My professional life in photography began in 1949 on Guam, where I was working as a writer-editor of a base newspaper. One of my biggest problems was getting a base photographer to shoot pictures to illustrate the stories we wrote.
When I complained to the base photo officer, he suggested that I shoot and process my own pictures. He just happened to have a good, used Speed Graphic camera kit for sale. He offered to teach me how to use it, process the film and make prints, and offered use of the base photo lab.It was an offer I couldn't refuse, and the start of my career in photography. I became a writer-photographer - photographer second, since I usually shot pictures only to illustrate my stories.
Years later, while working in Tokyo as a feature writer for Pacific Stars and Stripes, I was asked to set up a photo lab, buy equipment and hire and train photographers for the paper. All this, I suppose, because I was the only staffer available who knew anything about photography.
Until then, the Stripes had no photographers of its own and relied on various military photographers. The result was frequently missed deadlines or pictures that just didn't meet the standards of good newspaper photography. There is a knack to taking good news or illustrative photos for a newspaper, and few of the military photographers of the day understood it.
My job title became that of chief photographer, and my writing duties practically ceased. I designed and built the lab, hired lab technicians and a staff of military and local photographers, bought equipment and began training. It was a job in which the teacher learned more than the students, as I learned from their mistakes as well as my own.
To photographers based away from Tokyo I would send back contact sheets from their processed film, marked with grease pencil to show how they might have better composed a picture, plus a written critique with suggestions on how they might have improved the shots.
In Tokyo, I would clip especially tantalizing photos from such magazines as Life and Look and ask the photographers to try to duplicate the techniques used. We were always experimenting with new films and developing techniques, and when we found something interesting, I would spread the word to the rest of the staff in various parts of Asia and the South Pacific.
The Tokyo Press Club attracted many famous photographers traveling through the country. I was able to talk many into talking to our staff, imparting hints for getting better pictures. These photography luminaries included Bill Klein, in town from Paris to do a book on Japan; Burt Glinn of Magnum, photographing Mount Fuji for a travel magazine; and Bob Landry and Eliot Elisofon of Life. Many others were also kind enough to take the time to talk with the staff.
With the photo editors for the Associated Press and United Press International in Tokyo, we were able to set up the first international chapter of the National Press Photographers' Association, with meetings at the Press Club, where we frequently ran NPPA instructional slide shows.
I left Tokyo in 1961 to join the AP in New York, where - except for a three-year break to work as picture editor of the Washington Star - I worked on various photo editing jobs. I eventually became AP's director of photography. I retired in 1984 and moved to my long-dreamed of "vagabond's house" in the Adirondacks.
I still keep my hand in. I do occasional jobs for the AP and others, and for over 10 years have been writing this weekly column for the AP. But now, the AP has finally decided to let me enjoy my retirement, and soon, this column will feature the work of other writers who will, I hope, add a fresh approach. But I'll be back from time to time, between naps!
Thanks to the hundreds of you who have written to me over the years.