Digitizing NYT Artist-Photographers
Omigosh, Mike was there! That was my reaction while electronically poking around online files and saw this angle of Jackie Robinson sliding toward Yogi Berra in the 1955 World Series.
The umpire ruled Robinson had stolen home, but to the end of his days, Yogi would levitate loudly, to dispute that call.
But I’m not writing about baseball today. I’m writing about photographers like my late friend Meyer (Mike) Liebowitz, who passed in 1976 but lives forever in the stock of photos, now being included in a digitizing project by the Times. (That project was described in a two-page spread in Sunday's Metropolitan section. See link below.)
In the dozens of times Mike and I worked together on news – not sports – stories on Long Island, he never once mentioned that he was one of the photographers arrayed around Yankee Stadium that epic day. (John Rooney of the AP caught the slide/tag that, to this day, proves nothing.)
Mike Liebowitz one of dozen photographers I got to know – and admire – on our assignments together. This digital project reminds me that one of the under-described relationships in journalism is somebody with a pad and somebody with a camera, going on assignment, watching each other’s back.
I was in my mid-30s and Mike was surely twice my age when we were paired by the random needs of the Photo Desk, Sometimes I would be in his car because it held his equipment.
Once we were chasing a politician allegedly visiting an estate in Nassau County’s gold coast. Down a long driveway, we knocked on a door and were told to take a hike, so Mike backed out the driveway – and we nearly got T-boned by a speeding car.
Another time we were doing something way out on the North Fork (a project to save the fading potato farms?) on a glorious early October day, and Mike was driving along an untended beach and the tide was high, so I asked Mike if he had 20 minutes to spare, which he did, so I stripped down to my skivvies and dove into the warm, placid waters, and then we proceeded due west.
In that two-page spread in the Times’ Sunday metropolitan section, there are 12 vintage photos about reading in public. What touched me was that I worked with just about all the photographers – Jim Wilson, Keith Meyers, Marilyn K. Yee, Fred R. Conrad, Andrea Mohin, Chester Higgins, Jr., and William E. Sauro, who did a lot of sports.
And that doesn’t include other Times pioneers like Michelle Agins (who one Christmas Eve popped over to my family dinner and took a treasured photo of four generations) and Sarah Krulwich, who has become an institution with her photos of everything Broadway.
Or dapper little Ernest Sisto, who worked on the field back in the day of bulky Graflex cameras, and would get a discreet signal from his compagno Phil Rizzuto when the Scooter was about to drop a bunt.
And then there are my two pals from the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway – Paul Burnett, who took photos of the presumed winner, Nancy Kerrigan, and Barton Silverman, who was snapping Oksana Baiul, who went later.
Barton was – and I am sure still is – a force of nature. He got roughed up covering the 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago, and in 1996 he was nearly arrested in Atlanta for trespassing in the new Olympic park in downtown Atlanta. (I tried to warn him.)
I know I am omitting a dozen or two Times photographers, but I want to discuss another facet – free-lance photographers. I don’t know what it is like now, but when I was a news reporter based in Louisville, the Times used great photographers from the Courier-Journal in their spare time (my late friend Ford Reid, for one), and also a free-lancer named Kenneth Murray, a true son of Appalachia from the Tri-Cities area where Virginia and Tennessee meet.
I met Ken at the first funeral after the terrible Hyden coal-mine disaster in Eastern Kentucky, Dec. 30, 1970, and he kept going to funerals for most of the 38 miners. Later he began working with me all over Appalachia.
In March of 1972, we got together when a coal-mine’s lethal lake of waste water broke loose and drowned 125 people along Buffalo Creek, W. Va, one rainy Saturday morning, with no warning from the coal company.
Ken and I decided to look around for more of these “slurry ponds” and got caught in some deep woods, by a few guards flashing pistols. As we tried to explain it was all a big mistake, Ken whispered to keep edging our way down to the state road, to public land, which we did, safely.
Some of my best times were spent out on the road somewhere, with Tom Hardin of Kentucky, Don Hogan Charles of the NYT, Gary Settle of the NYT and Seattle, Chang Lee of the NYT, John McDermott my soccer buddy from San Francisco and now Italy….and more.
And the news about the digital project makes me happy that the Times will preserve the work of its own artist-journalists, in its way, a hall of fame for these people who became legends to me.
4/25/2022 02:28:45 pm
4/26/2022 12:11:44 pm
If this is the RF I think it is, you will appreciate that my friend Ken Murray took a photo of me walking across the narrow footbridge across the Holston (or was in the Clinch) River. GV
4/26/2022 04:11:23 pm
4/27/2022 08:14:36 am
Randy, been there, done that. I was actually going to print a photo by Ken Murray of one of those piney-woods churches in 1971, man and serpents, up close. Ken says I was ducking down in the second pew. I bet I was. But I thought better of printing the photo, which I will download to you. Oh, about that church. They graduated from the Biblical mention of serpents to poisonous liquids soon after and it killed a brother or two. GV
4/25/2022 03:03:10 pm
I remember a series of photos in the Times from the US National Tennis Championships at Forest Hills (before it became the US Open) that captured not the players but their shadows. I’m guessing this was 1960 or 1961.Soon after I visited the Times with my 6th grade class (RIP Mrs. Greenhut) and the clippings of the “shadow pictures” were up on a bulletin board. It made me think that even within the paper they were recognized as extraordinary. And they were.
