Walter Karling, NYIP Instructor - Photographers are fortunate to observe life closely and interpret what they see through their work. I like the fact that no day is the same as any other. I have different jobs at different times, all over the place. I may be shooting a board meeting, street fairs, the unveiling of portraiture in a chapel in a cemetery, or a salsa festival. The top photo is a digitally stitched-together panorama I recently shot of the Rio Grande River at the Big Bend National Park in Texas. Years ago, I made a panoramic view of the river with 4 x 6 prints made from negatives, scotch-taped together.
My interest in photography started when I was young. In 1957, I went to the Astoria Boys Club on 21st Avenue in Queens after grammar school, and we'd develop photographs in a darkroom class. My first camera was a box camera, a Hawkeye. I remember taking pictures in Central Park in 1961, and I paid about $10 to have a roll of 220 film developed. My parents looked at the pictures and sternly asked me, "What are we spending money on this for?"
I was a New York Institute of Photography student in late 1969 to early 1970 when we were a residential school on East 33rd Street between 5th and Broadway; I took a course in "Commercial Photography," complete with studio lights and view cameras! I came on board as an NYIP instructor in 1978 (33 years ago) after seeing an ad in the New York Times, and I've been an instructor with the School ever since.
I've been fortunate to photograph some wonderful events, but two come to mind that I'd describe as being iconic. They just had that "moment in history" feeling, but for an unusual reason: a serious event was undercut by something comedic.
The Pope in Texas
In 1984, I was on a cross-country camping trip. I was down in Louisiana and listened to the news and heard that Pope John Paul II was in Florida and was going to be in San Antonio in a day or two, so I decided to head down to see him. I stood in front of the Alamo, and the Pope's motorcade passed by. The pope was in his popemobile along with a local cardinal, and the state troopers with the cowboy hats on lent a Texas twang to the scene. The cardinal pointed out the Alamo to the pope, then the pope quickly turned back and gave his blessing to the crowd. I got a nice shot of the pope and people's arms waving and praying in the foreground.
When the motorcade passed and the crowd was ready to disperse, there, in full clerical dress and a huge hat was comedian Don Novello in his role as Saturday Night Live's Father Guido Sarducci. Everyone was ready to go home after their Pope sighting, but suddenly they realized Father Guido was standing there, and they started to take his picture. A very serious and inspiring event, and then someone made light of it and it captured its own attention.
The Congressman Resigns
On Sunday, June 12, the week before Anthony Weiner resigned his office due to the mounting embarassment over his online extramarital exploits, I witnessed several protests in front of his office. I also saw a notice his office posted that he would be making a statement at a Brooklyn senior citizens center on June 16th. With the protests and increasing attention, his resignation was in the air, so I decided to attend. I specialize, among other things, in taking photos for community newspapers, so this was an ideal event to photograph.
The 2pm-scheduled event didn't happen until twenty minutes later. I couldn't believe how packed the room was. There must have been 50 cameras, still and video, in the room. None of us spoke with one another, but we just stood around. Everyone knew he was going to resign, and then there was tension in the room as all waited. Everyone had their mics set up on the podium, we were poised to take pictures (I'm standing in the photo just above - the guy at the end of the red arrow), and suddenly Weiner walked in.
Blitz, blitz, blitz – strobes all went off at once!
Weiner was speaking at the same senior citizen’s center where he announced his New York City Council bid many years earlier, so he was coming full circle. His office brought seniors in to sit down in front of the representative, to be his official audience, but they were outnumbered by the press. His statement lasted only 4 minutes. Weiner said, "I hereby resign my position." The seniors said "NO, NO, NO!" But there was a heckler in the room, and his voice was so loud (calling him a pervert and other raunchy remarks) that everybody started to turn towards him. It turned out to be Benjy Bronk, a regular on the Howard Stern Show. So I snap away, first at Anthony Weiner - he's my bread-and-butter shot (close ups with a telephoto lens) - and then at Bronk and the crowd in the room (see Bronk in the black T-shirt gesturing with a legal pad in the first photo below, top left; and Bronk being interviewed outside in the second photo).
Anthony Weiner kept reading his statement, ignoring the heckling. People were apologizing to Weiner, some press tried to grab Bronk to get him to sit down . . . and then the comedic heckler winds up being his own news story down on the street in front of the center, with people interviewing him and me snapping his picture, reminding me of what happened in 1984 when a TV comic tried to upstage the pope.