on November 8, 2010 at 9:35 am

Wow, what a story… I was mere 9 year-old and just learning about elections when this event took place. It’s a day I’ll never forget!

Amazing how the photo survived!

JoshB says:

on November 8, 2010 at 9:47 am

I always enjoy the extra helping of insight that comes with the stories behind the images you show on your blog. While you are clearly a world-class talent behind the camera, you also have a great gift for storytelling with words as well.

Thank you for the care you put into your storytelling, whether in words or images. They are frequently a reminder to me that being a great photographer is as much about the heart behind the camera as the skill.

Jon Uhler says:

on November 8, 2010 at 9:51 am

I got to hear Bill speak at the APJ seminar in Atlanta a couple years ago. What a class act! I got to hear the story of this print from him and it was amazing to witness the emotion he still feels about that period. What a great photograph!

Jon

David Cooper says:

on November 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

Amazing story with an even more shocking ending about the fire. Thank you for sharing.
Those torched edges add an even more poetic sadness to the print.

Tim Skipper says:

on November 8, 2010 at 10:00 am

Wow.

Janine Smith says:

on November 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

For more about the Kennedy campaign, read Eppridge’s book “A Time it Was, Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties.” A story of hope and tragedy, beautifully told. With, of course, amazing photos.

Bruce Norman says:

on November 8, 2010 at 10:36 am

Joe -

I was extremely fortunate to be able to see Bill give his presentation at the Sports Workshop this year. After being amazed by his campaign photographs and then hearing the story about this one I was very moved. Great photographs do that!

Steve Immel says:

on November 8, 2010 at 10:38 am

I relish your blog entries, Joe, and this one was particularly touching. I had seen RFK speak at Hollywood’s Greek Theatre the night before his assassination so this was a real grabber. Thanks, Steve

Ivan says:

on November 8, 2010 at 11:07 am

Woa. I was only ten when this happened, but the images have left an indelible impression.

Thanks for reminding us of the power of photography and the great photographers of years past.

Ivan

Mike Neale says:

on November 8, 2010 at 11:36 am

Thank u for the morning crosswords, Joe,…too much culture.

Linda Shapiro says:

on November 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Joe, living in Santa Fe for almost 20 years, I chuckled with recognition at your apt description of the art scene and whole- heartedly endorse your opinion of the Monroe Gallery. I viewed Epperidge’s charred image last August. It has great impact as an image reproduced here, but seeing the actual thing on the wall was just as you describe it: a punch in the gut. Epperidge’s image captured the horror, fear and deep grief of that fateful scene in the kitchen. Thanks so much for your postings. They are often amusing, always informative but sometimes they go a few steps beyond to real soul- touching authenticity.

Larry says:

on November 8, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Joe, you write like you shoot – from the heart. That,’s what makes you good. Oh, and hard work. And not taking yourself too seriously. Anyhow, you know this already, cause you’re busy doin’ it.

Thanks for sharing, and reminding us what’s important.

lyle says:

on November 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Thanks. This photo is from the summer I turned 12, I remember it showing up in the media… and the life it’s taken since, really interesting.

Ben Fullerton says:

on November 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Magnificent post, Joe!

You always have such a way of connecting deeply with people, whether through your images or through your stories.

Cheers,
Ben

Tom Peterson says:

on November 8, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I had the opportunity to talk to Bill Eppridge a couple years ago. He was giving a talk about his photography and covering Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. He said it was over a period of two years, a couple weeks traveling with Kennedy and then off to other assignments. He’d go back to the campaign for a week, then two weeks and some stretchs lasting a month. He spoke about something near two dozen prints. I asked him how many times he’d snapped the shutter with the camera aimed at Bobby in those two years. He said he’d never been asked that before. He thought for a moment and said if he had to guess he’d said somewhere near 15,000 times. Shows how many images you need to take to get that special one.

Thing was, every one of the couple dozen images he showed was recognizable as something you’d seen before (if you’re old enough).

Simon Grosset says:

on November 8, 2010 at 6:28 pm

“Very appropriate to look at Bill’s work during campaign season, and remember that once upon a time, images of politicians had some grit, and were the product not of “photo opps,” but of real access and relationships”
The new British Prime Minister’s trip to China – photography access has only been given to accredited agency photographers. No newspaper photographers allowed. How times change…

Chuck Albertson says:

on November 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm

That was the night I graduated from middle school; my folks woke me up when the news flashed that Bobby had been shot. I remember Eppridge’s photo when it was published in Life the following week. Remember it like yesterday, like everything else that happened that year.

Harvey Chua says:

on November 8, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Now I feel as if I have met Bill Eppridge and learned about a few dramatic moments in his life as a photographer. What a touching story.

Joe, you are a great photographer and a great storyteller.

JBoal says:

on November 8, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Every time I visit Santa Fe I go to the Monroe. And each time the images resonate. Almost all of them. Eppridge’s frame gives me chills to look at. I was several years from being born when the image was made, but it doesn’t seem to lessen the impact for me.

Debbie W says:

on November 8, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I remember where I was and what I was doing the day Robert Kennedy was shot. I was 14 years old and an issue of Life Magazine was a common sight around our house. This photograph has always had a haunting effect on me and now viewing the charred remains of the master copy and reading your story of how it came to be….amazing. As one commentor put it…chills down my spine!