4/26/2022 12:24:25 pm
Roy, I tried to look up the subject in the 1960-61 era but nothing popped in. It is impressive that somebody was doing anything visual in those days of the Old Gray Lady. But they have leaped into real life. I remember about 15 years ago when Arthur Sulzberger Jr. sat in on a Sports Dept. luncheon, very informal, he's very easy to talk to, and I asked why the NYT was moving to color, and he said, very politely, "We live in color...we dream in color..." And now they run photo essays...and sell millions of online subscriptions...and make enough money to survive...and also to cover Ukraine and Covid and Trump and other disasters. When I was running around with these photographers, they were often sad about their best shot not getting much (or any) play. Times change. best, GV
4/25/2022 04:10:03 pm
Pictures indeed worth at least a thousand words. And the one of Jackie's attempt to steal home is the best I've seen that supports the theory that Yogi actually interfered on the play by catching the pitch before it crossed the plate. Unless the pitcher stepped off the mound, which I don't think anyone claimed, it would appear to be what is called a catcher's balk. Here we are all these years later still talking about the play -- and in this case particularly the picture. Great stuff as always George.
4/26/2022 12:28:57 pm
Jim, great to hear from you. Great call on that photo. Don't believe I have ever heard that Yogi may have poached on the plate. You have covered thousands of MLB games in Baltimore...have you ever seen that called? I mean, catchers get gigged when they interfere with the swing, but intruding on home plate? Clearly what he did, whether intentional or not, I don't know. I never heard that JR42 countered by saying Yogi intruded on air space...it was strictly safe/out. Yogi's glove is clearly over the plate. And as the great FB coach Herman Edwards used to tell reporters in the greatest football poem I ever heard: The Eye/ Don't Lie. Herman had it. Best, GV
4/26/2022 03:57:04 pm
Thanks for the prompt George....no, I've never seen that play called, but neither have I seen many attempted steals of home! I was playing in college at the time and the play has always fascinated me. I always felt there was a strong case for interference, but it never came up because Jackie was ruled safe. I thought the widely distributed AP picture gave some evidence, but not as strong as this one. i do love that we can still be debating plays like this 67 years later! Best
4/26/2022 04:25:06 pm
Jim and George,
4/25/2022 09:41:51 pm
Wonderful stories, George. This photo by Meyer Liebowitz of Yogi Berra and Jackie Robinson is astonishing. It got me. When I was at Yankee Stadium in 2014 (Neo’s Christening in Our Lady of Pompeii Church, in Greenwich Village), Mr. Berra attended the game. They paid homage to him. It was very cool to realize that we were in the same stadium as him.
4/26/2022 12:34:30 pm
Dear Altenir: So the real question is, did you and Celia choose to have Neo baptized in Greenwich Village instead of Rio so you could make a side trip to Yankee Stadium? You are a good Yankee fan; it could happen. I'm not a Yankee fan...but I admit, Yankee Stadium is the best baseball stadium for memories/ghosts/echoes. (even the current YS, which is essentially a theme park. My first visit to YS, last game of 1947, first old-timers day: present were Babe Ruth (clearly sick), Ty Cobb, Connie Mack. As a Dodger fan (we would lose to the Yankees a week later), I knew enough to be deeply impressed by that day. I saw the Babe in his camel's hair coat. You saw Yogi, bless his heart. GV
4/26/2022 03:36:04 pm
George: Wow! You’ve gotten to see Babe Ruth. I think it was a magical moment for you. When we got to know that Mr. Berra was there, I thought about the old baseball players like Babe Ruth (on the web there’s a photo of Mr. Berra and Mr. Ruth), Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and, of course, Yogi Berra. But that night, the great experience was hearing Lou Gehrig and his famous speech in a part of the stadium.
4/26/2022 03:32:27 am
Thanks for the mention George. I will never forget Alberto Tomba pretending to run us down with his car in the snow in Lillehammer and some of our other shared adventures. As a photographer I have had the very good fortune to work with a number of extremely talented writers and I like to think our collaboration usually made both parties' work better. Some who stand out: Mark Starr, Joe Contreras, Frank Deford and Christopher Dickey at Newsweek, Joe Boyce and Gavin Scott at Time, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frances Fitzgerald for Geo Magazin, Kenny Moore, Ron Fimrite, Clive Gammon and William Oscar Johnson at Sports Illustrated, Dick Schapp at TV guide, Uwe Wolff and Uli Baur at Stern, Jaap DeGroot of De Telegraaf in Amsterdam, Sergio Di Cesare at La Gazzetta dello Sport and the incomparable Paul Gardner of Soccer America. And, of course, George Vecsey.
4/26/2022 12:40:03 pm
Ciao, John. What a great list of writer colleagues.
4/26/2022 04:16:41 pm
4/27/2022 11:58:34 am
Videos give a live sense of the action, but a photo freezes an instant for as long as one keeps the image. Of course, images can be enhanced or altered with editing programs, but a properly framed image rarely needs any rework.
4/28/2022 01:01:51 am
5/17/2022 03:18:45 pm
George, I'm surprised we haven't met; we know so many mutual photographers. I was a picture editor at the CJ&T when the Hyden mine disaster happened. So all the Lsvl names are familiar to me. It was also a joy to work with the wonderful Jim Wilson at AP in DC. Thanks for the trip down a wonderful list of experiences and a great list of talented and committed people!
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.