Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Goodnight Mr. President

President Gerald Ford has passed away at the age of 93.

Gerald Ford was the first President I had the opportunity to photograph. In 1975, as a very green news photographer in Michigan, I was assigned to cover a speech he made at the University of Michigan.

Back in those days (before computers ruled the world) the Secret Service would physically do a background check of people requesting press credentials. We were known as the “day passers,” meaning we were covering the president just that one day and not traveling with his entourage. I remember my mother all excited because a Secret Service agent just called and asked a bunch of questions about me. She wanted to know what in Heaven’s name I did! When I told her I was going to photograph Gerald Ford she was relieved. She really thought I might be in trouble!

When I arrived at U of M the press photographers were herded into a back room for the obligatory bag check. Every camera bag was stripped and thoroughly checked to make sure nothing was being smuggled into the arena. Afterward we all stood around and waited for the signal we could enter and rush into place for the President’s speech.

While waiting, one of the older press photographers noticed my day pass and asked me if this was my first time. Proudly (and loudly) I said yes, this was indeed my ‘first time shooting the President!’ Oops!! As soon as the words left my mouth a very heavy finger tapped me on the shoulder. I slowly turned around to see a very dark suit staring down at me. It was a Secret Service Agent. In a soft, but stern voice, told me “son, we don’t use that slang when talking about the President of the United States.” Maybe it was my age, my naiveté or the fact my face was white as a ghost but the very large gentleman with the automatic weapon under his jacket just smiled and walked away.

When the time came to rush into the arena I got my first taste of the national press and how sharp the human elbow is when used as a weapon. Junkyard dogs would have been a nicer lot than those beasts! But as soon as Mr. Ford came onto the stage all pushing ceased and the clicking began.

The images I made that day were nothing all that special. At best they were typical news photos of a Presidential speech. But, they were MY pictures of President Gerald Ford, my first Presidential assignment, the President from my home State of Michigan and a boyhood friend of my uncle. It was an experience I will always remember.

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