My first published photograph appears in an overleaf at the front of the 1973 Central Catholic yearbook, The Rattler. It shows George McGovern speaking at a campaign stop at the Alamo just before the 1972 Presidential election he lost to Richard Nixon. I have been thinking about McGovern this year as Bernie Sanders has made his run for president. It’s not often that someone with truly revolutionary ideas makes it to the main stage of American media.
It was not easy to get into the Photography club at Central. We were all encouraged to join an extracurricular activity, and photography was the only thing I wanted to do. Very few freshmen were admitted, and I did not make the first cut. I persisted by dropping by the darkroom nearly every day and eventually when one of the members went off to play in the band, I was allowed to work in the darkroom and become part of the club. Still, the competition for photo assignments was fierce, and freshmen rarely got to touch one of the school cameras.
On the night in question, there was some major school activity – perhaps a football game – and none of the seniors was available to cover the McGovern visit. It wasn’t considered a high priority, but it was an election year, and the yearbook editors thought it was important to commemorate the election. I volunteered, and found myself with a Nikon Nikkormat loaded with Tri-X black and white film and a 200 mm telephoto lens and headed to the Alamo. When I got there, everyone was crowded to the barricades making it hard to find a good angle, the only place I was able to get a clear shot from was on top of a good old O.P. Schnabel’s Beautify San Antonio litter boxes that were strapped to light poles all over downtown at the time. That location on top of the litter box put me just above the crowd, a spotlight dominated the frame throwing off the light meter and resulting in under exposed film. In the darkroom, it took some additional manipulation to get a usable image. It turned out to be a great lesson in photographer’s luck – looking at the contact sheet from that session, the only workable image was the 36th frame, the last frame on the roll.
This is the second in a new series. FotoHistoria is a project that will collect milestone photos from my archive with stories that helped shape my career in photography.