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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/17/13

The case of the missing photographs

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When a photo librarian for the Associated Press got a request, in 1966, from LIFE magazine for a copy of the picture of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby, things got complicated when the future World's Laziest Journalist noticed a copyright notice on the photo.   According to the ground rules the lowly photo librarian had to say "no" to one of the biggest and most prestigious members of the news coop organization.   It was the weekend and it was quite likely that there were no managers around to consult.   Then the beleaguered photo librarian ran into the AP's Chief Executive Officer in the hall.   We quickly explained the dilemma.   He asked "What would you do if I weren't here?"   We told him the ground rules required me to say "no."   He hesitated a beat and then said:   "Pretend you didn't see me."

A column containing that vignette would be so much more eye appealing, if we could run the image of the murder happening but since it seems unlikely that even if the columnist started on Sunday morning to track down the copyright owner and get permission to use it online, the self imposed deadline of doing all that in time to post the column on Friday May 17, 2013 renders the question moot.   It will be easier to relate the incident and then challenge readers to do a Google Image search for the famous photo. 

Since images enhance the drawing power of online postings, it is tempting to toss any old image on the top of the column and hope for the best, but a rudimentary acquaintance with photography indicates that the image needs more eye appeal than, for example, a snapshot of the columnist at a recent college commencement program.   

If a columnist has talked shop with more Pulitzer Prize winning photographers (three) than reporters (one), then perhaps it might be realistic to assume such a fellow can make a valid claim to a better than a beginners knowledge of photojournalism and therefore should have a legitimate claim to having some photo editing competence.   If such a person wants to run photos he took, he knows there will be no hassles about permission to use any of those images with his column.   The unauthorized use of a copyrighted photograph could cause a remarkable increase in the amount of non productive clerk work and the best way for the World's Laziest Journalist to avoid that unnecessary drudgery is to only use photos taken with his personal Coolpix. 

It helps, of course, if the selected image has something to do with the contents in the column, but if the columnist has established his niche in the "three dot journalism" style of running multiple short items that cover a wide swath of subject matter just about any photo of anything could be deemed germane and useable as long as it was a good image.

In the past we have recounted getting a photo lesson in the AP lunch room from Eddie Adams and that name will impress folks who know the history of photojournalism, but folks who don't recognize the name might like to know he is the guy who took the famous picture of the Police Chief in Saigon blowing out the brains of a suspect.   Tracking down permission to run that image is more clerk work than time permits so, again, we refer to curious to the wonders of the Google Image search site. 

Do we need to get permission to post a photo we took?   Some time back, while working as a columnist for Just Above Sunset online magazine, we got the chance to take a ride on a B-17-G and write the story about the experience.   At one point, we borrowed the camera being used by Alan Pavlik, the photographer and the web site's editor and publisher.   We flopped down flat on the ground and took one photo.   Now, it seems prudent that we secure his permission to use that photo (which was published with a large selection of the photos he took) with this column.   Once we got that permission (10-Q message sent) it should be a piece of cake.

It didn't work so click on this link:

(Readers may have to copy that URL and paste it into their browser.)

Our flight on the B-17-G was something that had been on our bucket list since high school, but in the tradition of fair and balanced journalism and in the tradition of the Ford vs. Chevrolet debate, we may still have some more work to do.   An assortment of WWII aircraft from the Wings of Freedom Tour (see more info at is coming to the SF Bay area and if we get a chance to get a ride on the B-24 that is coming to Moffett Federal Air Field next week, we could then do the judicious thing and cast our vote in the B-17 vs. the B-24 controversy.  

We will probably go out to Moffett and take some photos of the WWII aircraft and mention the expedition in a future column because that will give us a convenient excuse to run (at least) one of those photos.  

Speaking of missing photos and B-17's, about a half century ago (how can that be if we are only 28 years old?   [Haven't researchers proved that everyone online is 28 years old?]), we were reading up on the Liberation of Paris in WWII and we came across an account of a wild cowboy American pilot who flew a B-17 between the legs of the Eiffel Tower to fly under it.   It outraged the French people because of the reckless disregard for their national icon.   We saw one photo of the stunt back when we read about it but we have never seen a copy of that image online.  

The editors at LIFE magazine knew the allure of a stand alone shot because of the popularity of their "Parting Shot" feature, which drew numerous submissions each week.   We have, in previous columns, suggested that the editors of LIFE and some commercial entity, such as Nikon and/or Eastman Kodak, should collaborate on an online version of that popular feature.   (Hellfire, if they need an editor to select one photo a day to be featured as the best, we know of a fellow in Berkeley who might volunteer his services.)   If they adapted a policy where every submission appeared online and each day one was selected as Best of the Day, they would probably get some fairly impressive hit numbers and submissions. 

What makes an image jump off the computer screen?   There are plenty of hot rods with flame paint jobs and there are a great many Rolls Royce automobiles in the world but when we did a Google Image search for a Rolls Royce with a flames paint job we found only two valid suggestions.   One of them was a shot we took in Berkeley CA and posted on our photoblog.  

Recently, in our attempt to do a survey of the contemporary pop culture scene, we came across the concept of "soap opera news," and getting a chance to take a photo to illustrate a column on that topic, would be challenging.  

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BP graduated from college in the mid sixties (at the bottom of the class?) He told his draft board that Vietnam could be won without his participation. He is still appologizing for that mistake. He received his fist photo lesson from a future (more...)

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