This picture was made for our Christmas card in 1940. I was six weeks old. The camera is a little hard to see, but it is an old Speed Graphic.
I don't know if I have any really good stories, but I have some memories. Perhaps you'll enjoy them:
My dad graduated from journalism school at Mercer University in Macon, Ga, in the mid 1930s. He worked for the Macon Telegraph until he wrote a story that angered a friend of the publisher.
Then he went looking for a job, and Lou Harris, the editor of the Augusta (Ga) Chronicle said he needed a photographer, and asked my dad if he knew how to work a Speed Graphic. Of course he said Yes. We were not yet out of the depression, so you did whatever you had to do. Lou gave him a camera, told him to play with it over the weekend, and if he could work it by Monday, he could have the job.
A year or so later I came along. I stalled for a couple of days, so my dad finally had to leave his post at the hospital and go take a picture for the paper. That's when I was born. He took the first picture of me about an hour later.
I must have been the most photographed kid in history. He needed to practice, and who better to practice on!
He actually turned out to be an excellent photographer. He took a picture of U.S. Senator Walter Franklin George from Georgia giving a speech. He was on a big high platform, and at the base of the platform, there was an old man sitting there with his grandson asleep in his lap. The caption was Senator George Speaks. Life Magazine published it, and it got a full page in the 1940 issue of U.S. Camera Annual. (By the way, if anyone has a copy of the 1940 U.S. Camera Annual to sell, I'd love to get one -- our copy got lost in all our moving around.)
Eventually he got back to writing. By 1943 or so we had moved to Atlanta, where he was night photo editor for the Associated Press. He was on the desk when the picture of the marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima came along [taken by Joe Rosenthal on Speed Graphic with a 127mm f/4.7 Ektar lens -- Graflex.Org]. He got on the phone and called several editors to get them to request it. He was also one of the best photo editors I've ever known -- in fact, I've only known a couple of really good photo editors. That is a very rare skill.
When Franklin Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, Ga., he went straight down there. Somebody at the office remembered to call my mother later in the day and tell her he had gone. She assumed he had. She said you could look out the window at the people on the street and tell who had heard the news just by looking at their face -- most of them were crying. They only had two or three telephone lines from Warm Springs to Atlanta, so he paid somebody to stay on the phone and read names from the phone book, just to make sure nobody else got the line. If they were not using the line, they had to hang up, so they made sure they used it. What a difference from our digital world, where we can now send pictures direct from our digital camera, through our cell phones, to the computers in the newsroom!
About the time Germany surrendered, he got drafted. At least he timed it well. A few days later, they lowered the age limit so they would not draft 30 year old men with one child, but they already had him.
As he was going through the induction process, the sergeant who gave the recuits their assignments noticed my dad's occupation -- photo editor for the AP in Atlanta. The sergeant was an avid photographer, but had not been able to get any film because of the rationing, due to the war. My dad asked what size film he used, and how much he wanted. The sergeant asked my dad what kind of assignment he wanted. He figured the easiest thing for him would be an assignment as a photographer in the Air Corps. He got it.
He said the Army photographery schools were good, and he learned some things. After all, he had learned photography on his own. That reminds me, when he died a few years ago, among his things we found a "license" from the state of Georgia allowing him to work as a photographer. Not a business license, but the kind of license you would expect a psychologist, or a lawyer, to have. Why in the world would the state feel that they had to license photographers? Did they think that a picture might actually be able to capture a person's soul? I wish I had known about that earlier so I could have asked him.
Shortly after the Japanese surrendered, he got sent to Germany, where he hoped to liberate some Contax and Leica cameras. He said that one day a General was flying in, and it was very important that they get a good picture of him. Everybody was terrified of making a mistake and not getting the picture -- except my dad. He'd photographed presidents, Jack Dempsey, and plenty of other celebrities. A general didn't bother him. So the sergeant was driving this PFC around in a Jeep, carrying his equipment for him, and doing anything to keep him happy so he could take the pictures. It turned out to be pretty good duty.
He was with the AP for about another five years after he came home. One night he got a call about a fire at a hotel in downtown Atlanta. He grumbled that the other guy was on duty, and to call him. The other guy (I don't recall his name now) won a Pulitizer Prize for his pictures of people jumping from upstairs windows to their death in the Weinkoff Hotel fire (I'm not sure of the spellings, and perhaps even some of the facts -- it was a long time ago). He figures he lost a Pulitzer because he didn't want to get up in the middle of the night!
