Keeping an Image In Context, 47 Years Later

Over at the Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez brings us back to the story of Juan Romero and how, after 47 years, he is coming to peace with his place in life.

Romero’s name is one few know, but his face is a part of one of the most haunting news photos ever – Romero was the teenage busboy who held Robert F. Kennedy’s head up off of a concrete floor after Kennedy had been fatally shot on the night of the 1968 California primary. 

There is so much to learn, even today, from that frightening image and the backstory of why Romero was there, of what he heard Kennedy say and how it affected him is a testament to the power of the photograph.

The care Romero displayed, holding Kennedy’s head off the cold concrete.

The distance around them as everyone else stepped away.

The expression of a young son of immigrants as he realizes a man who treated him as an equal was suffering and the confusion that brought to his mind.

As Lopez notes in his story, the relevance of that image in today’s political climate is pretty staggering.

To Stand with #WDBJ7

The news yesterday out of Virginia was horrifying.

There is no other word. None.

It would seem, at this point, that the execution of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two journalists who were on the air, live, for WDBJ early Wednesday morning, was carried out by a disgruntled former employee of the station. It does not appear to be related to the work they did.

But there is very little solace in that, very little. Two people who had dedicated their young lives to helping their community were taken out of it, brutally, and in the most public way possible.

Horrifying. There is no other word.

My goal with this site is to share news about the visual journalism industry, the great work and the controversies. As with anyone in the journalism profession, we are more than just journalists, we are members of a family, a community. I’d like to take a moment to talk about community, writ large and not confined by the press cards we may carry.

We have some large problems in this country and we have a lot of them. I have no idea how this former employee of WDBJ got access to a gun, whether it was legally acquired or not. And I don’t care right now, that’s a debate for another day.

From the reports I have read, this man had a long history of erratic behavior. And please do not think I am excusing his actions with this next statement, but I suspect he had some serious mental health issues.

And this is a society that is still grappling with mental health issues – for all the efforts we have made, for all the progress we have made, the mental health crisis we are in is one of the greatest challenges we have right now.

Our health care system is neither equipped properly nor funded adequately to help those in need.

And we, as members of society, are not dealing with these issues. Even in the language we choose to use, we fail to understand that mental health issues are a disease. We explain, “He has cancer” but then say, “She is mentally ill.”


Why does someone get one illness but become another? It’s those sorts of language issues that we need to work on.

There is no excusing what happened in Virginia yesterday. None. Absolutely none. But if – and I realize, this is a big if – it comes out that the perpetrator here had a mentally illness and did not get the care he needed, then let us use this as a call to action.

Let us take this opportunity to shine a light on an issue that is affecting our communities deeply.

Let us use our platform, our obligation to serve, our ability to filter information and present it in a comprehensive and compelling way to spur action in our communities.

Let us make a difference – we owe it to Adam Ward and Alison Parker.

Report or Help?

John Freeman, a photojournalism professor at the University of Florida, came across a man in distress – what would you do?

In this case, his choice was clear (and I fully support his decision). But what if the situation were different? What if someone else was there?

What would you do?

60 Minutes to Show Sarin Gas Victims

Tonight on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley will report on the usage of sarin gas in Syria in 2013. In a Correspondent Candids interview, he explains the reasoning behind showing some extremely disturbing footage of children suffering after being exposed.

This is not an easy choice to make – there will be many very vocal critics of this decision. Some will say it’s just too graphic, others will say it’s just a ploy for ratings. Finding that balance between newsworthy and click-worthy is hard, very hard.

But when a government uses a chemical weapon, a weapon that is banned by almost every other government in the world, on its own people … yeah, that passes the balance test.

Our French Gift

A little bit of history today from The Atlantic’s Alan Taylor, something I didn’t know: In 1839, the French government acquired the rights to Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre’s photographic process, the Daguerreotype … and then made it publicly available, for free.

The Woman in the Photo Pen

Nice profile on Elsa Garrison, one of the premier sports photojournalists, by BuzzFeed’s Lindsey Adler.

The Value of Internships

Prof. Bradley Wilson took some time to interview Al Drago who was just honored by the White House News Photographers Association’s Eyes of History student contest – some good things in here to remember as we head back to classes …

Never accept complacency … don’t forget the basics … you can never network enough.

Before Digital Ruled Us All

A month ago I wrote a bit about how long it was taking to send photos back from Pluto. Today, The New York Times’ James Estrin looks at the work of Steve Sasson, the man who invented digital photography at Kodak some 42 years ago.

How are these related? Read on …

Mr. Sasson made a series of demonstrations to groups of executives from the marketing, technical and business departments and then to their bosses and to their bosses. He brought the portable camera into conference rooms and demonstrated the system by taking a photo of people in the room.

“It only took 50 milliseconds to capture the image, but it took 23 seconds to record it to the tape,” Mr. Sasson said. “I’d pop the cassette tape out, hand it to my assistant and he put it in our playback unit. About 30 seconds later, up popped the 100 pixel by 100 pixel black and white image.”

How long is that? Well, the delay between pressing the shutter on a modern camera and it making an image is less than that time. And it’s going to collect a lot more than 10,000 pixels …

Learning to Assist

It’s a little outside of what we teach here, and I only did it a handful of times, but for many photographers, assisting was the path to making images. Over at Behind the Shutter, Alissa Zimmerman gives a sense of what it was like when she started assisting for a wedding photographer.

It isn’t glamorous (my first assisting gig had me standing on a C-stand, leaning into the wind, acting as human ballast), but it’s a wonderful way to learn.

Just Because It’s On Instagram …

Storyful’s Eliza Mackintosh has the story behind an Instagram account that shows an immigrant escaping from Dakar, Senegal, to Spain. It’s a story that was picked up by some major web sites and built a massive following … but it’s all a lie, a fictional project designed for an exhibition.

“It was a way of denouncing Western frivolity, in which we have to take selfies at all times and it seems that an event has not been experienced if you have not shared it,” (Joana) Sendra wrote.

There’s a deep lesson in this, one everyone keeps forgetting:

The main takeaway for journalists is clear — it’s critical to treat all social content with a heavy dose of skepticism. When we are all searching and scanning for that one person who presents a narrative perfectly, particularly around current topics like migration into Europe, there is a readiness to believe that a story is true.