Photojournalism Pioneer Charlie McCarty Dies at 88

Jan 22, 2004

Funeral services will be held Friday near Brussels, Belgium, for Charles J. McCarty, 88, an innovative mentor and a leader in photojournalism who shaped a generation of famous photojournalists and greatly advanced the profession. He was also the founder of Reuters News Pictures Service in 1985. McCarty promoted the use of 35mm equipment over the cumbersome 4x5 Speed Graphic cameras in newspaper and wire service photography, and he hired and trained talented young photojournalists, many of whom went on to be highly successful at major publications. McCarty was found dead from heart failure at his Brussels home on Monday, according to Reuters.

(undated file photo of American photo reporter Charlie McCarty as a young man - Reuters)

McCarty was honored by the National Press Photographers Association with the John Durniak Mentor Award in June 2002, in recognition of his significant impact on photojournalism as a profession and on those who practice the craft. He is remembered by many who worked for him as a man often of few words, yet when he spoke it had impact. McCarty is also remember as being an editor who knew a great deal about story-telling news photographs and to what lengths a photographer sometimes had to go to in order to capture them.

In a profile of McCarty written by Dirck Halstead, former TIME Senior White House photographer, he says that McCarty enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and was stationed at the Western Defense Command at the Presidio where he established the Army picture network between San Francisco and Washington. During World War II the Signal Corps used Acme picture transmitting equipment, which was the forerunner of United Press. Afterwards, McCarty went to work for Acme in San Francisco as a staff photographer until 1951, when he was named Southwest Division Newspictures Editor for United Press in Dallas, TX.

In 1953 he contracted with The Dallas Times Herald for United Press to run the newspaper's photography department. "This was a revolutionary idea," said Halstead. "It gave Charlie a chance to start hiring young photographers. With the need to staff a newspaper, but also having the clout of a wire service behind him, Charlie was able to start experimenting with faster processing and smaller cameras. When he started running the Times Herald photo department, the ubiquitous 4x5 Speed Graphic was the standard camera. Charlie pushed to equip the photographers with 35mm cameras."

"McCarty was so tough as a director of photography in Dallas," Halstead said, "that after three years of working for him at the Times Herald I got drafted into the service. After the first couple of days at boot camp with a drill sergeant yelling at us so much that these truck drivers turned soldiers were starting to cry, I just thought back on working for McCarty, and I smiled."

In the Reuters obituary for McCarty, they reported that his personal motto was "cruel but fair" and that his "tenacious pursuit of a story and competitive rule of 'hard work never hurt anyone' stayed with him into retirement." McCarty didn't retire until 1998, well past his 80th birthday.

McCarty was an early innovator of switching news photographers from using bulky, slow, and cumbersome sheet-film view cameras to 35mm bodies. One of the first tests of the smaller camera with a telephoto lens came during coverage of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Denver, CO, after the president had a heart attack in 1953. "UPI surprised the opposition by arming photographer Stan Tretick with a 35mm camera and Stan went on the roof of a Denver hospital to photograph Eisenhower during the first photo session after his attack," Halstead remembers. "The small format, along with a high-speed developer (using D76 replenisher at high temperature) meant that Tretick's coverage was unmatched. The use of the telephoto lens on the 35mm camera totally upstaged the pictures made by 4x5 toting photographers."

(POY award-winning civil rights photo by Charles McCarty - Corbis/Bettman)

McCarty was not just a manager; he was a news photographer too. NPPA honored him with a Pictures Of The Year award for a civil rights news photograph he shot in Little Rock, AR, on September 16, 1958. The picture shows a scuffle between a white teen and a black teen on a 14th Street city sidewalk. According to the original transmission caption, the black teen said that he and his sister "were en route to their segregated school when two white students ordered them to get off the sidewalk." McCarty wrote that the fight was brief and that the black teen "chased the two students off with his fists." The picture got a lot of attention and resulted in TIME magazine doing a story about McCarty and his photography, according to Halstead.

