Newspapers have been part of my life from age 13.
I started working for The Olympian newspaper in 1959 as a news carrier. I then worked there as a photographer in the summers during my high school years. After a brief two semesters at Art Center in Los Angeles, I returned to Olympia and spent two years as the paper’s only staff photographer.
After a couple of brief stints at The Seattle Times and then at the rival Post-Intelligencer as a summer vacation fill in, The Times hired me back at 20 hours a week. I started full-time in July 1967.
I’ve been lucky
The French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson published a famous book of his photographs called “The Decisive Moment.” And that’s what I’ve looked for over the past 52 years, the decisive moment. Then we publish it to inform, entertain or instruct our readers.
The best part of working for The Times is righting wrongs — helping people that were wronged by others, businesses or the government. I am always proud of our paper when we do this kind of story.
I’ve had a very fortunate life. My job working for The Times as a photographer is one that very few people get. Those of us that are lucky enough to be hired feel honored.
I have worked hard to get photographs, but other times, they simply pop up in front of you and say, “Here I am.”
Some people say that luck doesn’t exist in photography. I think you plan and make your luck … sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just that simple.
When I started in 1967, when The Times was at Fairview Avenue North and John Street, the nearby 13 Coins restaurant had opened four months earlier. The tallest building in Seattle was the Smith Tower, 42 stories (or so). The Space Needle was 5 years old. On weekends in downtown Seattle, the streets were empty. You could find a spot to park on the street anywhere. Parking meters were 25 cents for an hour. A gallon of gas cost 29.5 cents a gallon.
The Seattle Times became the newspaper with the largest circulation in the state.
Washington had an antiquated law that prohibited sales of alcohol on Sundays. Bars were closed, too.
Frederick & Nelson was the big downtown department store; a few blocks west was the large Bon Marchè, now Macy’s. In between was a small women’s shoe and clothing store called Nordstrom Best, later just Nordstrom. When Frederick & Nelson operated (in the building that’s now home to Nordstrom), young women called elevator starters were all dressed the same in dark green suits and white gloves. They would direct you to the next open elevator. Very classy.
Houses in Seattle were $20,000 and up, depending where you wanted to live.
The biggest game in town was the University of Washington Husky football team. The north side of the stadium was open to the elements; only the south side had a roof and upper level.
That first year in 1967 I was assigned to photograph the new NBA team, the Seattle SuperSonics, at practice in the Seattle Pacific University gym, before the start of the season in the fall. Later briefly came the Pilots baseball team (for only one season!), the Storm, the Seahawks, the Sounders and the Mariners.
When I started at The Times I was the youngest, age 21, by about 10 years. The newspapers were printed in the lower levels of The Times building. The main percentage of the staff were at least double my age or more. Back then, the newsroom was smoky, and there was a barbershop just off the newsroom floor, with a vintage barber chair. No cash was exchanged; the haircut was deducted from your paycheck.
I shot most assignments with a Nikon 35-mm camera. All the other shooters for the most part still used the trusty Speed Graphic. The old guys made fun of me using that tiny “picnic camera.” We were still instructed to shoot a color assignment with the large format Speed Graphic, which produced a 4- by 5-inch color transparency.
Of course, the biggest changes were the evolution in equipment. Cameras were getting smaller, and the addition of a motor drive enabled you to shoot an amazing four frames per second.
Now we have digital cameras with motor drives that shoot upward of 10 frames per second. My darkroom isn’t dark — it’s my MacBook pro.
On many assignments I have met some really wonderful, fascinating people. Boeing aero-mechanics, shipwrights and college professors.
Chain-smoking author Kurt Vonnegut was very funny. Actress Sophia Loren made you feel like you’d known her for a long time —or at least you wish you had. Actor Kirk Douglas helped me put away my equipment after a photo shoot in his hotel room.
Over the years, I have been assisted by very kind people who gave me access for a photo or who contacted others on my behalf to help me get the picture. To those people, I say thank you.
I learned, thanks to my assignments. How to make scrambled eggs. That red wine breathes and tastes different after sitting open. That airport runway numbers are based on their compass direction.
I climbed 100 feet up a rickety homemade ladder to photograph the inside of a tree house. After taking aerial photographs from a fixed-wing Cessna 172 in 1965, I took lessons and learned to fly it and got my solo license at the Olympia airport when I was 19.
I have flown upside down in aerobatic aircraft, landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier. Once I got to fly the Goodyear Blimp over Seattle.
A few stories …
Times reporter Marj Jones, who is now 102, and I were on an assignment around Christmas many years ago. On the way back, she taught me the words to the song “Good King Wenceslas.” At Christmastime, I call her and start singing the song when she answers the phone.
The late general-assignment reporter Bob Barr was lighting his pipe in the newsroom, throwing his kitchen match into his nearby wastebasket. In a few moments the basket was in flames. Barr put his foot into it to stamp out the fire, only to have his shoe get wedged in the basket. He was hopping around on one foot and the other had flames leaping up his leg.
The late Seattle Times photo editor Jim Heckman loved to fire off firecrackers in the newsroom around the Fourth of July. He would send us up north of Marysville to the Tulalip Tribes’ Boom City to find a photo, and could we also bring back some fresh ammunition to light off? After several years, a desk editor complained the smoke was bothering his cataracts. So that ended that.
In the final days of President Jerry Ford’s campaign in 1976, Ford was in Seattle riding on a Boeing hydrofoil in Elliott Bay. The late political writer Dick Larsen and I were assigned to cover the president and ride along in the very fast boat. I had all kinds of photos of him touring the boat while it was underway. But then Ford was taken into a private area to be interviewed while the boat was still circling the bay. No photos.
Then Larsen ran over and grabbed me by the arm and led me into the pilot house, where the president was steering the boat. I was there first, thanks to Dick. Then the other photographers caught on and I felt the pressure of other photographers pushing up against me as I’m only a few feet from the president.
Another time Dick and I were covering a press conference at the Olympic (now Fairmont Olympic) Hotel in downtown Seattle. Former Gov. Al Rosellini had been defeated eight years earlier by Dan Evans. Rosellini was going to run again to try to get his job back. While Rosellini was speaking, I noticed a well-dressed guy at the back of the room, sitting there with a notebook in hand. He was acting like he was a reporter, but he sat in the back and was taking notes.
I nudged Dick and said, “Check out that guy — he’s a phony reporter.” After the press conference ended, Dick approached him and interviewed him. He was a handsome and personable guy. He was working for the Dan Evans campaign and was taking notes to report back. Dick did a story about him and we took his photo.
The young man’s name was Ted Bundy.
In closing, Albert Einstein said, “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” I think to be a successful photographer you should follow Einstein’s job description.
As I always say whether you have an iPhone or an expensive Canon or Nikon or Sony with all kinds of lenses, it’s you and your creative eye that make the best photo.