Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Photographer famous for Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of Lee Harvey Oswald shares advice, anecdotes
PegNews photographer Jamie Walzel talked shop with Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Bob Jackson.
DALLAS A photographer's dream is to one day win an award for their work, and the highest honor bestowed upon a photojournalist is to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Robert H. “Bob” Jackson is one of a small group of photographers who can claim this honor. Jackson was given the award in recognition for the emotionally gripping photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby while being transported from police headquarters to the county jail on November 24, 1963.
On the 6th floor of what was the School Book Depository in Dallas now stands a museum that commemorates the associated events surrounding the Kennedy Assassination. That one photograph of Oswald getting shot made Jackson famous, but it is his complete collection of work that is truly remarkable. Jackson also covered the arrival of President Kennedy and the events that led up to his untimely demise.
Jackson also photographed many other high profile personalities in the '60s and '70s. And I got to speak with the famous Bob Jackson exactly one floor up from where Lee Harvey Oswald took the shots on our 35th president. That entire 7th floor of the former School Book Depository is an exhibit of Jackson’s work on display until October 17, 2010. Speaking with Jackson was a surreal, inspiring experience.
Jackson's list of classic photos on display includes John Wayne, The Beatles, Princess Grace, Bjorn Borg, Stanley Marcus, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, and Sandra Dee, and many others. There are also some emotionally jarring shots of protests, marches, and the civil rights movement.
The early years
Jackson's photography career started off as just a hobby in high school. “Initially, all I wanted to do was take pictures. I liked the mechanics of it as much as the artistic side,” he said. Jackson originally wanted to go California to study photography, but his parents were against it: They were trying to keep him from taking pictures of girls in bikinis, “which, I probably would have done,” he admitted.
So after graduation, Jackson talked with Felix McKnight, editor of The Dallas Times Herald, about his future options as a photographer. Jackson had just made a 6 month commitment to the National Guard and was instructed by McKnight to bring back photos when he returned from duty. Jackson began taking photographs of his surroundings, plus he found he loved to shoot race cars – a favorite subject that also became a great training tool. While on duty at Fort Hood, he serviced newspapers all over Texas with various photos. His sense of timing – an essential ingredient for a photojournalist – was crafted from his days shooting fast moving subjects at Fort Hood, as well as in the auto racing circuit. The Dallas Times Herald hired him in 1960 at age 21.
“I was immediately thrown into the mix,” says Jackson.
Jackson on photography
After spending more than an hour with Jackson, here are some highlights from our discussion:
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?
A: “I tell kids now, it’s a great hobby, but don’t do it (as a job or business) unless you are 100% committed because the competition is fierce … you have got to know your equipment … you have got to be willing to carry a camera around 24 hours a day and shoot everything you can … you’ve got to have a really good portfolio.”
Q: In what ways do you think the digital age has influenced photography?
A: “It makes it a lot easier to come out with a good picture. There are people running around with point and shoots that are actually good photographers, but technology improves and you’ve got to go with it. I was never against digital photography because I knew it was coming. ... It’s just a whole different world now; there is something to be said for getting a picture, and not chose from 13 you just shot with a motor.”
The real pressure to capture an amazing image in those days must have been intense, making Jackson's photographs of Ruby shooting Oswald so remarkable. Other photographs have documentation of that moment – some split seconds before and after. Jackson’s photo, however, captured the painful expression of Oswald, the intense, glaring, and inquisitive look of Officer Jim Leavelle, and Ruby’s outstretched arm leading to the gun just as the bullet hit the bone. Amazingly, Jackson said there was no trace of blood on Oswald or anywhere on the scene. There are also other photos he took at the police headquarters showing the intensity of the situation. Time and again, this photographer was on the mark and got his shot with incredible lighting and accuracy.
Jackson was quick to discount any conspiracy with either Oswald’s or the president’s death. He completely believes Oswald was the gunman, and said he saw the rifle being retrieved from the 6th floor window as he approached the building in the motorcade seven cars behind the president. Jackson of course was a very close eye witness to Ruby shooting Oswald.
Bob Jackson, 76 years old
While chatting with Jackson on the 7th Floor of the Museum, there were a few people in the museum who recognized Jackson from the video playing in the background next to the enlarged photo that won him a Pulitzer. Jackson warmly greeted them and charismatically answered their questions. At 76, Jackson also seems much younger physically than his age would suggest.
Jackson says he still shoots photos of his grandkids and an occasional wild bear in his adopted home of Colorado. He also wants to one day get out two old Hasselblad cameras that are still in the case and shoot scenic landscapes. Also, digging deep into the recesses of his inner child, Jackson admitted, “another one of my dreams was to spend one season and cover Formula-1 all over the world.”
Jackson said one of his regrets in a long career was not clicking the shutter on actor Paul Newman as he stood next to him on the race track. Newman, who was a race car driver as well as an actor, was in a rest period. Newman was known for wanting to stay out of the spotlight when off the movie set, so Jackson refrained from snapping the shot.
He seemed humbled by the missed opportunity, ironic since he's become so famous for the shots he didn't miss.
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