Characters who are, um, “odd” are nothing new to newsrooms the world over, particularly among photographers.
Mindy Schauer, who has been a photographer with the Orange County Register for 25 years, calls Alkofer “the lovable asshole.”
“All the people (at the event) were people who got Bill. He can be an asshole, but he’s our asshole,” Marshall said.
The a-word is one many share about Alkofer without the slightest hesitation or embarrassment, and it’s a term Alkofer embraces.
“Bill is hard to describe,” Schauer says. “He can make some people uncomfortable. If you don’t get him, you probably never will.”
“I just knew from the very first time we crossed paths that he was my soulmate,” Marshall said.
What set Alkofer apart was an uncanny talent, eye and a journalist’s news sense.
Since Alkofer started his career in 1978 as an intern at the Walsh County Press, collecting the dreaded man-on-the-street quotes and photos, he was a natural.
His skills were all on display at the event in a rotation of photos displayed on screens in the hall.
Alkofer was not only a photographer, he was a photojournalist.
“He was a consummate journalist,” said Gritchen, who met Alkofer at the Long Beach Register in 2013. “While others were just looking to take pretty pictures, he never stopped asking questions.”
Alkofer believed in talking about stories with reporters and the collaborative process of photos and words working together. On assignments, he was always asking questions and gathering information, often better than the reporter was picking up.
“Bill’s a great reporter; his medium just happens to be the photograph,” Marshall said.
“He has such an incredible mind,” Schauer said. “His brain never turns off. Everything he encounters is a potential story. His story ideas never stop.”
Alkofer was also a technician like few others.
“He was really good at lighting,” Schauer said.
Schauer remembers the story of Alkofer taking off to cover a plane crash in Southern California. Not only did Alkofer show up with his cameras in hand, but he also brought lights and lit his photographs.
“This was before digital,” Schauer said. “It was unheard of. He was legendary.”
Gritchen remembers Alkofer going out to shoot pictures for a story on carnival workers.
“He wanted to bring lights; they said no, and he did anyway,” Gritchen remembers.
Marshall said photographers often talk about “available light.”
“To Bill that meant: How many lights are available?” Marshall joked.
Gritchen remembers Alkofer would often schedule feature shots for when the light would be just right, whether he was on or off the clock.
To this day, Alkofer finds himself taking photos in his head and thinking about the light. “And in my brain, it’s always perfectly exposed,” he said.
Alkofer was working on a story about an Eastern Bloc refugee who fled in a Trabant, one of the ugliest cars ever made. In California, Josef Czikmantory was able to buy one of the rare cars.
Coincidentally, Alkofer had also been looking for someone with a Trabant, because it’s Alkofer.
He met Czikmantory at a scenic overlook at sunset, brought along about a dozen lights and created a picture that told a wonderful, and wonderfully ironic, story. In front of a spectacular, orange-hued backdrop is the man, arms flung out in triumph. A man and his plug-ugly auto.
“He always had a vision of his photo and how it would manifest itself,” said Mike Goulding, another Orange County Register colleague. “He was just a dogged artist.”
“He always pushed the limits of what you’d expect,” Schauer said.