Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ollie North, nearly 20 years ago

Time for another photo from the vault...

I found this image recently while going through some of my old files as I was preparing for a speaking engagement.

It was made on July 8, 1987 (my gosh, ages ago!) during the Iran-Contra hearings on Capitol Hill.

The mood in DC that summer was electric as the hearings were the talk of the town and especially the much anticipated testimony of one (then) obscure Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North.

North tried to keep a low profile during the summer, though a photographer dogged his every move -- my good friend Ken Jarecke , of Contact Press Images .

Ken saw a very personal side of North documenting events like graduations, the comings and goings at North's McLean, VA home, and made images no one else had of North by his talent and by sheer force of will. I was in awe of that commitment and dedication.

I didn't have Ken's persistance and determination to chronicle North to that extent -- I was waiting for the hearing.

That day the press corps vied for positions and angles for the historic photograph of North being sworn in. There must have been at least 40 photographers present to witness that (and you could barely hear him say "I do" over the sounds of the motor drives).

Positions had been planned out in advance following the typical DC "pecking order" -- meaning the bigger and more established presence in town, the better your spot for this event. I was relegated to the back corner and made a pretty useless frame when you compare it to the front and center positions the wires and magazines would command. Oh well, that's how the game is played.

Terry Ashe from Time magazine, a Brooks Institute-trained photographer, made the most amazing photograph of the swearing in -- shot on a 4 x 5 inch view camera showing the enormity and splendor of the room and all the characters. That image appeared in the magazine the next week as a double truck (2 full pages, full bleed).

It was simply astounding when you consider that Terry shot the photograph with an incredibly slow shutter speed, on transparency film and nailed it. One frame. Pretty old school, but an awesome, awesome historical image.

Most of the morning was spent listening to the various members of the committee get their turn in the spotlight to make their statements. That continued on for what seemed like days but finally there was a break for lunch.

Following the break, the Committee's counsel, John Nields began to interrogate North, who was seated with his attorney Brendan Sullivan.

Nields, a brilliant, though slight and bookish attorney, appeared a stark contrast to the career Marine, adorned with his battle ribbons. Most thought that North would be eaten for lunch by the powerful figures towering over him during this hearing/inquest -- including me.

In this photograph, North fired back at Nields, in answer to a question, practically jumping out of his chair. I knew in that instant that I wasn't the only one that had horribly underestimated North. He turned the tables on the committee.

North, testifying under the protection of immunity, showed the fire that would eventually endear him to many Americans, and the Gary Cooper-like screen presence that would keep him in the media's eye to this day (he's a Fox TV host).

After this exchange and after making this frame it was late in the day with far fewer photographers in attendance. I looked over to my colleague (and fellow young buck) Chris Wilkins, then with AFP photos, and we shared a smile.

We both had horrible positions in the morning for the swearing in, but we each captured this moment (for me it would be on page one in the next day's Tribune) and suddenly felt a lot better.


Blogger Peggy Gero DaValt said...

Hiya Paul -

I loved this story that you wrote about this photo you took of Lt. Col. Oliver North.

It so reminds me of several sayings....that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and "patience comes to those who wait."

Both of these adages play out as you detail the background about the photo and what it entailed to get this photo.

I have so enjoyed your "vault" features and the photos that you have shared with us.

You have such a talent...maybe someday, Kate, will inherit that and can learn to love the photography and journalism that you so obviously love.

Keep up the great work.

Have you ever considered a book called "The Vault" and do one side of the page with a large photo and then the history behind how the photo was captured, etc., etc.?

I think it'd be a hit.


Peggy :-)

9:19 AM  
Blogger Ruth Anne Adams said...

Peg: Patience is a virtue.

Good things come to those who wait. But I think I know what you meant.

Paul: I always love a good back-story.

12:14 PM  
Blogger AnneGero said...

Peggy took the words right out of my mouth. I do hope you consider making a book of your best photos and the history involved. This was such a good history lesson for those of us who were not so involved. Keep up the beautiful work, Paul. You have a real gift.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Peggy Gero DaValt said...

Hey Kins -

You're proofreader brain went on a bit of a vacation....*lol*

Yup, you're correct...Patience is a virtue and good things come to those who wait....I just made up my own..*grin*

Peggy :)

7:29 AM  
Blogger Joe in Indy said...

Paul, I enjoyed your story behind this picture, the first one that I opened after my inaugural visit to your blog. I relate a bit to the storytelling; as you well know, there are stories like this (some interesting, others maybe not so much) behind every picture someone takes. I like Peg's idea, though. With your experience and "vault," I'm sure you'd have a book's worth to tell. Sure, finding the time would be a challenge, but since there is no deadline (unless you go through a publisher that imposes one, of course) you can take however long you want or need to make it happen, right?

9:42 AM  

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