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Filo recalls lessons learned from mentors

Mary Ann Thomas
| Sunday, June 10, 2012, 12:06 a.m.

NEW KENSINGTON -- David Letterman, cowboys who write poetry, Oprah, Dan Rather, Donald Trump, Liza Minnelli -- all the famous images came to roost Saturday night for the Eddie Adams Photography Festival dinner at the Clarion Hotel.

Famous photographers from the Alle-Kiski Valley captured all the famous people and moments, from presidents to popes, world class athletes to insurgents, and from movie stars to painters on the New Kensington Bridge.

Some of the images were from Pulitzer Prize winners, some not, but still, all winners.

Amateur and professional photographers gathered at the Clarion to pay tribute to the memory of the late Eddie Adams, the former Valley Daily News photographer and New Kensington native who won the Pulitzer for the image of a South Vietnamese policeman, pistol in hand, executing a Viet Cong prisoner in the streets of Saigon.

John Filo, another Pulitzer prize-winning photographer and colleague of Adams, a Harrison native and former Valley Daily News photographer, spoke to a rapt audience of more than 90 photographers and family and friends, for the two-day Eddie Adams Photography Festival at the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society through today.

The work of Adams and the late William T. Larkin, chief of photography at the Valley News Dispatch, will be on display through June 27.

For Filo, 63, executive director of CBS News Photography, Saturday's dinner was the first time he has spoken publicly in the Alle-Kiski Valley since a month after he snapped his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo in 1970 of a teenage girl crying over the body of a Kent State student shot when the National Guard opened fire during a student protest. Filo took the photo while he was an intern at the Valley Daily News, a predecessor of the Valley News Dispatch.

"They took the photos that everyone knows," said Mary Theresa Muto of Cheswick, who is a member of the New Kensington Camera Club.

It was the fledging New Kensington Camera Club and the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society that pulled together the festival that brought in Filo, Adam's widow, Alyssa Adams, and a room full of photographers.

And one of the things that the photographers agreed upon is that the only way to shoot better photographs is to keep shooting photos. Even if it's shooting different subjects in similar ways. Filo showed photos of varying portraits shot in a similar way: the Statue of Liberty, and his daughter.

As Filo has traveled the world for the Associated Press and other media outlets, he likened photography as "A Zen. A way of moving through life," he said.

"The stories you have to do, it makes you grow."

And Filo reminisced and discussed Adams' philosophy on photography.

"To focus," he said, "For Eddie, it wasn't about the camera, but yourself."

But Filo's stories didn't just have international date lines.

One of Filo's stories was about home and growing up in the Alle-Kiski Valley and learning from local photographers. He attributed learning the finer points of lighting from his Valley News colleagues.

One photo featured two men covered in white splatter spots from painting the New Kensington Bridge. Filo took the shoot for the VND.

He contrasted the old days of hauling lights and converting hotel rooms into darkrooms to the new technology and its limitless numbers of photos.

"Why should I retire now," Filo said. "It's too easy. They aren't cameras anymore. They are computers."

But advanced technology isn't always the photographer's friend.

Filo lamented that when he is assigned to photograph a subject, that he has to make choices: "Of all of this visual space. I'm going to put a frame around this, and this is important."

Now, there aren't photo editors making the tough choices, choosing just a few images.

"It's about volume," Filo said. "We inundate people. We need strong editing. That's the dilemma we're in."

Family members of Adams and Filo attended Saturday's dinner, including Darlene Schimelfanick, Adams' sister who lives in Ocala, Fla.

"This is nice," she said. "They should keep his memory going. He was a tribute to the area, and it is nice to have something honoring him."

If you go

What: Eddie Adams Photography Festival

When: Today film "An Unlikely Weapon -- The Eddie Adams Story" continues playing 2-5 p.m.

Photo exhibit expanded hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, through June 27, for Eddie Adams Month, and by appointment.

Admission: $5 today; $3 for exhibit through June.

Where: Allegheny-Kiski Valley Heritage Museum, 224 E. Seventh Ave., Tarentum

Details: 724-224-7666; ;

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