Category: Archive

Through history’s lens

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Drew, still a college student and not yet 21, had been covering the primary for the Pasadena Star-News.
He’d seen the candidates who were on the ballot, as well as Vice President Hubert Humphrey who wasn’t, when they visited the city 12 miles outside of L.A.
He remembered in particular making pictures standing beside Bobby Kennedy as he spoke on a visit to the San Gabriel Mission.
There was little real security, by later standards. Three family friends protected the senator and his wife Ethel, who was pregnant with their 11th child – former ex-FBI agent Bill Barry, ex-NFL star Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier and Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson. They were there to keep the “nuts and the kooks away,” said the photojournalist, and, in theory at least, overly enthusiastic crowds at a safe distance.
Drew, who’s been with the Associated Press for 38 years, recalled hastily organized motorcades in small-town Southern California. “We used to be able to ride on the hood or the trunk of the car to photograph him waving and shaking hands,” he said.
“Everybody loved John Kennedy and they figured this guy was going to be the next John Kennedy,” he said.
“Every time he would come into our area,” he added, “I would seek him out or I would be assigned to go and cover him.
“I wasn’t assigned that evening [June 4], but I didn’t want to watch the election coverage on TV, so I went down to the Ambassador Hotel,” the photojournalist recalled.
That compulsion to be there, to see it in person rather than stay home and watch it on TV, has served him well for 40 years. And lately, especially in the hours after dawn, it brings him to a television studio. He’s a regular on the set of NBC’s “Today Show.”
On last Thursday, he made pictures of this year’s “American Idol” winner and the runner-up, and White House press secretary turned author Scott McClellan. Later Drew reviewed the morning’s work on his laptop while sitting having coffee at a Midtown Starbucks. (By lunchtime, one of the McClellan shots was accompanying a story on the New York Times Web site.)
The job still excites him every day and it took him a few moments for him to refocus from the “Today Show” to a crime that took place 40 years ago.
“I got off the stage before he finished his speech,” Drew said. “You couldn’t back out through the crowd because it was solid people, so I went off to my left and into a door that led into the kitchen which was just off the stage.”
Kennedy said in conclusion to his wildly enthusiastic supporters: “Now it’s on the Chicago, and let’s win there,” and gave the peace sign.
“I was getting a drink of water when he walked by,” Drew remembered. “I fell in behind him, I was one step behind him.
“He was shaking hands with people, and all of sudden I looked up and there was this gun coming over his shoulder, over his right shoulder and was pointing right at me.
“And that’s when I hit the floor,” he said. “I was in the army reserve at the time, so I knew about weapons and enough about self-preservation to get out of the way.”
Two or three years earlier, Drew’s father bought him a 35mm rangefinder camera for his birthday — probably his 18th, he said, thinking back. “It was a Yashica Lynx 1000, if I remember correctly,” he added.
Driving to college one morning, with the camera on the seat beside him, he happened upon an accident. A street-sweeper had overturned and the driver was trapped underneath. He made some pictures.
“By the time the photographer [from the local daily] arrived, the guy had been extricated,” Drew said.
The photographer said the paper would give him two options: he could sell a photo for $5 or get his name in the paper and a free roll of film. Drew went for the latter, primarily for the thrill of having a photo credit. But he believes that the free roll was a clever policy, as a young photographer would think of the paper the next time he shot something interesting.

Four witnesses
There were fires to be covered and more accidents, especially after he got a radio scanner. Then he got some assignments and a career began to take shape. That’s how the mild-mannered and soft-spoken Richard Drew, who wasn’t yet eligible to vote, found himself covering an American tragedy.
Being a very junior member of the press corps, though, he’d had no interaction with the senator over the previous weeks. He hadn’t the special access given to a favored few, particularly those from the big news magazines.
Kennedy, of course, had been dealing with news photographers and cameramen since he was 12, when his father was appointed ambassador to the Court of St. James. And they crowded around him at the podium the night of June 4-5. But only four of them witnessed his assassination in the narrow kitchen passageway moments later.
They were Ron Bennett of UPI, Boris Yaro of the Los Angeles Times, Bill Eppridge of Time (whose photographic collection “A Time it Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties” has just been published) and Drew of the Pasadena Star-News.
Yaro told a documentary filmmaker on the 20th anniversary of the assassination that after the first couple of shots the crowd parted. “We have this movie-like, unbelievable, almost surrealistic scene taking place out here in front, only there’s no popcorn. It’s reality. I’m trying to make a picture, maybe, but what I really did was I froze. I did not move to intercept Sirhan. I did not move to protect Bobby.”
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan discharged all eight bullets from his revolver leaving five people wounded.
Amid the claustrophobic pandemonium, busboy Juan Romero, who’d just shaken his hand, knelt to comfort the stricken Kennedy, while the senator’s bodyguards and writer George Plimpton struggled to subdue the assassin.
There are no moving pictures of the frantic scene, but reporter Andrew West of KRKD Radio is heard shouting: “Get the gun, Rafer, get the gun. Get a hold of his thumb and break it, if you have to! Get his thumb.”
“This is history,” said the L.A. Times’ Yaro as he shook off someone who objected to his taking photographs of Kennedy lying on the floor.
Drew stood on a stainless steel table above the fray. He and Eppridge have exchanged photos in recent years that show from their different perspectives Ethel Kennedy begging them not to take photos of her wounded husband.
This was before the Zapruder film was released, and the most famous American victims of assassination — JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. and Lincoln — had not been shown bloodied or wounded.
However, in dying, RFK retained his dignity. Indeed in the Drew photo reproduced here [and on page 13 of the print and digital editions] he looks peaceful and, in a strange way, his visage is evocative of Lincoln.

