Bernard "Bernie" Boston, 74, Retired Los Angeles Times Photojournalist, Was An Icon

 

Bernie BostonBASYE, VA - Retired Los Angeles Times photojournalist Bernard "Bernie" Boston, 74, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and an NPPA Life Member, died today at his home in rural Virginia. Boston is probably best remembered for his iconic photograph of a young Vietnam war protester putting flowers in the barrels of soldiers' guns during an anti-war march at the Pentagon in 1967.

Boston died from Amyloidosis, a rare blood disease that he's had since 2006, his long-time friend Ken Cooke told News Photographer magazine tonight. Boston retired from the Los Angeles Times in 1993 after many years of being their chief photographer in Washington. Before joining the Times, he was chief photographer for The Washington Star. Boston joined NPPA in 1965 and he covered every U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to William Jefferson Clinton. Boston was also a member of the Senate Press Photographers Gallery and a member of the White House Press Corps.

"He was an icon, and Bernie was once described as the darling of the White House News Photographers Association," Cooke said tonight. Boston had served as WHNPA's president four times and was a WHNPA Life Member, Cooke said, and the photographer was recently honored as a distinguished alumnae of the Rochester Institute of Technology when the school produced a retrospective of Boston's career as a book, Bernie Boston, American Photojournalist.

Boston is survived by his wife of 37 years, Peggy Boston. In 1994 the photographer and his wife moved to a mountainside home in Basye where they were co-owners of the Bryce Mountain Courier, a monthly newspaper where Boston was both the publisher and the photographer.

Hearing the news of his death, many who remembered Boston tonight spoke of him as "a gentleman's gentleman."

"Bernie Boston was the best of what life is all about," Con Keyes of the Los Angeles Times said. "Bernie's laughter and humor and a smile as bright and colorful as Arizona sunset touched everyone, from presidents and first ladies to the everyday person, from waiters to astronauts. It did not matter who you were, because he loved life and people and he shared it with everyone and it did not cost a penny. His whole life was worthwhile. And I will remember him for this, more so than any photographic image. The image of Bernie Boston in our mind's eye will be carried with me daily, treasured and held close to my heart."

Boston's friend and fellow photojournalist David Burnett said, "There were the cowboy boots, ever present. The tuft of silver hair...definately not gray. The smile, beaming like a Colorado sunrise. The nicest, cleanest, snappiest cameras, always a Leica amongst them. The Jaguar, yes there definitely was the Jaguar. What other photographer owned a Jaguar? Can't think of one. Kind of hard to imagine that he's gone."

"Bernie grew up in McLean, VA, and wound up owning it," Boston's longtime Washington friend and fellow photojournalist Dirck Halstead told News Photographer magazine. "He had a knack for savvy investments," Halstead joked, "and I think the fact the stock market dove 400 points on the news of his death was not an accident."

"Bernie was probably one of the world's greatest collectors of Leica cameras. He had virtually every model ever built in a special room in his house. If you prompted him, he'd open the combination vault in the wall and bring out the special gold Leica he'd been given, pristine in its velvet case," Halstead said. "I will miss him more than I can say."

In addition to serving four terms as WHNPA president, Boston was vice president eight times, annual dinner chairman three times, and on the WHNPA executive board from 1973 through 1995.

In 2005, Boston told reporter Alice Ashe that he started taking pictures when he was seven years old growing up in McLean, VA, when his parents gave him a Kodak Brownie camera. He was a high school newspaper and yearbook photographer, and then after high school he worked briefly for the Photography Division of the Library of Congress before attending RIT.

After college Boston studied at the School of Aviation Medicine in the U.S. Air Force, and spent two years in the Army in Germany practicing radiology in a neurosurgical unit. When he left the service in 1958 he returned to Washington and went to work in custom photofinishing.

Working as a freelancer, he left Washington in 1963 to work at the Dayton Daily News in Ohio, then returned to DC three years later to work for The Washington Star and two years after that became the newspaper's director of photography. He worked there until the newspaper's closing day in 1981, then joined the Los Angeles Times.

Boston's "Flower Power" photograph of a Vietnam war protester putting flowers in soldiers' gun barrels finished second the 1968 Pulitzer Prizes to a dramatic spot news photograph by Rocco Morabito. The winning picture showed an electrical lineman giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to another lineman who had been electrocuted and was hanging upside-down atop a power pole.

Boston was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Photography for a 1987 photograph of Coretta Scott King unveiling a bust of her late husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

The National Press Photographers Association presented Boston with its highest honor, the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, in 1993. The honor recognizes a working photojournalist who advances, elevates, or attains unusual recognition for the profession by their conduct, initiative, leadership, skill, and devotion to duty. In 1996 Boston was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Sigma Delta Chi, The Society of Professional Journalists. He had also served as chairman of the NPPA Freedom of Information Committee.

His work has been published in many books including "The Best of Life," "Life: The First Fifty Years," "150 Years of Photojournalism," "Life's Classic Moments," and a variety of textbooks on government and photography. He taught a photojournalism class at Northern Virginia Community College and at Rochester Institute of Technology.

No funeral plans were announced. The White House News Photographers Association may hold an event in Boston's honor at an upcoming date and if so, details will be announced on the WHNPA Web site.

Photojournalist David Burnett wrote a remembrance of his friend tonight on his Blog, "We're Just Sayin."

 

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