MLK by Yousuf Karsh

MLK Display Court St Baker Center Project 04-09-1968I photographed this young man looking at a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the display window of Lamborn’s Studio in Athens, Ohio, on April 9, 1968, five days after the Civil Rights leader was gunned down in Memphis.

It wasn’t until this evening that I blew it up big enough to read the inscription on the left. The photo was taken by famed photographer Yousuf Karsh. Estrellita Karsh donated the portrait to the National Portrait Gallery in his memory.

Click on the photo to make it larger.

How the photo was taken

From the photo caption:

A man constantly on the move, Martin Luther King was most often photographed in action by those covering the events of the civil-rights movement. This likeness by renowned portraitist Yousuf Karsh is a different kind of image—a formal portrait that utilizes pose and lighting rather than environment to identify King as a leader and a visionary. Karsh made the photograph in August 1962, when King returned to Atlanta following the prolonged and dispiriting struggle for desegregation in Albany, Georgia. With very little time to work, Karsh photographed his subject in the only space available—a corner of King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Recalling the circumstances of that sitting, Karsh noted, “Nowhere could [King] relax when constantly beset by friends and aides wishing him well, commiserating on his difficulties, congratulating him on his return, and planning new strategy.”

Earlier stories about Martin Luther King, Jr.

Smelterville Fire

Smelterville FireFires have been on my mind today. I woke up to news that Athens’ uptown area had been hit by an early-morning fire that did serious damage to four or five businesses in buildings dating back to the late 1800s. The Union, a bar that had been a popular university watering hole since the 1950s, appears to have been the most serious casualty.

The city’s “uptown” is very similar to Cape’s “downtown.” They are both constructed of buildings that adjoin each other and that are over 100 years old. Once a fire gets started, it’s easy to lose a whole block.

This fire was a lot smaller. It was in Smelterville, but I don’t recall any details.

It might have been January 1966

Smelterville FireI found a Missourian invoice where I billed the paper $5 for a fire on January 29, 1966, but Google doesn’t have the microfilm for that day on file, so I couldn’t look up the story.

Based on the way the water sprayed on the fire has already frozen, it sure LOOKS like a cold January day.

Going back in

Smelterville FireIt appears the only thing saved up to this point was a dresser. I don’t know if that was all that was salvageable in the house or if they hadn’t started their overhaul work yet. There’s another shot that shows a fireman with a pike pole getting ready to enter. That’s what they use to tear into walls and ceilings to see if there are any fire extensions.

I’ll never forget another fire I worked not far from there.


Pictures from the Workshop

720 Poster with Frank RicheyYou’ve heard me talking about the Picturing the Past Workshop in Athens, Ohio, until you are probably tired of it, but here’s a look at what our participants produced that is being exhibited at the Athens Public Library and the Athens County Historical Society Museum.

The first session was held on August 23. About two dozen people listened to me drone on for 2-1/2 hours, then Curator Jessica talked about historical photographs and their importance for about 30 minutes. Participants were asked to go into the community and shoot anything that interested them, with an emphasis on things that people in the future would be curious about.

“Office hours”

We held “office hours” on Tuesday and Thursday evenings so we could see what had been shot and offer suggestions. The goal was for them to come back with 10 shots they liked. We said they would 720 Ordinary People bio Posternarrow those down to two for the final exhibit, and that the audience could nominate a third photo. On the first evening, I suggested to two women that they explore the town after dark and gave them a two-minute demonstration about how they could vary the exposures on their point-and-shoot cameras.

A larger group showed up for the second “office hours” and we had lively discussions about how and why a particular photo was taken. I hardly needed to be there. The participants gave each other great feedback.

On August 30, we had a three-hour slide show of the final selections. You’d have thought we were at a fireworks exhibit with all the audience “ohhhs” and “ahhhs.” The group did a great job of commenting and critiquing the work. It was tough to boil the show down to 48 selections. Here are about half of them (in alphabetical order). I’m going to put up each photographer’s work as a gallery. Click on the photos to make them larger, then use your arrow keys to move around.

We’ll do the other half tomorrow to keep you from being overwhelmed.

Alex Westerfelt

Alex Westerfelt was one of the photographers who made good use of reflections. He thought his hand and camera were a distraction in the mirror, but I liked them. We had an ethical discussion about whether or not to remove some distracting water spots on the mirror. I told him I am a bit of a purist, but that I didn’t have an issue with taking out the spots anymore than I would hesitate to take out dust spots on an old negative.

This artsy reflections photo started out as a horizontal, but we kept creeping in from the sides until it became a much cleaner vertical. For reasons I can’t exactly explain, I liked the moment captured in the picture of the boy in the red shorts. The trees growing inside a building was taken in Shawnee, an old coal town I documented in 1969. It reminds me of Cairo, Illinois.

Angie Faller

I’ve seen a lot of ice bucket challenge photos in the last month, but I give Angie credit for shooting a nice sequence. She has the dump photo (with the cubes nicely stopped by the flash), the boy watching a video and a third picture of the ice on the ground. (I left that out because we had a limit on the number of photos. I didn’t realize that I would turn it into a layout.)

She took a portrait of a vendor at a farmers’ market and was captivated by a scale building at The Ridges, Athens’ former insane asylum. She had some interesting shots of the interior, but we liked the light in this picture.

Brenda Ruth

If I had to pick an overall favorite as an image and a collection of cultural icons, it would be Brenda’s photo of her granddaughter quilting. It’s a super portrait and has a smart phone and a piece of exercise equipment in it.