Doug Wittrock says:

on November 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Wow…I was old enough at that time to vividly remember that night. We got Life magazine too in those days, and I wish I had some selected issues of that great old magazine. This image is forever a part of my memory of those turbulent years, even though I wasn’t that old. I think those of us who grew up in that time…maybe we grew up a bit faster. I grew up with Vietnam on the nightly news, right up until I finished high school. I saw the first moon landing on television, remember JFK’s assassination as well. We went through so much change in such a short time.

Terry Clark says:

on November 9, 2010 at 7:39 am

Good to hear Bill hasn’t changed much through the years, though I suspect he’s tamed down in some areas. I had the privilege of attending a Missouri Workshop with him in 1980. He was instructing and I was the only college student attendee (token). The rest of the “students” were extremely talented working pros from across the country. Quite a week to be sure. Bill, Bob Gilka, Don Doll, SJ, Angus McDougall and several other top namers made up what most likened to a “sulfuric acid enema” for a week. It was all that and more back then. Lessons learned have carried thru to this day. Worth every agonizing moment.

Richard Mallory Allnutt says:

on November 9, 2010 at 9:40 am

Thanks very much for this story Joe… it’s powerful on so many levels, and will stick with me for some time. Makes you think back to what could have been as well.

Amelie says:

on November 9, 2010 at 11:38 am

What an amazing and moving story is behind this picture. Thanks for sharing, Joe.

Thom Gourley says:

on November 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Wow, the fire damage took this print in a very eerie direction. Metaphorical.

Ken Toney says:

on November 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Joe, the hairs on my arms are still standing.

Norbert Dabkowski says:

on November 9, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Thanks Joe, that was really deep. Thank you so much for sharing the thoughts with us. You give something solid elusively insiring to think about…

Roy says:

on November 9, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Joe – All Irish poets, playwrights, and writers have kissed the Blarney stone. Only a few have touched it with their hearts. From this encounter comes to we fortunate ones not only the poetry in your photographs but the power of love in your tapestry of words. I wonder if you truly realize the gifts you offer to a world weary of the opposite behaviors. Thank you.

viscara says:

on November 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Please continue passing on this mentoring way of thought of teaching those coming behind us Joe.. That way is reminding them of the “Dektol” the hours on our feet on concrete waiting for negs in a dryer or waiting for a snip test or a polaroid to be pulled as well as making sure their is not to much of a nitrogen burst in the E6 process… That things came with time and we had to “EARN” them… that their is no magic bullet no magic filter or light modifier that will make things go “POOF” we are a pro photographer. That it takes many different facets to the puzzle that make up a photographer….. Teach them this valuable lesson as they will not listen to most but they will listen to you …. “Well…. Maybe”….

Mark Holloway says:

on November 9, 2010 at 11:41 pm

I, like many others posting here, felt a chill on the back of my neck reading this post. The words brought the image into stark relief. I’m old enough to remember both the JFK and RFK assassinations. The images I saw, both TV and print are indelible images in my mind. Indeed, they changed me forever.
For me personally, the images of the Vietnam era, and living through the fear I felt, as a young boy, that my older brother might have to go, sends an emotional wave through me even today. Had I not been witness through the images, it would not be so.

Adam Mayfield says:

on November 10, 2010 at 1:35 am

While I may not be old enough to remember JFK or RFK I’m no stranger to powerful photography like this. Having many family members old and young in the military, war photography has always had an unexplainable effect on me.

One thing that keeps me interested in photography is the power that a single image can have on one or many people.

IPBrian says:

on November 10, 2010 at 11:57 am

Reminds me of an experience I had in San Diego…amongst the sameness of shops featuring all manner of things that tourists buy, my wife and I found a gallery that specialized in old prints. Largely made up of Time or Life prints, many were framed in a way that made the reverse sides visible, and many contained notes and processing info. It was a completely magical experience to be around some prints of some of the greatest photographs from Americana. I don’t know if that gallery is still there…I hope so.

John Swarce says:

on November 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm

What a moving entry, Joe. Life magazine was always a fixture in my home when I was growing up. I remember this photo well. Great to hear the story behind it (and the story after it!).

–John

Elena Estella says:

on November 10, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Hi Joe!

Very impressed by your accomplishments. Do you know where I can get color slides put on a cd so I can put them in my computer? I still have some you took of me back in the late 70′s. Imagine that! Please contact me. Thanks heaps.

Allison says:

on November 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm

“What I truly believe about a powerful picture is that after viewing it, you are never the same. You have been changed, forever. You might not realize it at that moment, but you are.”
-Joe McNally

I’m going to write this on my mirror real big and read it every morning!

Tyson Murray says:

on November 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Hey joe. hope your having fun over sea.

ron muenchen says:

on November 16, 2010 at 3:11 pm

very good work done. like that photo and its ash look which make the message any stronger.

Grippi says:

on November 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

“…connected to my long nurtured resentment of authority faster than JPEG basic through a Firewire 800 cord…”

nerd.

Dave Hutchinson says:

on November 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm

An amazing story Joe. Kind of reminds me of an episode of Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.” Well done.

Jim says:

on December 13, 2010 at 2:34 am

Mmmm, dektol!

Great story as well. Both took me way back.

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