Topeka Daily Capital
July 15, 1959
The popular picture of the press photographer comes from the movies, or the poorer television shows. The fellow is a middle-age wise guy, with his hat turned up in front and a press card sticking in the band and – since he works for a newspaper – he naturally drinks too much and talks too much.
I was comparing this “typical” photographer with the Daily Capital’s real life staff the other day and I was a little shaken. Either times have changed or we’re on the wrong track.
Rich Clarkson, the boss, and Gary Settle, are Ivy League-trim, practically hairless and disgustingly young and single. Owen Brewer is so young, he’s Little League. Then there’s Bill Snead, and I guess you would call him National League. He’s young, too, but he’s married and he’s a Cardinals fan.
The four of them don’t own one hat among them. If anything, they talk too little, and I shudder to think what havoc a shaker of martinis could create in their darkroom. I am confident they all take heed of my admonition that bleary eyes cannot focus properly and hands that touched liquor should not touch our shutters.
It’s remarkable, the more I think about it, how these guys get us good pictures when they fail so miserably to measure up to the movie and TV versions of their profession.
None of them has solved a murder with his camera. None has been threatened by mobsters. None has risked his life for a picture, although Snead once lost his camera in flood water. Clarkson flies in jets a lot, and Settle and Brewer probably drive too fast.
They’re too young to remember the good old days, if there ever were any, and even the old press photographer stories that Clarkson has heard are funnier than they are spine-tingling or booze-soaked.
There was the guy who took his first picture with flash powder, before the days of flashbulbs, and blew out a big Bay window. They had forgotten to tell him to open the windows before using powder indoors.
Another was taking a picture of a very valuable dog in a penthouse. When he set off the flash powder the dog jumped, went through a window and fell to 32 stories.
Things are tamer now. Once in a great while somebody gets sore at a photographer, but most of the problems are considerably less violent.
For example, every time one of our four goes to take a picture of the club president, the club insists the other officers and all 23 directors get into the picture. That sort of thing isn’t very exciting.
Our guys don’t live in saloons and chase gangsters and make fun of the cops. They just go along shooting whatever comes up and they must think things are pretty dull when they see one of those movies.
As a matter of fact, when you compare with the movies, the whole newspaper life has deteriorated badly. The only bottles in our place have aspirin in them. Nobody works with his hat on. We haven’t had a berserk gunman in the office in I don’t know how long, and I’ve never heard anybody scream “Stop the presses!”
We don’t have a man who wears an eyeshade. Nobody lets ashes fall all over him while a cigarette hangs from his lips. Some of us have trench coats but none of us ever caught a spy. And honest, we don’t have a man in the place who rushes in, spins a single sheet of paper in the typewriter and types a headline before he starts the story.
We don’t have a bar where we all hang out. Most of us like things the way they are and wouldn’t trade jobs, but –
Things sure ain’t what they used to be. . . . I guess. . . .