She had at least three variations of this old building. We liked the wide, long shot because of the purple flowers and the barbed wire and fence wire that may not be around in the future.

I’m particularly happy with her night shots. She’s one of the women who had never taken her point ‘n’ shoot out after dark. She was rightfully proud of how well her experiment turned out.

Carolyn Highland

Carolyn came in at the last minute on Saturday with an addition: a photo of her mother’s roller skates. The picture meant a great deal to her because of the personal connection, and it was also a nice icon. I shot a similar picture of my skates (except that the wheels were wood in the old days.)

The portrait of the old man started out a lot “looser.” We kept cropping in until it became much simpler and a lot more powerful. At one point, we homed in on his face, but decided to back out to include the wording on his shirt. The scenics are just plain nice.

 Marie Barone

One of the questions that kept coming up, particularly because of this photo of the kids playing in Nelsonville, was “do you have to ask permission to take someone’s permission?” My overall contention is that “if I can see them, I can shoot them.” If the situation is fleeting, I shoot first, then engage with the subject later. If your photo is used for advertising, then you DO need a release. You also can’t hold someone up to public scorn or ridicule (unless they really deserve it).

When I was editing Marie’s photos, the guy with a hat jumped out at me because I had seen it in the pictures submitted by another person. Not only was THIS guy in it, but the woman in polka dots and the woman in the dark glasses was there, too. Both shooters said it was a coincidence.

Marilyn Zwayer

I was really happy with the photos Marilyn took in the Ambassador Laundry. For some reason, she found herself doing laundry there instead of at home, so she decided to follow the lesson plan and shoot her surroundings. Some of the pictures aren’t tack-sharp, and she was reluctant to let us use them, but we convinced her that she had captured a slice of life. I was particularly appreciative because I was in the same place the night before when I realized I had reached the critical UW – 0 stage in my suitcase.

Exhibit dates

The print workshop prints and some of mine will be on exhibit at the Athens Public Library until September 27. Additional photos will be at the Athens County Historical Society Museum until about October 1. There will be a reception at the library September 16 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. I hope the photographers will be there to see how their photos are received.


OU Party Time

Athens OH party 08-31-2014I’ve been working late at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum office. Athens, Ohio, is the home of Ohio University, once known as a top-ranked party school. (If it’s been down-graded, I’d hate to see what the top 10 looks like.)

There are several bars to the left of me; there’s a bar across the street from me, and there’s a bar and a rental house with a kazillion people in it on the right side.

The female voices that echo off the surrounding buildings are hitting frequencies that I thought only dogs could hear (and just short of that which would break glass). I haven’t heard the equivalent of the male voices since a camping trip on Fisheating Creek during alligator mating season. It’s not even the music that is earsplitting. It’s the cacophony of voices. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Words don’t do it justice

I shot the Saturday night video when I was getting ready to pull out of the parking lot about one in the morning. It’ll give you an idea what Court Street sounded like. I sent the video to CHS Buddy Jim Stone, who had been in town dropping Son Oliver off for class earlier.

His reaction: “Gee. Oliver said they were having movie night in their new apartment with perhaps a few games of chess.”

Party in progress

Athens OH party 08-31-2014When I drove down Court Street, Athens’ main North-South drag late Sunday afternoon, I spotted the party in the first photo two doors down from the office. I couldn’t resist.

When I walked up, there was a guy with a cellphone camera taking a picture of a couple of his friends. “Would you like to get in the photo?” is always a good icebreaker. The next thing I knew, half the party crowded into the photo.

Got an internship?

Athens OH party 08-31-2014A kid came up to me and said, “I saw you flipping cameras back and forth. Are you a pro?” I handed him a business card and told him what I do now.

He wanted to know if I took on interns. I said that I was a Florida guy writing about MO in the middle ’60s and Ohio in the late ’60s, so I didn’t know how well he’d fit in.

“Are you a nark?”

Athens OH party 08-31-2014The next guy asked, “Are you a nark?”

The last time that question was raised, I told him, was in about 1974. I was at a big group of partying young folks about to be chased out by the sheriff when I saw a guy pointing at me and asking his buddy, “Think he’s a nark?”

“You gotta be kidding,” his buddy observed. “He’s too straight-looking to be a nark.”

“I love Athens”

Athens OH party 08-31-2014Another kid said he was from Detroit and “loved Athens.”

“If you are somewhere and mention that you went to school in Athens, it’s like you have a bond.”

Curator Jessica and I had talked about that. Athens’ uptown shopping area, bars and restaurants are adjacent to campus and everything is within walking distance, so a lot of students don’t have cars. It’s also a relatively isolated area not close to any major population centers. A lot of students come from places like Cleveland and Akron that are too far away for a casual weekend commute, so they hang out in town and grow close to it.

That’s a lot different from Cape, where the SEMO campus is nowhere near the shopping areas and St. Louis is an easy two-hour drive. The university and town treat each other with benign neglect.

What’s with the pointing thing?

Athens OH party 08-31-2014So, what’s with the pointing gesture thing that shows up in so many pictures. It’s something I’ve not run into before.

Monday morning, I showed up at a local diner for breakfast. There was a blonde at the table across from me who must have been one of those who attended a Sunday night party because I could see her eyeballs throbbing all the way across the room. I think if a server had dropped a tray of plates behind her, her head would have exploded.

Interestingly enough, the streets were quiet and almost deserted Monday night. I guess even OU students can stand only such much partying.