VERSAILLES, KY – William H. Strode was a talented photographer, a strong picture editor, a publisher of fine books, a former NPPA-University of Missouri POY Newspaper Photographer of the Year, a two-time shared Pulitzer Prize winner, and was NPPA's president in 1974. Remembered by his friends and peers for excellence in both work and friendship, he died today in Versailles at the home of a friend where he had been receiving hospice care after a fight with cancer. Strode was 69.
“Bill Strode was one of the real visionaries of NPPA who sought during his presidency to set high standards for the association and to take the membership to projects of great excellence,” Rich Clarkson, another former NPPA president, said today. “His projects on behalf of the association moved NPPA into a new realm. And his professional work from newspapers to book publishing to educational projects all cut new ground. His was a remarkable career that had a lasting effect on photojournalism in this country.”
Strode joined NPPA in September 1957 and was a Life member. He was a member of the teams who won two Pulitzer Prizes for the Louisville Courier-Journal, one in 1976 for photography for coverage of court-ordered busing in Jefferson County, KY, and another in 1967 for public service for a series of reports about strip mining.
In the late 1950s Strode worked for two summers at the Courier-Journal while he was a student at Western Kentucky University. He joined the paper full-time in 1960. By 1967 he was assistant director of photography, and later edited the newspaper's Sunday Magazine, the Courier-Journal says.
“The late 1960s and the 1970s at the Courier-Journal in Louisville were the golden years of newspaper photojournalism for those of us lucky enough to have worked there,” photography editor and journalist Bryan Moss remembers. “Bill Strode was instrumental in assembling the staff and creating that environment. He was also an extraordinary photographer; his story on Army chaplains in Vietnam is one of the best picture stories ever told about the human cost of war.”
Strode was the NPPA-University of Missouri Pictures of the Year Newspaper Photographer of the Year in 1966 for a portfolio shot for the Courier-Journal & Louisville Times. He was also the Region 4 Newspaper Photographer of the Year a remarkable four times in a row: in 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1967. And he was the winner of the NPPA’s Joseph Costa Award in 1992, a Morris Berman Citation in 1967, and the President’s Award in 1965.
"Bill was the one who in 1974 gave new life to NPPA, and especially to the magazine," John G. Morris wrote today from his home in Paris. "He was a true friend, and my colleague in teaching, editing, and publishing, one who exemplified the highest standards of photojournalism. I shall miss him sorely." Marjorie "Midge" Morris was the editor of News Photographer magazine from 1974 to 1976, starting when Strode was NPPA's president and John was the photography editor for The New York Times. Midge and John produced News Photographer from their Manhattan apartment.
Strode's Harmony House Publishers was founded in 1984 and based in Louisville, and in 16 years he and his business partner, Joe Paul Pruett, edited and published 145 photography, sports, college, and business book titles, including Keeneland Reflections.
Strode is survived by his children, Michelle Bartholomew (Doug), and Erin Hall Strode, of Louisville, KY, Hope Ives Strode, of Eugene, OR, and Charlotte Alexander Strode, of Maine; his grandchildren, George Logan Bartholomew and Garrett Wagner Bartholomew, of Louisville, KY; and his beloved partner, Jane Gentry Vance, of Versailles, KY.
There will be a visitation on Friday May 19 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at St. Francis In The Fields Episcopal Church, 6710 Wolf Pen Branch Road, in Harrods Creek, KY (a suburb of Louisville). On Saturday May 20 the visitation will continue from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m., when there will be a memorial service conducted by Father Alan Sutherland. Following the memorial service, there will be a spreading of ashes at Strode’s homeplace, which is near the church.
“Bill Strode made a huge impact on me. He spoke to the Indiana University journalism students (in Bloomington) around 1966. He showed his pictures from Louisville. He showed his pictures from Vietnam. They were tremendous photographs,” John R. Fulton Jr. remembers. Fulton is director of photography for Boys’ Life magazine.
Strode’s photographs “showed a young photojournalist that it was possible to make great photographs in your own backyard, or half way around the world. It didn’t matter,” Fulton said. “I will always remember him showing a slightly unsharp picture, either from focus or camera movement. It was a great picture. Then, in his Louisville accent, he said, ‘Sometimes your best pictures aren’t always your sharpest pictures.’ Classic Strode.”
