1981. Winston-Salem. North Carolina.
I moved from the newspapers in Virginia to the Winston-Salem newspapers in early 1981. I was hired for a lot of reasons. One of them was because I could find street pictures and fill a newspaper on a slow news day. I applied for the job because a friend of mine, a photographer at the Richmond, Virginia newspapers told me about it. The company who owned the four newspapers — morning and evening papers in each city — did not advertise the job. Word of mouth was very important back then.
I was sort of the hired gun. I was 27 years old. I was used to working about 80 hours a week. Now I was working for guild paper which meant I was working 37.5 hours a week — a full-time position. That meant I was always rested and full of energy. And, the paper was sort of old-fashioned in how they were managed. The last person who was hired worked the evening and weekend shifts. I started at noon and left by 9pm unless there was some special assignment. Then I just arrived later, or accrued a lot of extra off time. Eventually, as staff left the newspaper and replacements were hired, you were moved to what was considered to be prime shifts.
This meant a couple of things.
Working noon to 9pm, is fairly cool. You can get stuff done in the morning. You can go home and go to sleep at a reasonably normal hour. Being off on Monday and Tuesday also meant I could get the usual errands done without dealing with weekend crowds.
But, more importantly, I had a lot of great assignments. I photographed football on Friday night and Saturday afternoon during the season. That meant that I covered Wake Forest and, on occasion, North Carolina. They played teams that I was used covering at my previous job. Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.
It also meant that for 67 night shifts in a row I covered basketball games. North Carolina is basketball country. I covered every level of the sport with the exception of the pros. High school. College. University.
With night deadlines I had to work fast. I got so I could shoot the first ten minutes of a game, make a pretty good picture, get back to the newspaper, develop the film, print the picture, write the caption and deliver it to the sports desk by about 10pm.
If I was running late I would find a pay phone — no cellphones back then — call the sports desk to tell them what shape the picture was and what size it deserved to used on the page. They would hold the space for me. Think about that. No LCDs on the back of the camera. No way to know if I actually even got a picture in focus. Just a lot of confidence in my own skills. And, very fast hand-eye coordination because — wait for it — no auto focus. All manual focus.
I also photographed whatever stories were assigned to me and looked around for all kinds of evergreen art. After all, that’s a big huge reason I was hired. Often I would leave a little early for my shift and take the back roads and streets. Many times, I would arrive at the newspaper with a couple of rolls of film in hand.
This is one of those evergreen pictures.
The picture. I used staff gear. That was big change. I started with Nikon F2s and five lenses of my choice. It was very cool. After I received my newspaper ID and press cards, I went to the local camera store and bought two bodies, five lenses and whatever extra gear I needed. The assistant chief photographer came with me, signed the bill and away we went.
A few months later, the staff was upgraded to the new Nikon F3. We turned in our F2 bodies and received two motorized bodies and a third non-motorized body. They were great cameras. But, the light meters were never consistent from camera to camera. We solved that in our own way.
We also had a pretty good selection of shared “pool” gear. Long lenses. Really wide angle lenses. Portable studio lights. And, so on. My favorite lens was the old Nikon 400mm f3.5. It was a monster. Big, long, and heavy. A lot of people used it with a tripod, or a monopod. I was strong enough that I could hand hold it and brace myself. So, I used it almost every day to shoot all that evergreen art. I wasn’t sneaking around or shooting from across the street. I just believed that you need bold, graphically clean photographs to carry a newspaper page. Working with that lens fairly closely the subject couldn’t miss seeing me. And, the compression turned a mundane picture into something a little special.
That’s how this picture came about. I stumbled into these guys doing a full dress rehearsal and identified myself. They were happy to help out. Mostly they did their thing. And, I did mine. I made about 20 frames on Tri-X black and white film. Yes. I got every name. After all, I am a journalist as much as I am a photographer.
This was in 1981. Seems like I’m doing the same thing in 2016. Photographing musicians in the street. In New Orleans.
The words are longer than I intended. Sorry about that.
A little housekeeping. I’m not publishing pictures in any kind of order. Right now, I’m just showing you pictures as they inspire me. Eventually I’ll get back to the start.