Editor's Note: The third part in a series.
It was 1980 and it was an incredible year to be a young photojournalist at the Merced Sun-Star.
The young newsroom staff figured that after the Stayner kidnapping story and a visit by then-President Jimmy Carter, life would return to normal at this small, hometown newspaper.
Photo opportunities for a staff photographer at a smaller daily paper normally consisted of high school and junior college sports assignments, local spot news, random images documenting life in Merced, self-generated photo stories and some advertising photos.
The everyday routine is not quite as glamorous as it may seem. But even at that, the life of a photojournalist has its moments.
Some events that you photograph are joyous, some tragic.
Fatal car accidents were the worst for me. I hated going to them and tried to avoid them at all cost. I remember the first one that I covered happened early on in my days as a full-timer at the paper.
My friend and fellow photographer, Eric Luse, and I were hanging out in the photo lab one hot summer day. Suddenly, the police scanner, which was always on in our office, came to life with the report of a very serious accident on southbound Highway 99 between Merced and Chowchilla. It had been a slow day in the photo department so we decided to take a drive and check it out.
As we approached the accident the traffic was at a standstill with the crash blocking both southbound lanes. We were forced to park and, with our gear, run the last half-mile to the scene.
A semi-truck going north had crossed the center median and crashed into a car going south. It was a horrific accident with three fatalities.
I had just run a half-mile on a 100-degree day with twenty pounds of camera gear and when I saw the first body, I lost it. I became nauseous and almost passed out. I certainly was in no shape to make photographs, so it was a good thing that Eric was there.
Later that day, at the end of our shift, Eric took me out for a beer, and we talked about it. I did get hardened to photographing bad things, but it was never easy, and it had a lot to do with me wanting to photograph beautiful, positive images -- not death and destruction.
As the early '80s wore on, there were some interesting stories to work on: a string of large fires in downtown Merced, photographing the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park during their drive for the Super Bowl in 1982, photographing Ansel Adams in his Carmel home for a story on the great landscape photographer.
The last big story that I covered during my days at the Sun-Star was in March of 1983. That was the year that Queen Elizabeth made a three-day visit to Yosemite National Park.
My friend Eric had left the Sun-Star a few months before to work for the San Francisco Chronicle. We were both excited that we each got the assignment to photograph the queen in Yosemite for our newspapers -- or I should say, try to photograph the queen.
Other than two or three planned photo-ops, her security people were very secretive about the queen's agenda while in the park. Eric and I, along with several other media people, spent most of our time trying to figure out the scanner codes for the frequencies of the authorities' two-way radios so we could hear where she was going.
By the middle of 1983 I was getting restless. I had been a full-time photojournalist at the Sun-Star for almost four years and was yearning to do something different in photography.
I wanted more of a creative challenge; I wanted to photograph beauty, not death. In December of 1983 I left the paper and, along with my wife, Diane, bought a long-established photography studio in downtown Merced.
Ironically, we purchased the studio from my longtime friend Ron Mayfield, who, many years before, put in a good word for me for a part-time job at the Sun-Star when I was a 16-year-old high school student.
For those of you that like to photograph beauty, I still have a couple of openings left for my fall landscape photography workshop on Sunday October 28th. E-mail me for more info. firstname.lastname@example.org