Photographers' Access Easier in the 1960s

Robert Kennedy at a rally in 1968. Photo by Afred Golub

By Katelyn Umholtz

The 1960s was a decade of protests, civil unrest and British rock bands. It was simpler times for people living day-to-day and for photojournalists it was one of the better times to be on the job.

Stanley Forman, a 1980 Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award winner and the winner of back-to-back Pulitzers in 1976 and ‘77, started his photography career in the late 60s. He said those were the days of minimal security, making it easier for him to do his job.

“We had different access,” Forman said. “I could have never done as well as I did if I was starting now. There's still some great images being made, but now it's much more complicated to get them.”

Alfred Golub, a Yosemite freelancer, worked as a staff photographer at the Modesto Bee at the time. He was new to the industry, so he said this made the job all the more exciting for him.

“Even at a little paper like the one I worked at, you had a darkroom that you had to run back to, and you were really bought into the whole process because you were more involved,” Golub said. “That made it more exciting.”

There was plenty of newsworthy and historical events taking place across the country which made the experience all the better.

“I used to look at newspapers when I was younger, and it always seemed exciting,” Forman said. “When I was 23 and starting out, it was great because there was always something going on. We had Chappaquiddick with Ted Kennedy, the moon landing. It was a busy time for newspapers. It was a great time.”

In that time, Golub was assigned to cover Robert Kennedy’s senate hearing in Stockton, CA, but he arrived there later than the rest of the photographers. When he decided he would go behind the theater to get a side angle of Kennedy, Rafer Johnson, Kennedy’s security, grabbed him.

“He asked me in a low voice 'Where's your pin?'” Golub said. “I told him I didn't know anything. In the morning, every photographer got a pin in order to get checked out, so I learned the rules right then and there that when dealing with political types.”

In the ‘60s, Golub said the security was much more lax, even when it came to covering political figures. All he was required to have was a pin at Kennedy’s event. Now, he said he’s asked to provide his social security number before covering prominent politicians.

The relationship journalists had with police officers was also different. Golub said he and the local officers had a professional rapport, even though he donned a “hippie” look back in the 60s. Foreman said he always felt he was treated respectfully by the police.

“Cops liked you and trusted you for the most part,” Forman said. “As a still photographer, I was welcomed. I'm not so sure we're welcomed anymore.”

Outside of protests and political events, the security at entertainment events was pretty much non-existent. Golub said he used to cover concerts, and the bands would let him freely roam the venue to get the pictures he needed.

“When I covered rock n' roll as a journalist, particularly if you had a long beard and were dressed appropriately, you could practically walk onto the stage,” Golub said.

Access, along with the events that affected the country in every region, was what made it a great time to be a journalist, said Forman. He said he always had fun, and his job was much easier during this time than later decades because he could actually do his job without being yelled at by authority figures or bystanders.