Photographing O.J. p.13

By: ALLAN WOLPER THE RADIO REPORTS crackled with misinformation.
O.J. Simpson was giving himself up.
O.J. Simpson has disappeared.
O.J. Simpson has killed himself.
And every journalist in Los Angeles was looking for him.
Al Schaben, a 27-year-old photographer for the Los Angeles Times checked in with Jose Barrera, his Orange County editor for the latest rumor.
"They told me he was spotted by the El Torro exit on the freeway," said Schaben. "Here I am a couple of months in L.A. trying to figure out how to get there."
Schaben gulped down some water, hopped into his car and careened south on the freeway.
Keeping one ear tuned to his car radio and a wary eye on the five-inch television set on his seat, with repeated glances at his Los Angeles street map, Schaben joined the media horde hunting for O.J.'s Bronco.
"I figured I would run into every photographer in L.A.," Schaben recalled as he relived the scene that riveted America in June 1994.
But he didn't. And then Schaben spotted a television news truck that seemed to know where it was going. He followed it and wound up in a car-pool lane.
"It was incredible," Schaben said. "I got out and there was O.J. heading right for us. I asked the TV guy if I could climb up on the truck with him, and he said, 'OK, but don't bounce around.' I was careful."
And moments later, Schaben and the television news photographer stood gingerly on the truck roof and photographed the bizarre slow chase scene of Simpson, in his white Bronco, followed by a phalanx of police cars with their headlights on.
"I saw Al Cowlings clearly," Schaben said, referring to the former football player and longtime sidekick of Simpson. "Cowlings was looking straight ahead, and somber. O.J. was crouching down so you couldn't see him."
Schaben still seems awed by the twists and turns that helped him capture one of the most important news events in recent journalism history.
"I just got real lucky," he said.
Schaben's photos appeared in the Los Angeles Times, U.S. News & World Report, TV Guide, Newsweek magazine, and the Globe, a national tabloid.
But his photo spread went unrecorded in journalism circles for more than a year because they were mistakenly credited to Larry Ho, another Los Angeles Times photographer.
"It certainly wasn't Larry's fault," Schaben laughed. "The paper sent out two pictures, one of O.J. in a police car, which Larry took, and the one in the Bronco. The names just got mixed up. It all worked out. I got $2,000 for the shots."
And early in October, Schaben got what photographers sometimes crave almost as much as the money ? full credit for his pictures.
Newsweek republished the Bronco shot, as did TV Guide, after Simpson was acquitted of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
"It was worth the wait," he said.

Long trip to L.A.
Schaben's odyssey to Los Angeles was as circuitous as the one that landed him the Bronco photo.
He entered the University of Nebraska in 1986, then dropped out to enter the Army, where he was trained as a journalist, then returned to Lincoln to get his degree.
A fortuitous move.
Schaben joined the student newspaper, the Daily Nebraskan, and his work caught the attention of Julia Dean, one of the photojournalism faculty members.
"She invited me and another student, William Laurer, to go with her to India to help her start her photo agency," Schaben recalled. "We thought it would be great."
There was another reason Schaben, a Catholic from Seward, Neb., wanted to go to India.
"I kept thinking all the way there, 'Wouldn't it be neat if I could get to meet Mother Teresa and take a photo of her?' " Schaben said. "I had read her biography and everything else I could."
And he did, but the internationally renowned nun wasn't anxious to have her picture taken.
"She asked me, 'How can I allow you to take my picture when I have turned down so many others?' " Schaben said, recalling the conversation he had with her in Calcutta. "I told her how much it would mean to me, and then she said, 'Put something in writing and we'll see.' "
And that's what Schaben did.
"I wrote from the heart," he said. "And she wrote back a little permission slip that let me take pictures of her. The other sisters said I was only the second still photographer she posed for.
Afterwards, Schaben knelt down in the chapel with Mother Teresa and prayed with her.
"It was an amazing feeling praying next to Mother Teresa," Schaben said. "I kept thinking how much my parents would have loved to have seen me there. To have been there. They're so devout. Boy, that blew me away kneeling next to her."
Schaben has one small regret about that experience. He does not have a picture of himself with Mother Teresa.
"It didn't seem right to have anyone take that picture," Schaben said wistfully.
Schaben's solitary photo of Mother Teresa, praying in the chapel of her Calcutta home with the morning light streaming in, won an Award of Excellence in the 1993 National Press Photographer's Association competition.
Schaben, who has a solid string of mentors, also keeps in constant touch with a photojournalist who still works at the University of Nebraska.
"George Tuck is the guy who did it for all of us," said Schaben, who recently returned to Lincoln to pay homage to him. "A lot of photography alums got together and decided we wanted to do something for George. We each gave him one of our images. I gave him the one of Mother Teresa."
Tuck, who has taught photography at Nebraska for 25 years, said Schaben worries himself to death over every assignment. "Then he comes back and shoots the hell out of it," Tuck said.

Getting to L.A.
Con Keyes, a longtime Los Angeles Times photographer, said that his paper stole Schaben away from the Detroit Free Press. "They're probably still mad at us," Keyes said.
Keyes said that Marsha Jo Prouse at the Free Press had nominated Schaben to participate in a World Press seminar sponsored by Time magazine when he was working as a student intern in Detroit.
"I was one of about five people looking around the country for talent and Marsha told me about Al," Keyes recalled.
"He didn't get to the seminar, but we liked his portfolio and hired him. He certainly is an outstanding young photographer."
Tuck said he wasn't surprised that Schaben got lost on the freeway and winded up with the Bronco pictures.
"It's his typical modus operandi," Tuck said.
The Nebraska professor seemed to suffer more than Schaben over the Bronco credit mix-up, especially because he believes photographers are not appreciated as much as they should be.
"One of the things that always bothered me was the way photographers are treated in relation to writers," he said. "Reporters always tend to get much larger point size than the photo credit lines. It's a subtle kind of discrimination, even though research shows that the story is the last thing that is read in a newspaper."


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here