Tumultuous year
The young photojournalist stayed up through the night at the paper to develop the pictures and help put together a written account of what he’d seen. Meanwhile his editor had figured out, using Coles Reverse Directory and other means, that Sirhan lived in Pasadena with his mother.
“Myself and a Los Angeles Times photographer [Yaro] showed up simultaneously before the police or the Secret Service or anybody else showed up. It was really odd,” he said.
“How do you figure out how a man lives? You look through his garbage,” he said. “And it was out there in plain sight. So we started looking through it to see what was going on. And we found spent shells. So he probably had been taking target practice.
“We never saw his mother that morning,” he said.
The following day, June 6, the nation and the world heard that Bobby Kennedy was dead. Drew, having being in the eye of the storm, performed a relatively mundane task for his father, who worked at the federal courts in Los Angeles. He made a sign that said the offices would be closed.
“It was sort of like 9/11. The mood was very somber,” he recalled.
Despite what had happened to President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and to Martin Luther King Jr. just two months previously, the assassination came as a huge shock to ordinary people. “It came out of the blue. No one thought about it,” he said of the possibility of another assassination.
He doesn’t believe that he suffered any traumatic ill effects afterwards. “Photojournalists and journalists are first-responders,” he said “We record history every day. That’s our job.”
Drew’s account of the tragedy had been picked up by the AP or some other news agency. “Somehow it ended up in Germany. And I got this long letter written in German,” he recalled. “I had the mechanic for my Volkswagen do a translation for me.
“It said that I should have sacrificed myself and thrown myself into front of Robert Kennedy, so I could give my life so he could go on to be a great president.”
“I think I still have it some place,” he said.
More recently, Drew was contacted by a woman who runs a Web site that argues RFK was the victim of a conspiracy. He couldn’t help her. He knows that Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed Robert Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel on that June night in 1968. He has no opinion either way as to whether others might have been involved.
In the end, the young news photographer made it to the Democratic Convention in Chicago representing the Pasadena Star-News and several other California dailies in the Ritter chain. He photographed the chaos both inside the convention center and on the streets downtown during that August week.
“It was interesting for a young guy from a small newspaper in Southern California to be an eyewitness to this whole thing,” he said.
Drew, the father of four children, two of them grown, said that the title of a CBS documentary, “1968: A Crack in History,” summed up that tumultuous year

Baptism by fire
When he joined the AP not long afterwards, the reverberations of those events were still being felt. On his first day, Feb. 16, 1970, he was sent to cover rioting at Berkeley provoked by developments in the Chicago 7 case. He was eating dinner at home, his workday apparently over, when the office called to say that a bomb had gone off in Golden Gate Park police station. One officer was dead. Being new to San Francisco, he had a problem finding Golden Gate Park.
“It was a baptism by fire,” he said of the beginning of an AP career that is in its 39th year.
It’s almost impossible to list the highlights from four decades. But when asked, Drew said that he’s covered the Kentucky Derby on eight occasions and the Olympic Games three times; he was in Zaire with Muhammad Ali for three weeks and in Argentina during the Falklands War. Though he’s worked many thousands of days for the world’s most famous news agency, one inevitably stands out – Sept. 11, 2001.
Drew was covering a Fashion Week event at Bryant Park in Midtown that morning – specifically a maternity fashion show using pregnant models.
“I was killing time talking to the CNN cameraman, when he heard on his earpiece that there was an explosion at the World Trade Center headquarters. And then a few seconds later, he said ‘No, an airplane has hit the Trade Center.’
“Almost simultaneously, my cell phone went off,” he said. It was an editor from the office: “Bag the fashion show,” she said. “You have to go.”
He took the 2/3 express subway downtown to what soon became known as Ground Zero. He was photographing the burning towers just minutes later when a policeman alerted him to falling bodies.
Drew took scores of photos of the grim spectacle. One, of a man wearing what appears to be a white tunic and black pants, was published in the New York Times and in papers around the nation and the globe the next day. It became known as “The Falling Man.”
“That was the one chosen because of the symmetry of it,” he explained about a photo that has been used only very rarely since.
“They say it’s probably the most famous picture that you’ve never seen,” he said.
Drew and his wife, journalist and academic Molly Gordy, wrote an op-ed about it for the Los Angeles Times. That paper ran the photo and it’s featured in the AP’s 2007 book about its history, “Breaking News.”
“The Falling Man,” who remains unidentified, was the subject of a long essay by Tom Junod in Esquire magazine, which in turn led to a documentary by Britain’s Channel 4. The film, which was shown on the Discovery Channel, was made by Henry Singer who spent six months in the U.S. researching it. Drew said it was concerned with the “social implications of that… why hasn’t it appeared,” given that there is otherwise so much graphic violence and horror in the news media.
He added: “It’s a very peaceful picture.”
Asked what general qualities make a good photojournalist aside from skill and speed, Drew said simply: “You have to have an interest in your job.”
He added: “I say to a Daily News, or a Post or a Times photographer, ‘That was a nice picture you had in the paper today,’ and they say, ‘Oh, I don’t even read my newspaper anymore.’
“Now, I don’t know how you how you can do that. You have to have an interest in what you do,” he said.
A colleague told him when he first joined the AP: “The most important thing you can do is do your homework.”
Drew has read three newspapers before he arrives at work in the morning. “A big requisite to becoming a good news photographer is to know a little about a lot of things,” he said.
Photographers who are “going through the motions” can survive in the profession, but Drew added: “I feel, in my own mind, I have a leg up on them.”

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