In 1951 we moved to Rome, Ga., where he edited the small daily paper up there. Under his editorship, the paper consistently won the award for Best Use of Local Photos. Our photographer, Don Roberts (my dad asked him to show me how to shoot news and sports photos, so that's where my real education began) won quite a few awards, partly because my dad knew how to display them so well in the paper. My dad pretty much stuck to writing and editing, and things like public relations and helping politicians, after that, but he never gave up photography.
He eventually gave up 4x5 cameras. In the early 1950s, he swore he would never use a picture from a 35mm camera in his newspaper; the quality was too poor. Then we had a big trial, a very pretty teen age girl had been raped and murdered, and they allowed 35mm cameras in the courtroom. That was the first time he used 35mm pictures. But later he got quite used to them.
The paper got sued over that story, too, when they ran a picture of the girl's body just after it was recovered from a lake or creek or river or something wet. She was wrapped in a blanket, with chains around her waist and legs for weight. The blanket was soaking wet, of course, and molded itself to her body very closely. Her small waist and broad hips made it very obvious that this was an attractive young lady. The chains added a sense of danger, or naughtiness, to the picture. It was pretty exciting for the mid-1950s. But it brought about an invasion of privacy suit. I'm not sure, but I think the newspaper won the suit.
They put my picture on the front page of the paper, right next to Don Roberts' picture. Of course, it didn't hurt that my dad was the editor of the paper.
Don told me to stand right on the sidelines, and wait until the runner was 15 feet from me and then shoot my picture. That's five yards, folks! That's only two or three steps, at full speed, for those heavily padded, muscular, violent athletes. When I shot my first picture, the players were about 50 feet from the sidelines, and so was I...in the opposite direction!
But I learned. I never got hurt. A couple of times I got bumped or brushed lightly, but nothing that was any problem.
Until one night in the 1970s. I was working as the Melbourne (Florida) bureau chief for the Orlando Sentinel, and I shot high school football pictures for them on Friday nights just for fun. They didn't pay anything, but they provided the film, and I love to do it.
I was using a Pentax, and that was my problem. I finally got nailed. Smeared is the word I think they use.
I was shooting available light. It was about the fourth or fifth game of the season (I ususally covered 3 games at night, then headed for Cocoa with the film so they could process it and transmit it to Orlando for the Saturday morning paper). This was the first game where the players actually wore light colored uniforms, and light colored helmets. One team had white jerseys, the other light blue (which photographs very light on B&W film of course).
So for the first time that year, I didn't have to worry about keeping a light colored background in my pictures. The uniforms and helmets would show up fine against the black sky.
Well, the team on my right kicked the ball to the team on my left. Now the old rule that Don and my dad taught me is that most of the time they will run to the right, and pass to the left. That meant the runner, towards my left, would run to his right, towards me. I just went on automatic at that point, regressed back to the 1950s and looked at the runner, the players coming to tackle him, calculated where the colision would take place -- right on the sidelines -- and moved to that spot.
Then I dropped to both knees, as low as I could get, almost sitting on the ground, to get a good low angle. It was the first time all season I could do that. I shot one quick picture, advanced the film (no motors back then), and started trying to focus as the runner came charging straight at me full speed. I quickly glanced to my right, and saw the tacklers coming straight at me full speed. I had done my job perfectly -- got to the exact point where the collison would take place.
There were only a couple of problems: I had a 135 telepohoto lens on the camera, so I couldn't take a picture unless they were several yards away from me. And, in my position, sitting between my heels, I couldn't even move to get out of the way.
They clobbered me. It took me a couple of plays to clear my head and finally get all the camera settings back where they were supposed to be (I protected the camera, of course -- bruises will fade on their own, but broken cameras have to go to the repair shop). The only injury I had was a bruise on my collar bone. At first I thought it was from a cleat, but later I figured it came from the film canister I had taped to the camera strap, to carry my spare role of film. At the time it seemed more convenient than putting it into my jeans pocket. However, I have since revised my opinion on that!
Anyway, I finally got my hands on a Crown Graphic when I got to high school. It belonged to the school, and I shot pictures of everything. In college, once again we had Graphics. I borrowed the University of Georgia's Crown Graphic to use when I worked all summer as an intern for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Seems legal to me, after all I was getting college credit for the work. I also borrowed the Honeywell (or was it Heiland?) Strobonar V, which I still think is the best flash unit ever made.
I was on my way out to shoot mug shots for the "Street poll" feature, where a reporter asks dumb questions of people passing by. We diverted to the fire. The reporter wouldn't even go look at it; he had seen an LP gas fire once before, and admitted he was afraid to get close enough to look. Photographers don't have that option, and I wouldn't have taken it anyway. I want to be where the action is. The trusty Crown Graphic served me well that day.
