Long after his passing, Pulitzer-winning photographer Eddie Adams' influence lives on
More people practice photography today than at any other time in history.
We use pictures to prove we were there, says Richard Kelly, keynote speaker for the 2018 Eddie Adams Day celebration June 16 at the Heritage Museum in Tarentum. It is sponsored by New Kensington Camera Club.
The adjunct associate professor at Pittsburgh Filmmakers School received the 2011 United Nations' International Photographic Council's Leadership Award for his advocacy and educational work on behalf of independent creatives and professional photographers.
He is former director of photography for WQED Multimedia, working to expand the definition of photography in the early days of the internet.
The in-demand lecturer and panel moderator has presented at conferences worldwide, including those sponsored by National Geographic and Harvard Law School.
He says his challenge to photographers is to share “their authentic self” with the world, as did the late Adams, New Kensington's Pulitzer Prize winning photographer.
Years after Adams' death, there is still much to learn from the photojournalist, says Kelly.
“I would argue that his post-Pulitzer work is his most important contribution. He captured important people, and as time goes on, the look back will reflect on those moments as representative of that time,” he explains.
Kelly says he sees great photography every day on his Instagram feed.
“It's a wonderful time to engage with our global brothers and sisters to see what they see. I follow photographers in Russia, the Middle East, Australia, Japan, China, Vietnam and Argentina and every day I learn a little bit more,” he says.
“I believe that the internet-connected camera can do more for peace than just about anything else. We can learn what is important and in many cases, it is the same things that are important to my friends in New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Shadyside, Beaver Falls (his hometown) and New Kensington.”
‘Inspired by Eddie Adams'
Kelly also will judge the annual “Inspired by Eddie Adams” photo exhibit, which will be on display at the museum through June 23.
What will he be looking for?
“Moments that we haven't seen before. Eddie transformed his photography from conflict journalism to feature photography. He didn't leave behind the moments,” he says.
In Kelly's mind, the quintessential Adams portrait has a bit of the unexpected.
“Compared to his contemporaries, his photographs are less concept and polish and a little more of the ‘I don't know,' including a subject's grand expression or their subtle gesture,” he says. “If photographers in 2018 can bring those qualities to their imagery, they have something. The best part is that you don't have to be a professional photographer to create professional quality images. It's the intention to the photograph and the continual practice of the craft of photography.”
Though Kelly met Adams while working in New York, Don Henderson, Camera Club president, says his reason for asking Kelly to speak is not so much about his connection to Adams, but more about his huge presence in Pittsburgh photography.
“Richard is an influencer, a teacher, and a mentor. He is comfortable working behind any camera, film or digital and he can relate to photographers at any level of photography from amateur to professional. He has been there and done that. He is one of those people that you meet that you instantly become friends with. He brings a lot to the table both tangible and intangible. To me, Richard is the total package of what a photographer should be.”
Henderson says he is always amazed at how many people Adams touched in his lifetime, both before and after he took that fateful photo on a Saigon street in 1968.
Thousands of photographers benefitted from Adams through his Barnstorm photography workshop.
“Capturing the human condition is never easy. We always want to show life in a good light, but it is not always possible. Life isn't perfect, but I think if we capture the human condition with compassion and empathy, we succeed,” Henderson says.
Casual this year
This year's Eddie Adams Day, he adds, will be more casual than past events. “We are going back to our roots at the Heritage Museum,” he says.
Kelly is scheduled to speak about 1 p.m., followed by a screening of the Adams' documentary, “An Unlikely Weapon.” There will be a photo walk at 10 a.m. June 17, through Adams' New Kensington.
“What inspires me about Eddie Adams was that he wasn't a one trick pony. He did his best to distance himself from the Saigon execution photo that won him a Pulitzer Prize. He continued to focus on people and changing lives,” Henderson says.
Mt. Lebanon photographer Jay Kuntz, who has entered photos of his trip to Cuba in the exhibit, says Adams' work inspires him because of the way many of his images capture emotion and show a deeper perspective of the subject.
“I also am in awe of the danger he and other photojournalists faced in order to share the images of important stories. They are a part of history that allows the viewers to taste the experience,” he says.
Adams' work demonstrated the value of not only documenting the human condition, he says, but also speaks to the power of photography to tell stories.
Bridget Benton of Brackenridge says that she and husband Andrew Benton's entries pay homage to Adams in “trying to capture people being themselves.”
“I think the lesson learned from Eddie Adams is ‘Life happens. It's not always going to be pretty. but by documenting what you see you can share it with others.' ”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.