By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
AS THE U.S. marks a myriad of historic 50th anniversaries, a group of people who have chronicled those events also is celebrating its semicentennial.
The National Press Photographers Association has come a long way from its first meeting in an Atlantic City, N.J., hotel in June 1946.
“Actually, they had tried to start it before and it had failed,” said charter member Morris Berman. “We just couldn’t get enough photographers all over the country to become interested or become members.”
As Claude Cookman detailed in A Voice is Born, a history of the NPPA’s founding, prior to World War II, Indianapolis News photographer Joseph Cravens founded the National News Photographers Association.
“Although it tried to live up to the ‘national’ in its name, its appeal never extended much beyond the Midwest,” Cookman explained. “During World War II, while many news photographers were being drafted into the military, the NPPA faded quietly into an organization in name only.”
The NPPA “developed in the mind of Burt Williams, who worked on the Hearst paper, the [Pittsburgh] Sun-Telegraph,” Berman said. “I worked with him, so we exchanged ideas. He finally got the thing started again and he asked Joe Costa [of the New York Daily News] if he’d be the president, because he felt that Joe had more personality and could sway people, and he did.”
The first NPPA meeting was preceded by a 10-city telephone conference call ? the first hour compliments of AT&T ? that set the groundwork for the new organization.
The neophyte association was aided by the Cigar Institute of America, which underwrote some of the costs. The Cigar Institute, which also had an image problem, had run contests for news photographers, offering cash prizes for pictures of men smoking cigars in favorable light, Cookman wrote.
“There are not too many of us around, who are charter members,” commented Herb Schwartz, a senior cameraman for CBS News.
“The New York Press Photographers Association, which is one of the oldest news organizations in the United States, was in existence” when the NPPA was formed, said Schwartz, a former NYPPA president, noting that Costa was a member of the NYPPA.
“Most of our members of the New York board felt [NPPA] was sort of like an intrusion into their backyard, so a lot of them objected to it,” Schwartz said.
“But a lot of the younger people, and I guess in those days I could consider myself a younger person, thought it would be a great idea and we went along with it.
“Everybody who joined at that time was considered sort of a renegade,” Schwartz continued, “because the New York organization felt it would be sort of an intrusion on their territory having another group come in.
“When the thing actually got started, it was an interesting concept,” he said, adding that the NPPA opened its membership to still photographers as well as the newsreels.
One of the key issues behind the founding of NPPA was to give photographers a louder voice in fighting for cameras in the courtroom.
“We felt we were news media also and were entitled to be in there,” Berman said. “It was a tough battle. We only had dues of $8 and $10, and we were trying to finance these things in the courtroom.
“Some of the judges went with us, and we put through a lot of them,” he said, adding, “Even today, that O.J. Simpson thing, they’re having second thoughts of it now, aren’t they?”
Other issues of concern to the NPPA were photographers’ rights and stemming the tide of physical attacks against news photographers.
The group was very careful not to get involved with labor relations of any sort, lest it be seen as a union by publishers, Cookman’s book noted.
Berman, who worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the Sun-Telegraph folded, has not missed an NPPA convention in 50 years. He, Schwartz and Joe Rosenthal all spoke with E&P during the NPPA’s 50th annual convention in Washington, D.C.
Berman recalled the first convention in Atlantic City in 1946, when there were, “I think, 33 people . . . and now we have 11,000 members, so we must have done something right.
“Every year now, for 50 years, I’ve been coming to it,” he said, “and sometimes they talk about the same thing, but there’ve been so many changes,” such as higher ethical standards, the increase in the number of women in the profession, and considerable improvement in technology.
One of the most notable changes in the convention was the elimination of the Miss NPPA beauty pageant, which was conducted each year from 1947 until 1964.
The pageant was part of a plan by Atlantic City promoter Mall Dodson. In return for sponsoring and helping to promote the contest, the cost of the NPPA convention was underwritten by the city.
Berman recalled, with a laugh, having more trouble with the contestants’ mothers, who were there as chaperons, than with the women in the competition.
“I’m real proud of the fact that we decided to eliminate the contest and stand on our own,” Berman said. “Now they charge us full price for everything, where we used to get subsidies for the hotel, but that’s another chapter.