In the 1960's McCarty was assistant general manager for UPI Pictures in New York, and in 1972 he moved to Brussels for UPI to establish a new photo desk operation and to improve the ways photo coverage was assigned and the UPI photo report was managed in Europe. "As UPI's fortunes declined in the late 1980's, McCarty convinced the owners of Reuters to form a picture agency," Halstead said. "And for the next decade he personally helped shape that agency."

"Over his lifetime, Charlie McCarty left a profound impression on photojournalism and the photographers who have practiced it," Halstead said.

Among the famous photojournalists who count McCarty as their mentor are Bill Campbell, former TIME photographer; Halstead; Daryl Heikes, of U.S. News & World Report; Frank Johnston, of The Washington Post; Pulitzer Prize-winner David Hume Kennerly; Mal Langsdon, of Reuters; Joe Marquette, formerly of UPI and AP; Robert S. Patton, who later became an editor at National Geographic, and Bill Snead.

(Charles J. McCarty, seated center, receives the John Durniak Mentor Award from Shelly Katz during the NPPA national convention's Sprague Awards banquet, Sat. June 29, 2002 at the Thunderbird Hotel in Bloomington, MN - Photo by Keith Nordstrom/The Sun Chronicle)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Snead is a good example of a photojournalist whose life was changed by crossing paths with McCarty. Snead is a native of Lawrence, KS, where he started his career as a high school photo lab tech at the local newspaper, the Journal World. He was a photographer at the Topeka Capital-Journal and then at the Wilmington (DE) News-Journal, where he was a photographer and eventually ran the department.

Snead was in Washington, DC, in January 1965 on the night before Lyndon Johnson's presidential inauguration. He was there covering the story for the News-Journal. "I joined McCarty and some of his staff for dinner and McCarty was going over their inaugural photo assignments," Snead remembers.

"Heikes (Darryl)," McCarty said, "the first picture we want out of you is a shot at sunrise showing Kennedy's eternal flame in the foreground with the Capital building and monuments in the background." Heikes explained to McCarty that Arlington Cemetery would be closed at that time of day. McCarty said, "Don't tell me your problems, Darryl, just get me the G** D***** picture." Snead recalls that come the next morning, Heikes did just that. "Just get me the G** D***** picture was one of McCarty's often-used lines," said Snead.

Two years later in December 1967, Snead was running the News-Journal's photography department. He had never worked for UPI. Then one day his life and career changed in mere moments when he answered the telephone in Wilmington and it was McCarty calling from Manhattan:

McCarty: "Hey, Snead, how's it goin' in Delaware?" Snead: "Great." McCarty: "How'd you like to run our Saigon Bureau?" Snead: "Are you kidding?" McCarty: "Not if you can be there in three weeks." Snead: (pause) "Okay." McCarty: "How soon can you get to New York? We need to talk."

"He was a man of few words," Snead remembers. Snead went on to run the UPI photo operations in Saigon for McCarty from 1967 to 1969 and during the Tet Offensive, with the heavy fighting breaking out just three weeks after his arrival in country. He remembers a Telex he got from McCarty in Saigon after UPI shooters had a particularly good week of photography from Khe Sanh during the siege.

"Dave Powell had good ground action photographs and UPI photographer Kyochi Sawada shot first-ever aerials of the base that were published around the world," Snead said. The congratulatory Telex said: "Snead. Kicked Grandma's ass (Grandma was Telex code for the Associated Press). Please effort again and often. Charles McCarty."

After Vietnam, Snead went on to run the UPI Bureau in Chicago before joining the National Geographic as a picture editor. He later moved to The Washington Post, where he spent 21 years and was the assistant managing editor of photography. He is now senior editor of the Lawrence (KS) Journal World, back where his career started as a high school student.

(undated recent file photo of American photo reporter Charlie McCarty - Reuters)

McCarty is survived by his daughter, Pat, who is the Deputy Sports Editor for Reuters. She is based in London.

Funeral services will be held Friday at 1:00 p.m. (1300) at Saint Anne's Church, Place St. Alliance, in Uccle, Belgium, near Brussels. Funeral services are being arranged by the Andre Moreau Mortuary, rue St. Anne, 13, Braine-Alleud 1420, Belgium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (Reuters London, UPI, Dirck Halstead, Bill Snead, and Corbis-Bettmann contributed to this story).