To me, those are the easiest kind of pictures to shoot. I got to the scene, and there were fire trucks and fire fighters everywhere. Water was coming down from above, as fire fighters had found a spot up high. There were trucks to the left, to the right...everywhere. So what do you shoot? Simple:
Find the fire fighter with a different color hat. If everybody has a black hat except for one guy, he's the guy in charge. Simple. Take a look at him and determine which direction he's looking, then get behind him, point the camera at him, and shoot. He knows where the action is, you don't have to look for it yourself.
(That reminds me of the advice I got from one of the Atlanta Newspaper photographers about shooting baseball: Don't try to figure out where a pop-up is going to go; you are not trained for that. The ball players are trained for that, so watch where they go, then stay out of their way and you won't get hit on the head. Come to think of it, that same photographer also advised me, one night when I was squatting down near first base, not to face the batter, but to turn sideways to him. Just in case a foul ball came my way, it would be much better to be hit on the side of the thigh...than between my legs. Good advice.)
Back to the fire, fire fighters were trying to discourage me from being there...for my own safety. When I first started down the driveway to find the action, some firefighters encouraged me to go back; they assured me that they would not be there if they didn't have to.
After I got my first shot, I looked around and spotted a really dramatic shot. There was a fire truck just a few yards from the LP gas truck, with fire fighters hunched down behind it, holding a hose that was putting water on the gas truck. From their position behind the fire truck, the fire fighters could not even seen where the water was going. Off to the right, water was pouring down from above. Off to the left, a couple of more streams of water were arching over onto the truck.
I got into position and shot the picture. Then I paused to look the scene over, to make sure I'd shot it correctly. Only the firemen's hands show in the picture, heightening the drama and emphasizing the danger. I was really pleased at how this shot emphasized the danger of the scene. Suddenly it dawned on me: If these fire fighters would not even poke their heads up to make sure the water was hitting the LP gas truck, why in heavens name was I standing there? Why was I there at all? I had two excellent pictures...I could leave now. So I had a decision to make. At 18 years old that decision is simple to make:
If I thought about it, I'd leave. So, don't think about it. Just shut up and shoot pictures. Think about the pictures.
As I recall, I had four holders with me -- eight sheets of film! I had a little 120 camera to use for the street poll pictures, becuase they ran very small anyway. I shot seven pictures, saving one sheet of film. Another young photographer had ridden over with me, and realized that we needed to get the pictures back to the office very quickly, so I let him take the car. Very generous of me, wasn't it -- let him leave and get the pictures back so they could run them, while I stayed and had fun. I gave him my first two holders. He had shot the same overall picture that I had, and we were never quite sure whose picture they actually ran.
Other photographers joined us, including Bill Wilson, who was by far the best on the staff. He was an older man, and you could always tell his pictures because the people in them looked like they had just seen their favorite grandfather coming up the walk to their front door, with a hand full of presents. He was that kind of man.
Of the seven pictures I took, they ran five of them before they ran anybody else's pictures. The spectacuar shot with the firemen hunkered down behind the fire truck, and just beyond them the truck with LP Gas and Flamable clearly visible -- that picture dominated the front page of the "Street Edition" of the Journal. Then they started running Bill Wilson's pictures. All in all I felt pretty good.
The next day, the reporter and I went back out to do our street poll. Ain't news photography exciting? That whole summer, I had four memorable assignments; the rest were street polls, wedding engagement parties, etc. Anyway, I kidded the reporter about what he had written: all about the brave fire fighters who had risked their lives to battle that fire in the middle of downtown Atlanta. His story kept making reference to how brave they were. Well, compared to him...
So I asked him, "What about your brave photographer? Didn't you notice that while those firemen were hiding behind their fire truck, I was out in the open, exposed to danger, to bring pictures of it to our readers. Why didn't you write about our brave photographer?" We used to tease reporters: photographers get their cameras broken. What is an irate subject going to say to a reporter: "Hey, buddy, stop or I'll break your pencil!" That's part of the fun photographers have: picking on reporters.
The next day, when I went to the office, I walked through the little room where our photo chief had his desk. His name was Slug something...Jordan maybe. The name Slug seemed to fit him. He had to be tough to put up with 14 full time staff photographers. That was such a good staff, in 1959, that if Life Magazine needed a picture in the south and they couldn't get a staffer down in time, they just called the Atlanta Newspapers photo department and asked them to handle it. They trusted anybody on that staff.