“It’s part of our history and we can’t forget it, although I think a lot of our members would like to forget it,”
Thankfully, women have gone from being singled out by NPPA for their physical attributes to being honored for their professional excellence as Photographer of the Year, NPPA’s highest honor.
The technology also has changed markedly, both for still photographers and television cameramen.
Schwartz started his career as a still photographer for the New York Sun and then moved to CBS in 1950 after the paper folded.
“Certainly the industry has grown, and it’s expanding and changing almost daily,” he said.
“The concept of news has changed from what you shoot today will be seen tomorrow, to what you shoot today you’re seeing right now,” Schwartz said.
One thing that will never change, according to Berman, is the photographer.
“The man or woman behind the camera will never be replaced by electronics, because it’s the imagination that makes a good picture,” he said. “You get six people at one scene and you get six different versions. Sometimes they see things that the others don’t see. It’s a wonderful, wonderful profession.”
But Schwartz said he missed the
admiration photographers used to
“The respect of the news photographer is something that we all miss,” he said. “There used to be a tremendous, not tremendous, but a good regard toward working news photographers. There was always an appreciation and a good feeling.
“People nowadays seem to have an idea that the media is down on government and people. It’s a pity. Those of us who are old dyed-in-the-wool newspeople just hate to see that happen.
“It comes from, obviously, there are bad apples in every barrel,” he said. “But let’s face it. The news nowadays is not very encouraging. There are so many murders and other things that upset the public. Unfortunately, you’re either the bearer of good or bad tidings. “Those of us who go out and shoot the story as it is, are there to do a job and not put anything in the story that isn’t there. Having a good eye for a good news picture is still a premium in our [business] and should be,” he added.
Photographer Joe Rosenthal, who took the famous shot of the Marines raising the flag on Mt. Suribachi following the battle of Iwo Jima, noted that more important than the development of the equipment is the development of the photographer.
“In my day, a photographer was one who was, in effect, a refugee from high school,” Rosenthal said.
Photographers now, he continued, study journalism courses, the social science, political science, and they become photography majors.
“I would say, and without offending my colleagues, that they’re more energetic, they’re smarter, and more intelligent,” Rosenthal said of the professionals today. “They’ve studied what they’re about to go into, and it shows in the types of pictures. As far as war pictures are concerned, I don’t know how to put a factor on it. I would say that they’re 50 times improved over 50 years ago of my time.”
During the NPPA convention, Rosenthal was honored during a ceremony at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, an imposing monument based on his photograph.
“For a long time, for a number of years, from time to time there would arise contention about how it was taken,” Rosenthal said of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. “I still rely on what I feel is the truth. It was my turn to benefit from a coming together of a number of accidental things. Some of those elements, ordinarily you’d think some of them would be in my favor and some not. In this, every element of it happened, and I reacted. It could have been any other competent photographer in that position. In which case, the poor fellow might have had to suffer through some of the [controversial] parts,” he added, laughing.
“I’m satisfied now, and particularly recently, because of this ? whatever the magic number comes up, 50 years ? whole swarm of new journalists and the books that I have noted, they are coming up with what I consider a good and fair story about the entire, if you want to call it, affair,” he said.
“The trouble is, in one or another of the books, it tends to be a little flowery about myself, almost embarrassing,” Rosenthal noted.
“But how could I ever have suspected that this would go on for 50 years? I had no idea when I took it, of course, that it meant that much,” he said.
?(President Harry Truman autographed the NPPA’s gavel, made from wookd discarded during the replacement of the White House roof. With Truman were (from left) NPPA’s first president, Joe Costa; secretary, Burt Williams; and treasurer, Charlie Mack.) [Photo & Caption]
?(Some of those at the NPPA’s first convention in Atlantic City, N.J., gathered for a group picture. They were: At the table (from left) an unidentified stenographer, Joe Costa, Burt Williams and Charles Mack; First row (from left) Abe Fox, Frank Merta, Tony Garnet, Frank Johnston, unidentified, Morris Berman; Second row (from left) A. Aubrey Bodine, unidentified, Murray Becker, Robert Sherrill, Clarence Finn, Pat Candido, Lester MacLellan, Richard Sarno, unidentified, William Eckenberg, unidentified; Third row (from left) unidentified, Roger Terhune, unidentified, Bugs Barringer, Russell Hamm; Fourth row (from left) William Finn, unidentified, unidentified, and George Shivers.) [Photo & Caption]