Fulton believes that Strode was as good – if not better – than any of the more famous photojournalists who working at that time. “Yet he chose to stay at the newspaper (rather than go to magazines). It says so much about Bill and his sense of community that he stayed in Louisville. He was a great photojournalist. And later, he became a publisher of wonderful photography books. Many were about colleges, and he had a whole new career going. He was a tough editor and many photographers found themselves ‘pushed’ to photograph a ‘college book’ for Bill. I know I was pushed hard. As an editor, now, I got a chance to return the favor a few years ago and hire Bill to shoot an assignment for Boys' Life. He did a wonderful job. Of course.”
Strode left the Courier-Journal in 1976 to freelance and shot for National Geographic, Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many others. In 1984 he was hired by Humana Health Care in Louisville to photograph artificial heart recipient William Schroeder as world-famous heart surgeon Dr. William C. DeVries performed one of the first mechanical heart operations.
“Bill was assistant director of photography for the Courier-Journal and Louisville Times when I was hired in 1974. I remember showing him a collection of images when I was struggling with one of my first stories,” Melissa Farlow remembers. “He looked at it and asked, ‘What are you trying to say?’”
Farlow, who now shoots for National Geographic magazine after working for the newspapers in Louisville and The Pittsburgh Press, remembers that she walked around for two days trying to answer Strode’s question. “It was clear that I was confused and my images showed him this. He believed a photographer should have a point of view to tell a more compelling story. I often recall his question when I teach at the Missouri Workshop.”
“I also remember discussions with Bill about integrity and ethics. He was a soft spoken man that believed in honest, unmanipulated images. I admired that fact he tackled tough topics when he photographed subjects like illegal dog fighting (which was published in GEO).”
Farlow also vividly remembers Strode from her very first week on the job in Louisville when she got arrested after working at the paper for only a few days and, that same night, her car was towed to a police impound lot. “Bill picked me up in his blue Porsche and took me to the police lot and gave me $50 to get the car out. I’m sure he wondered if he made the right decision when he hired me,” she said.
“One of my all time favorite photography books is one that Strode edited on Barney Cowherd’s work,” Farlow remembers. Cowherd was a contract photographer for the Courier-Journal who died in 1972. “Cowherd photographed quiet and sometimes humorous pictures in rural Indiana in the 1950s and 1960s. Strode’s book keeps Cowherd’s work alive. I am very sorry to hear he’s gone. He influenced me more than he knew.”
Michael Morse knew Strode for a long time. Like Strode, he worked in Western Kentucky University’s public relations office as a photographer – although Strode preceded him by several years. And Morse was also an NPPA president (in 1991). He’s the retired director of Western Kentucky University’s photojournalism program, of which he’s the co-founder, and also like Strode he's been around Kentucky photojournalism for a few decades.
Morse has a favorite story about Strode. “It’s one that makes an important point,” Morse says. It happened during the time that Strode was assistant director of photography at the Courier-Journal.
“One of Bill’s duties was to look at the large number of portfolios that were sent to the newspaper and respond to the sender. He usually sent the standard letter thanking the submitter and telling them there were no jobs available. Once in a while he got one he thought more intriguing. In one such case he invited the photojournalist for a personal interview. He explained to the photographer that his photos lacked depth — that they showed how things look but not how they feel. He challenged the photojournalist to pick out something important to him and photograph it getting beyond the surface.”
“The photojournalist returned a few weeks later with a stack of prints. Bill started looking at them and they were all nudes of the guy’s live-in girlfriend. Taken aback, Bill used the opportunity to explain that this was exactly his point. The photos showed how she looked but not who she was. He challenged the photographer to try again.
“This time he brought back photos of the many facets of her life. Including school, her activities, her very cluttered surroundings at his apartment, etc. This time Bill told him he did an excellent job of documenting who she was, and not just how she looked. The photographer said yes, and after looking at the photos and seeing how messy and unorganized his girlfriend was, he asked her to leave.
“I think this is a great story to explain what the word content means — showing how things feel rather than how they look,” Morse said. “Bill really understood that from his earliest days as a photojournalist, and his body of work reflects it.”
“Bill inspired a lot of fine photographers, but possibly his biggest contribution to the profession was his bringing to reality the concept of the National Press Photographers Foundation,” another former NPPA president, John Ahlhauser, remembers. “That potential is still growing and bearing fruit.”
The Foundation was established as a separate nonprofit organization, removed from NPPA, to “improve and facilitate the administration of press photography, to promote the study of press photography and research, and to continue the education of press photographers.” The Foundation also administers scholarships and fellowships, including the Reid Blackburn Scholarship, the Bob East Scholarship, the Kit C. King Graduate Scholarship, an NPPF Still Scholarship, an NPPF Television News Scholarship, and the Paul Threfall TV Professional Education Awards, and the College Photographer of the Year award.