Well, on Slug's desk was a pink memo. Very obviously laying there so people would see it. And it just happened to be there as I came in to work. So I picked it up to see what it was. It had my name on it. It was written to Slug, from the executive editor (an old friend of my dad's who had known me for a long time). It said, "Obviously it took as much guts for Ed Bernd to go down there to shoot those pictures as it did for the firemen to be there, so please tell him so," or something to that effect.
I was horrified. I almost panicked! I grabbed the memo and stuffed it into my pocket...and kept my mouth shut. Nobody ever mentioned it, so maybe none of the other photographes had seen it. Slug never mentioned it, so I guess I passed the test. I assume he was testing me by leaving it there for me to find.
When fall came, some of the guys were shooting football pictures with their Rollei's. But after the first week or two, we were told to shoot everything on 4x5. It was just too difficult to deal with the little strips of negatives that came from the Rollei's. This was in 1959. Who could have imagine that within five years or so, all this kind of work would be shot with Nikon SLRs?
When the time came for me to return to school, they passed the word to me informally that if I wanted to stay and be a permanent part of the staff, I could. They planned to get rid of one or two of their photographers after football season was over (every available body was needed during football season, because there are so many high schools in Atlanta). I went on back to school.
Between newspaper jobs, in 1966, I went to work for Martin Marietta Co. at Cape Canaveral. My boss there (and still one of my best friends) was Arch Smith, who thought anything smaller than 4x5 was only a toy. I worked there until the end of the Gemini program.
My best shot out there was kind of funny too. Arch sent me (I was officially only a darkroom technician) and our photographer, Bill Winn, out to Pad 19 to shoot a picture "lowering the erector for the last time." The Gemini program had ended, after 10 successful 2-man flights, all from Complex 19. The rocket was loaded into the erector as it lay flat on the ground, then the erector was raised to a verticle position, pulled away, and the rocket fired. Well, it didn't always go quite that smoothly.
Bill gave me the Graphic and told me what pictures to shoot. So I did. I didn't even bother looking for shots on my own. Meanwhile, Bill went around with our little Pentax, climbing up the gantry, crouching under things, shooting all kinds of pictures.
The public relations office rejected all of them. So the next week, Arch decided to show us kids how to do it right. But he took the 4x5 and gave me the little Pentax. So while Arch directed his cast of Martin engineers around, while he occasionally stuck his head under the dark -- what do you call it...the focusing cloth -- oh, it was a sight: the camera on a tripod, focusing cloth, this tall, rangy guy who resembles Abe Lincoln with a pipe in his mouth -- everybody loved it.
Meanwhile, I did what Bill had done the week before: I climbed up the gantry, poked around everywhere I could, but nothing worked. Nothing told the story we were trying to tell. Then suddenly I saw it.
Arch knows more about the technical side of photography than I'll ever know, but I'm the news photographer. And one of the first things you figure out is to watch out for backgrounds. It was in the background that I saw what we needed.
I put the 85mm "telephoto" lens on the Pentax -- it was the longest lens we had -- to bring up the background as much as possible. But I couldn't get any of the people to come pose for me. I had to ask Arch to stop shooting for a minute and send them over to me. He did, and I grabbed a handful of shots very quickly, and send them back to Arch.
He was enjoying himself so much that it seemed he was not going to stop, so I walked over and told him, in a deliberately cocky way, that it wasn't necessary for him to take any more pictures, that I had already taken the one that they would use. He scowled at me and took another picture, but then his curiosity got the best of him. He knew I was a good -- if somewhat obnoxious -- photogapher.
When we got back to the hanger, I processed our film and printed all the pictures. I laid out 8x10s of all the picturs Bill and I had shot the first weekend, every negative that Arch had made, and my picture.
Our secretary was the first to look at them. She pointed to my picture and said, "That's the one they'll use."
A few minutes later, Bill came in, look at them all, and said the same thing.
When Arch came in, he looked them over too. He couldn't help but react when he saw the picture I'd shot, but he didn't comment on it. He just said to send them over and let the PR people decide.
My picture showed the erector about 30 degrees above horizontal, presumably being lowered for the final time. Just beneath it, in the background, was the launch pad for the Saturn 1B rocket, which was to carry Gus Grisson, Ed White, and Roger Chafee into orbit in the Apollo spacecraft. It was the pefect picture to show the transition from one program to the next. Trouble was our company newsletter, with that picture on the front page came out the same day that of the capsule fire that killed the three astronauts. That was my last day of work at the Cape, too; I left at noon.
