Missing: Memories in a Shoebox

David Burnett, the Newsweek photojournalist speaking on a podcast mentioned that of all the places he’s traveled in his career over the last 50 years, in all the countries he’s made pictures, the photos that he wishes he had are the ones of him and his friends in college, sitting around their dorm rooms and hangouts, only no one thought to make those photos, including him.

Which got me thinking to some of the best years of my life, when I was working as a photojournalist with the Trenton Times in Trenton, New Jersey. I started there as a staff photographer in 1987 after freelancing for a year with other newspapers, stayed there until February 2001 and I have to say the camaraderie was the best thing about the job. Studies show that a person will not accept a new job, even one offering better pay, if they like the people they are working with, the work environment and people make up a big portion of job satisfaction.

The Times building, November 2017

That got me thinking about how I don’t have any photographs of the Times Photo Department. I can picture the door with its vertical “PHOTO” spelled out in black letters on the wood door, but no actual photographs.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and I’ll use more than that many to tell this story of the people who I remember and wish I had photographed, pictures I could look back on now, pulled from a dusty shoebox.

Here are some of the photographs I wish I had now:

Martin Griff–the biggest smile in the room, the guy who hired me when Photo Editor Herman Laesker was away on vacation and he was the assistant editor put in charge and said, “Well, I’m in charge now, so I guess I can hire,” and brought me into the department. When I was filling out my timesheet and mileage report, him leaning over me and saying, “Writing fiction there, Kenny?” though I think he said it to everyone. Maybe the photo would be him pulling bricks of film from the film closet, or bounding into the room back from a Giants game.

Herman Laesker–the photo editor before stepping down and handing the reins to Martin Griff. I see him standing in the darkroom printing photos at the enlarger across from me, Pink Floyd’s Young Lust playing on the radio and him saying in his German accent, “That’s not music. Real music is jazz. Aw, Kenny, you should’ve heard it the other night, the cats were cooking.” He probably followed that up with an invitation to hear him sit in on drums Saturday night at Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon.

The photo department and our Monday night forays to SoHo Pub or Tir Na Nog Irish Bar in Chambersburg. I want these smoky bar photos. Lots of story swapping with Michael Mancuso, Jose Iglesias (“I don’t buy!”), Randall Hagadorn, Cathy Laughlin, Herman Laesker, Paul Savage, John Baer, Mark Sherman (and his Leicas), Patty Miller, Mary O’Connor (we met in the department and were married for 14 years), Frank Jacobs, Martin Griff, Bev Shafer, Stan Brick, Kathy Wieland, Nik Habicht, Keith Bedford, Jonathan Cohen, Cie Stroud, Brad Grois, Marc Bellagamba (and his quite nice summer beach house at LBI), Stacey P. Morgan, Cindy DeSau, Brian Branch Price, Phil McAuliffe, there were a few others I’m sure I’m missing, the police scanner chasers–we had quite a crew!

The hours loading film in darkrooms, hunched over lightboxes editing our film, making real photo prints with enlargers and washing them in the sink through the wall. I wish I had some photos of that. Over the final touchup desk in that room there was the “wall of shame,” photos that didn’t make it into the paper or did but were funny or odd in some way.

Ski trips with Martin, Herman, Jose and Paul to Lake Placid NY, where I learned to ski on ice!

I want photos of the newsroom maybe during a publisher’s meeting or election night, or even completely empty. I remember it always looked like a paper storm happened every night once everyone left. IBM 386 computers with their glowing green or yellow text CRT screens surrounded by mounds of paper. I arrived just past the typewriter era.

I want photos of friendly faces I’d see regularly like Marcia Francis at her front desk, always with a grin while patiently waiting for our weekly timesheets.

Ida Furente, Kris Jesson, Susan Sprague, Vicki Monaghan, Amy Hiestand, Nora O’Dowd, Joan and Lisa Belknap, Randy Alexander, Sharon Schlegal and Joyce Persico in Features. And of course, the warm lovable ever-smiling Arnie Ropeik. Also with a desk somewhere back there was the graphic artist, Laura Sommerville.

