Argo did well at the Academy Awards this past week. Good movie. It transported me to another place in time, which is what good movies are supposed to do.
Back to 1980, when Iran held the hostages, and the attention of virtually everyone in this county. 444 days! It was endless for us, unimaginable for the hostages. I was there at West Point when they came back on buses from Stewart AFB, but those chromes have been lost over time. Managed to hang onto a chrome from lower Broadway and the ticker tape welcome home parade. I shinnied up a light pole with my cameras and perched, quite uncomfortably, on a traffic sign for several hours as the parade made its way. Thankfully, it was quite cold, and my ass just froze, so I was able to ignore the fact that I was basically giving myself a street sign wedgie. My positioning, and the inclusion of Liberty St. was, of course, not an accident.
I wasn’t in Iran for any of it, of course. I was just a pup photog, a staff still shooter for the ABC television network. My weeks consisted of shuttling around, making pix of network anchors, Monday Night Football, Susan Lucci’s new relationship on All My Children, and the like. (It’s been fun this week, being at Gulf Photo Plus, with all the wonderfully talented instructors. David Burnett, who did the true signature work in Iran at the time is here, and I showed him the picture above. He checked his computer, and came up with a terrific picture he shot of the same parade. He was about five blocks north of my position.)
I also covered a fair amount of politics, working the conventions, the Reagan campaign, and his inauguration. (Always been jealous of photo enthusiast Howard Baker in the background, and his angle.)
Roone Arledge, ABC’s maestro of sports and news, launched a late night news program called Nightline, specifically in response to the hostage crisis. It was helmed by an estimable journalist, Ted Koppel. I got dispatched to Washington to make pictures of Ted as a newly minted anchor. We got along well. (I endeared myself by grabbing his Nikkormat camera, damaged since his days covering Vietnam, from him and getting it repaired by Marty Forscher in NY.) Little did we know that, spurred by this singular, ongoing news event, both he and Nightline were about to become a long running journalistic institution.
I shot this (rueful shake of the head here) with all I had in terms of lights, which at the time were one Dynalite head, and a couple Heiland slave units, which were subtle as a lightning strike and about as controllable. And of course, my setting consisted of highly reflective, bulbous TV monitors galore. Did my best. Guessed at everything. Had no Polaroid to proof the shot with. Just set up the lights in what appeared to be a logical array, shot a roll of Kodachrome, and hoped for the best. The picture, upon release, ended up getting wide play, largely because Ted had become the definitive, reasonable voice of entire evolving crisis.
Below is my high tech lighting case at the time, a holdover from the NY Daily News. Still have it. I think at this point, if I were an equipment case, I would look a bit like it. Battered, well traveled, held together by tape.
Next week, I get back to parsing out the current Geographic story, talking about the closer image, the cropped images etc. I’ll ask you guys to be the art director in a couple of picture choices.
I love the Ted Koppel image. Kind of sad in a way that all of those monitors can now be replaced by one giant Tweetdeck. Thanks for another fine trip down memory lane.
Richard Cave says
Joe love looking back at your formative years, and us guys newish to all this are still suffering for our work and loving it. I actually remember getting a magazine at the time with these nice photos in, it was called insight, some of the photos were yours. I learnt to draw and study these photos it is completely amazing to discover that I am still looking at your images nearly 30 years on.
I actually like that era things were more simple then possibly nostalgia but lessons learnt then still apply now, that is what is great about photograpy,
thanks for sharing your chromes with us,
Ryan Hodges says
Always a pleasure reading your blogs!
Don Bromberg says
Always good to read your blogs, and this one was no exception.
Doug mathews says
Joe, you’re a story teller, in both pictures and words. Maybe it’s the years as they have passed, but these types of entries are my favorites of your blogs. Been following you for a very long time. Hope to cross paths some time.
eileen ludwig says
Those were interesting times and lots of false or inaccurate information – glad you got some pictures and the experience
Josh Crocker says
I love the way a current news event happens and your able to produce images from back in the day that are still relevant.
John A. says
That’s one thing I really love about photography, the history you’re able to capture, and sometimes even create. Thanks again for sharing part of your history!
Rick Lewis says
WoW! Joe McNally’s lighting case. Just think what you could get on Ebay for that! Not being funny here. Might make a great charity auction piece!
Looking forward to the Nat Geo images. Thanks Joe.
Thanks for sharing the story. Your lighting case looks like the case we carried collapsible music stands in.
John Fowler says
It’s a shame that the movie bears so little resemblance to the truth of what really happened, and that Americans will come to believe that was the real story.
Jay Mann says
I was Tehran in 2004 during the 25th anniversary of the fall of the shaw. Unfortunately, I was not allowed by my employer to leave my residence to catch any pics. (I had been detained by military once before for shooting stuff I shouldn’t, so probably a good idea to stay home) I had to be content with sitting on the balconey overlooking the city and watching all the fireworks.
Greg Lepera says
Joe, thanks for including the pic of Howard Baker, it brought back some nice memories of my late friend and mentor John Netherton. John and Howard Baker were friends and collaborated on a few photo projects. One day, I received a treasured gift in the mail, a copy of Jons and Howard’s book, “Big South Fork Country’, signed by both and inscribed to my family. It’s interesting to see and compare their visions of this unique Tennessee locale side by side.
Jay Terry says
It’s unfortunate that revisionist history like Argo is held up as an award-winning movie. The former Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, and Canadian diplomat, John Sheardown, were the true heroes of the crisis, just as history has recorded. As much as I appreciate the historical significance of this event as it has related to Iran-US relations over the past 30 years, any reference to that movie is simply compounding a gross mistake in storytelling.
Larry Ligget says
Joe–remember the failed rescue attempt in April 1980? Helicopters from the Nimitz flew into a sandstorm (and there were other mechanical failures, too) because of radio silence they could not ask permission to fly at a higher altitude… Sad day when we learned about it. I recall I was in San Francisco when I learned about it.
Mike Dziak says
Your case looks like the ones for the 4 x 5 speed graphic camera.
I still have one just like it.