We've got some pictures we don't know what to do with. Arch invented a new kind of picture: using infrared film, he had shot a daylight time exposure of the rockets going up for our flights. After I saw his picture, I did the same but include our secretary Annie in the picture. She had to sit still for 60 seconds, holding binoculars that were not even facing towards the rocket, but the Associated Press moved that picture on the wire. They used to send a couple of photographers to shoot pictures of the manned launches from on top of our hanger. Guess what we shot those pictures with? You know.
Later, I got to thinking about the Saturn 5 vehicle. It would have so much power that I was convinced we could take a time exposure of in color, during daylight. Arch insisted it wouldn't work. The black and white infrared film turned the sky very dark, but regular color film would not do that. I thought it would work, though, so when they launched the first Saturn 5 -- which was not manned -- I was on the riverbank at Titusville with two 4x5 Graphics. I only had one tripod, so the other was on the front fender of my MGA -- not the steadiest of supports. For that matter, neither was that little tripod. One camera had B&W infrared, the other standard color film.
To cut the exposure to the color film, I got two Polariod 4S filters, the kind used when you had the Polaroid 3,000 ASA film and a camera not equipped for it. Each filter cut the light four f-stops. I taped one filter to each side of the lens -- front and back. I made a 60 second time exposure -- directly into a Florida sunrise! It took a while to find a lab that could color correct the film -- I was using short exposure film for a 60 second exposure, so there was a lot of reciprocity failure. But we finally got it right, and it is a beautiful picture.
I did another similar shot of the Apollo 8 launch, the first manned launch, the one that circled the moon on Christmas eve. But I had too much time to think about it, and while the colors are much better (thanks to the long exposure film I got), it is not as nice a picture.
Arch decided if I could do it, so could he. So he called and asked me how I did it. I told him. This was the day befor the launch. That night, he called back and said, "It won't work!" I suggested that he could say that before I did it, but it sounded kind of silly to say it after I'd already taken the picture. "No," he said, "those 4x filters only cut down two stops each, you still have too much light." I explained to him that they were not 4x filters, but 4s filters -- meaning 4 f-stops of difference. "Oh, okay."
Arch swears he shot a picture the next day, and that it looks fine. But even now, 30 years later, he still hasn't shown it to me. That's okay, you know what they say: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. He taught me how... (just kidding, Arch).
At the newspaper where I was working, the Melbourne Daily Times, we didn't have a darkroom. There was a local commercial photographer that we gave assignments to, and he also processed film that we shot. It was an afternoon paper, and anything that wasn't shot the day before probably wouldn't get processed in time for that day's paper. But we had a simple solution:
We used a Crown Graphic with a 4x5 (model 500) Polaroid holder. You wouldn't believe how many pictures I shot on that outfit. I don't even recall having any film holders, although I could borrow them from the commercial photographer, Sterling Hawks, any time I needed them, such as for the Saturn 5 launches.
With that Polaroid outfit, I shot a double exposure of the flag at city hall at half staff with a picture of Bobby Kennedy superimposed, when Kennedy was assassinated. It took most of a box of film to finally get it to work. I shot pictures of houses decorated with Christmas light, which was interesting because lights would come on and go off, some were brighter than others, etc. One house took me an hour to finally get right, when all the lights showed up, and the fill flash outlined just enough of the room to make it all work. I shot fireworks, etc., on Polaroid.
Arch gave me my first Graphic, an old battered-up body, without a lens or the leather strap, an Anniversary Speed that he'd been using as a copy camera. He gave me that around 1985.
Now, however, I own two Crown Graphic Specials, a beautiful Speed Graphic outfit, a regular Pacemaker Crown that is set up exactly like those I used in high school, college, at the Melbourne Times, etc., a pre-anniversary Graphic, and a B&J Press (I still don't like it). (And I want to sell one of the Crown Specials, and the nice Speed outfit.} And those are just the 4x5s. I also have a beautiful 2x3 Crown, a 3.25 Anniversary Speed with bad bellows and a home made "Graflock" back, and even a Graphic Fingerprint Camera! Now that I don't need them.
I do use the Crown Special, mainly for Polaroid shots, although I also used it to copy a painting that we reproduced via a printing press. Boy oh boy is a 4x5 Ektachrome transparency exciting after you've been peering at 35mm's for years.
There will never be another camera like the 4x5 Graphic. There will never be another era like the one when they were in use by newspaper photogs everywhere.
The Graphic was a great camera to have when you were riding with the police. If somebody came after you, there were all kind of ways to defend yourself:
Now...tell me some of your experiences.
Copyright 1997 Ed Bernd Jr.
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