JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 425
Many years ago I went to the house of a man with books to sell. The house was terrific, with a view of the Potomac and just outside the district line--a hard thing to accomplish in housing in Washington. The elderly gent's house was open, airy and basically wallpapered with large format, very big photographs. Many of the photographs I recognized--and of those, many were iconic images. I said something simpy like, "so I see that yo collect historic photographs." "No, I don't" he said. In that moment I thought he was just being a wiseacre with me, He quickly said, "I took them".
Ho-ly Crap, I thought.
I honestly didn't know what to say--I had seen so many of them in my life, and so often, that like a lot of things, these images were just there, part of the cultural landscape. And here was the man who took them. After I got over my shock and came to a sense or two, I interview hi a little. The man behind the camera's name was Ed Clark.
Ed (1912-2000) was about 80 when I met him, and he was selling some books because he was getting ready to leave DC and head back home to Nashville. He was very quick with strong recall. I asked him about his ultra-famous photo of CPO Graham Jackson, preserved forever, who on 23 April 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, was playing Dvorak's Going Home as Franklin Roosevelt's casket was being taken to the train for a last ride to D.C. Jackson was at Warm Springs to perform for Roosevelt when the President died on the 23rd. I wondered about where the rest of the crowd was, and particularly, where the rest of the photographers were, at that moment After all, FDR was about the most famous man in the world, and perhaps the most important, when he died in the last stretch of WWII. Surely there must've been tons more photojournalist there to record the scene of FDR's body being removed. "There were" Ed said. I asked him where they were. He explained that they behind him, which would've been in front of him, actually--he was at the rear of the crowd, with every other photographer pointing their cameras forwards, recording the movement of FDR's body. Ed said that he turned around ("because that picture was already being made")and found the rest of the crowd, the people who were already there at Warm Springs, watching from a respectful distance. And it was at that point that CPO Jackson started to play his accordion, the music being one of FDR's favorite pieces. "They weren't looking the wrong way", Ed Clark said, "just not the right way". And Ed made the photo that everyone else missed, because they're faced the obvious.
This second picture captures both the moment and the photographers whop were missing it. The scene is of course General De Gaulle making his triumphant return to the liberated city of Paris, walking back into the city through the Arc de Triomphe on 25 August 1944. I am also completely certain that the picture was taken by another LIFE photographer (Ed Clark having worked their for years contributing many photo-stories and covers), Ralph Morse (my original doesn't have any identification on the back, though it certainly looks like the others Morse made at that moment). Morse caught De Gaulle in mid stride at the half-way point through the Arc. And you can see the look of pain in the faces of the other scrambling photographers who must've been just coming to the realization that they were in the shot they had been desperately wanting to make since 1940. Their sinking feeling is pretty visceral.
Perhaps being in the "wrong" place is just someone else's perception until you prove them wrong. After all, there must be some right place right time, wrong place right time, right place wrong time, wrong place wrong time hierarchy, no?--that is, until you're smart enough to realize that there's no such thing as "wrong".