The Price of Freedom

I’m going to step away from Cape for a couple of days. I’m scanning some photos from late 1969 and early 1970 because it’s important that we don’t forget what was going on forty years ago. While politicians were wrapping themselves in The Flag, young men were dying.

Youth for Decency Rally

That’s Jack Sensenbrenner, the right-wing former Bible salesman mayor of Columbus, OH, speaking at a Youth for Decency Rally. The rallies popped up all over the country after Jim Morrison of The Doors was arrested for indecency in Miami, decades before Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction.” President Nixon immediately endorsed the events, along with everyone else who was afraid of change, Rock and Roll and all the other hedonistic free love hippie things that went along with it.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam War comes home

Newspaper photographers don’t have any idea what the day is going to be like. My first assignment for The Athens Messenger on Sept. 17, 1969, was a routine grip-n-grin photo of a local serviceman being awarded a bunch of medals for his service in Vietnam.

Posthumous medal presentation

That afternoon, I went back to City Hall to watch the mayor award the Bronze Star and Purple Heart to the parents of a boy who didn’t come back. As I looked at their expressions, I wondered how much they had aged since they received that knock on their door and looked out to see a somber-faced soldier on their stoop.

The lonely ride back home with a box of medals

The image I’ve never been able to get out of my mind is the one of them walking out to their car. On their ride home, they’re going to have a box of medals sitting where their son should have been.

Country Joe and The Fish

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t keep from thinking of the lines from Country Joe and The Fish that had been posted on the Ohio University College Green on Moratorium Day:

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don’t hesitate,
Send ’em off before it’s too late.
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.

Their names are lost to me

I don’t know their names after all these years. I guess it’s not important in the long run. They can be the “Unknowns” to stand in for all of those families who received a knock on the door that changed their lives forever.

One thing I’ve always wondered: was there a newspaper photographer in North Vietnam who had the mirror image of my assignments?

Earth Day 2010

Warning: non-Cape, obligatory Earth Day content follows.

When I was working for The Athens (OH) Messenger, I had to produce five photo essays a week. We called it The Picture Page, but it was really a 9×17-inch hole that was given to the photographers to fill during the weekdays. We had to find the subject, shoot it, write a minimal amount of copy and lay it out ourselves.

Deadline was 10 a.m. and I was sucking air. I didn’t have a clue how I was going to fill the space. I didn’t want to be the first photographer to end his career at The Mess by having a 9×17-inch blank space mark his professional obituary.

Please, let there be a picture out there

With the clock clicking down, I was frantically driving around hoping SOMETHING would catch my eye.

Suddenly, this tree popped out of the fog. I knocked off a couple of frames before the light changed, then blasted back to the darkroom. I needed to cut corners, so instead of spending seven minutes using film developer, I used paper developer, which produces more grain and contrast, but only took two minutes. Serendipity kicked in and the technique made the photo better instead of worse.

This and another photo of the park got me off the hook for yet another morning. It turned out to be one of the most popular photos I took in three years at the paper.

Hocking River flood control took my tree

About six months later, I went back to the site to shoot this photo. A flood control project to reroute the Hocking River was going right over my tree. This was the result.

Hokey Poem #22

I was flattered when Carol Towarnicky, a reporter I worked with at The Ohio University Post, wrote Hokey Poem #22, which said, in part,

. . . consider the man.
who records the land.
low-key, like the hills.
gentle, like those who
who dot the country side.

familiar, calm.
he grabs his camera,
squints, clicks, moves on,
nonchalantly.

who ridicules the thought
of an “eternal message,”
yet mourns the passage
of a tree.

I’m sure CT (I called her that because Towarnicky was a mouthful, even for someone with a name like Steinhoff) was rushing to meet a writing class deadline like I was trying to fill a hole on just another work day, but I still hold on to that tree photo and Hokey Poem #22. It’s funny how something seemingly insignificant can mean so much.

The First Earth Day

My  photo of an abandoned strip mine in southern Ohio ran on the front page of The Athens Messenger on the first Earth Day. You can read the whole story about the picture here.