Tarentum museum exhibit honors native son: famed photographer Eddie Adams
By Rex Rutkoski
Published: Monday, June 3, 2013, 10:57 a.m.
In a long, storied and historic career, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Eddie Adams gave the Alle-Kiski Valley bragging rights, Don Henderson says.
“He's from here and his name and work will always be linked to the Valley,” says Henderson, the president of the New Kensington Camera Club.
The young organization (www.nkcameraclub.org) is again collaborating with the Alle-Kiski Valley Historical Society and its Heritage Museum in Tarentum to present the second annual Eddie Adams Photography Festival, which kicks off “Eddie Adams Month” with “Eddie Adams Day” activities June 8.
Author and veteran photo editor Hal Buell, Adams' former boss who was in charge of the Associated Press' worldwide staff of 300 photographers, will be the keynote speaker at the 6 p.m. Eddie Adams Day dinner open to the public at the Clarion Hotel, New Kensington.
It all celebrates the life and work of the New Kensington native who photographed many of the defining cultural and historic figures and moments of his lifetime.
That included 13 wars, the pope, seven presidents, 65 heads of state, Fidel Castro among them; and stars ranging from Bette Davis and Clint Eastwood to Big Bird and Mickey Mouse. His career spanned journalism, corporate, editorial, fashion, entertainment and advertising photography and appeared in Time, Vogue, Vanity Fair and Parade, among other leading publications.
His war coverage began with a stint as a Marine Corps combat photographer in Korea in the early 1950s and ended in Kuwait in 1991.
Adams, who died in 2004, received more than 500 awards, including the Pulitzer for one of the iconic photos of the Vietnam War, the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner.
His daring photos afloat with the Vietnamese “Boat People” trying to escape Communist rule, are credited in many circles with accelerating the process that eventually paved the way for some 200,000 Vietnamese immigrants to be admitted to the United States.
Adams, who would have been 80 June 12, viewed it as one of the most important accomplishments of his life.
In 1995, he created a photo essay for Parade of some of “the most amazing, most beautiful children in America.”
One image, that of a 3-year-old with leukemia, who was photographed with her security blanket, moved Karen Loucks to found Project Linus. (Linus, a character in the “Peanuts” cartoon, carried a security blanket.)
The nonprofit provides security blankets to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need through the gifts of blankets and afghans created by volunteers. Today, there are more than 300 chapters of Project Linus.
“Eddie Adams was an amazing guy, larger than life; he took one of the most horrific news photos ever taken, had a storied career and cast a very long shadow,” Henderson says.
In that spirit, the club's second juried show officially opens at 10 a.m. June 8 at the museum, with a color guard from the Marine Corps League in Springdale honoring Adams' time as a Marine. The exhibit runs through June 22, presenting work by club members on the theme “Inspired by Eddie Adams,” with an emphasis on strong portraits and human-interest photographs.
It will be accompanied by a showcase of photos taken by Adams and donated to the museum by his wife, Alyssa Adams. They are displayed only once a year, because the museum is not equipped with climate control, and the photos might sustain damage.
A coin designed by Don Henderson for this year's Eddie Adams Day and Photography Festival can be seen and purchased. Sales are to benefit club projects.
A goal of the festival is creating awareness of Adams and his contributions.
“Some may not have known the name, but they all knew the photo of the Saigon execution and many are surprised that Eddie was from New Kensington and worked for the New Kensington Daily Dispatch (which became the Valley News Dispatch),” Henderson says.
Adams began his photography career — while still at New Kensington (now Valley) High School, where he graduated in 1951 — shooting weddings and other events for $20.
The public can learn more about Adams in a 1 p.m. screening June 8 at the museum of “An Unlikely Weapon,” a documentary of his life. The film also will be screened by appointment during June.
“We feel honored to house and display these special photos of Eddie Adams. I feel it is an extension of the photo shows Adams himself held at the Heritage Museum,” says Dolly Mistrik, president of the Historical Society. It is part of the organization's continual goal of preserving and keeping local history alive, she says.
“We are excited to have such a fantastic collection and hope visitors enjoy our new Eddie Adams room,” adds museum curator Jamie Stoner.
A clay sculpture of Adams, donated to the museum by artist Ben Jacobs, is part of the display.
Alyssa Adams, deputy photo editor at TV Guide Magazine, and co-creator and executive director of the Eddie Adams Workshop, says she and her family are grateful and “very impressed” by the efforts of the New Kensington Camera Club and the museum and historical society.
“I think he would be a little surprised at the attention, but he would revel in it and be very happy to know that his hometown appreciated him,” she says.
Alyssa Adams, who lives in New York City, served as photo editor on “Eddie Adams: Vietnam,” published in 2008, and is currently working on a retrospective of her husband's work with the University of Texas Press, where Adams' archives are housed.
She says she admires her late husband's work for many reasons, two of which are: “He could sum up a very large concept (aging, love, power, innocence) into one graphic clean image; he had empathy and respect for his subjects, which you can feel in his photos.”
One of Eddie Adams' favorite photos,, Alyssa Adams adds, was a portrait of a West Virginia coal miner, a Vietnam veteran who was making low daily wages. “Eddie had recently returned from Vietnam when he took that photo, the miner was from a small town, similar to New Ken. He was a proud and hard-working man, and I think Eddie felt some type of kinship,” she says.
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Attitude toward ideas' impressed Adams' former boss
Eddie Adams had many talents, acknowledges his former boss Hal Buell, but his “attitude toward ideas” is what impressed Buell the most.
An editor could suggest a picture idea to Adams, and he would latch on to it, says the veteran Associated Press photo editor, who headed the news service's worldwide photo operation for 25 of his 41 years. “But he would make it more than it was, shoot pictures that went beyond expectations.”
Buell, the keynote speaker at the Eddie Adams Day dinner at 6 p.m. June 8 at the Clarion Hotel, New Kensington, says the New Kensington native often did not appreciate his own talent.
“He was too frequently a severe critic of his own work, always believing he could do better,” says Buell, who managed 300 photographers worldwide. His staff won 12 Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure.
Buell says that Adams' “The Boat of No Smiles” photographs (of South Vietnamese people trying to escape Communist rule) were “pictures that made a difference, pictures that moved readers and politicians to act, to do something about an issue.”
Author of more than a dozen books on news photography, Buell says he admired the effort Adams would expend on a photo. “Even more importantly, it was his willingness to take chances even on important stories to make an offbeat photo rather than the safe photo,” he says.
In Vietnam, Adams went on many operations, primarily with the Marines, but also with Army patrols. He covered the Tet Offensive among his three tours of duty there with the Associated Press. Adams' “Boat People” story was dangerous. “Pirates frequently attacked smaller vessels and he would have been a target had that happened,” Buell says. Adams also photographed the riots in Detroit and Newark.
Adams' focus was always and completely on the assignment he covered, Buell says. “He was obsessed with making the perfect picture.”
Although often remembered as a combat photographer because he covered so many wars, he did not consider himself a war photographer, Buell says.
“He did not consider himself with a speciality. He believed that a good photographer was just that, a good photographer and could photograph anything well,” Buell say.s “He seldom looked back. Once an assignment was completed, he looked forward to the next subject, whatever it was.”
— Rex Rutkoski
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