Mark Perkiss, Charlie Stile, Deborah Kovach in Business. Some others, I know there must have been more, but can’t remember. We did many photo stories together.

Out in News I can picture (but didn’t picture!) Christina Hoag, David Newhouse, Ann Levin, Mary Caffrey, Genikwa Williams, Tim Quinn, Christina Walton, Jim Hooker, Adaline Adams, Don Henry, Tom Simonet, Anita Shafer, Hayes Ferguson, Julia Willmot, Carla Anderson, Peter Page, John McGourty, Beth Fand, Jim Varney, Dennis Symons, Kevin Shea, Jonathan Perry, Tom McGinty, Krystal Knapp, Robin Levinson, and Dan Zegart yelling into his phone in a heated verbal confrontation with someone before slamming it down onto its cradle, then going back to work like nothing happened.

In my memory, all these desks were fronted by Pete Callas and Harry Blaze, who loved auto racing and sent me more than once to the Englishtown Speedway to photograph the painful and deafeningly-loud drag races. And the copy editor and merry punster Ralph Curcio sat just outside the photo department door.

Sports I see Jim Gauger, Nancy Colasurdo, Anthony Coleman, Tony Persichelli, Len Bardsley, Barry Federovitch, Craig Haley, Chris Edwards, Juan Torres, Joe Lewin, Mary Ann Tarr, Al Mattei, Larry Hanover, Tom McCarthy, John Nalbone, Harvey Yavner, Jed Weisberger and Phil Coffey. Must be others, too.

Though I say “I see (these people)…” none of these photos exist, because I didn’t take them. The memories are okay, but photographs would be better.

Lisa Cunningham and then Brian Malone in that big corner office.

Publisher Richard Bilotti, either in his sun-drenched office on the other side of the building, or strolling across the Times parking lot from his Cadillac, always ready with a nasally, “Hi, how you doing?” when he saw me, though after working there 8, 10, 12, years, he always seemed to be just meeting me for the first time. “Nice to meet you, where do you work?”

Photos of Diana Groden and Shirley Bouchard in the library assembling our photo clips daily creating archives of our work.

I always wonder what happened to the photographic archives once the newspaper moved to its new location, and where are all those envelopes of negatives and slides. I sure hope they were saved for the treasure they are.

Warren Kruse working the color separations and explaining the process, always punctuated with a “See what I mean?”

Sally Stang and a few other faces down in composing. They were always good to stop in on going in or out of the building.

The lunch room we would run to once we had our film in the developer. “I have 7 minutes, be right back,” knowing someone would pull our film if the buzzer went off and we weren’t back, or it would just overdevelop a bit. I don’t remember ever sitting down to eat in there, except maybe for the complimentary Thanksgiving feast.

The vending machines for a Oh Henry bar for the way home. The freight elevator at the end of the hallway, remember that metal beast?

The advertising department with its whole crew of sales folks. I want to revisit that in photos. I think I remember a sunlit room with windows.

The guard station and our front and center photographers parking spots–we were always darting in and out, and were treated very well.

Even the printing press, all that amazing inky metal machinery. God, I wish there was a documentary made about the operation we had there. The images and sounds in movies like The Post are all I have, and those are fictional accounts. I never photographed our printing press a single time, and I passed it everyday.

Wishing for a Shoebox

Now, those days are long gone and there’s no going back. Like David Burnett, there’s only the wish for the shoebox full of photographs. Might I suggest making them today, photos of the ordinary things around us? Not just Thanksgiving dinner but Tuesday night dinner. Kids doing homework. People just being, the ones that are around us that matter most, that we don’t think to photograph because they’re always there.

So were those folks at the newspaper. Until they weren’t. And now, a photo album of pictures would be so welcome for the chance to time travel back when I was among these wonderful people, colleagues who were fellow artists with cameras or words.

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