Max Desfor: The Forrest Gump of News History–Only Max was really there.

On December 7, 1941, Associated Press photographer Max Desfor had been covering the Redskins-Eagles football game in Griffiths Stadium in Washington. He was in a special press box on the fifty-yard line. The box was positioned below the loge seats and held four or five photographers. Desfor was sitting behind a camera called a “Big Bertha,” a Speed Graphic with a long telephoto that used 5×7 sheets of film. During the first half of the game he heard a series of messages over the stadium public address system telling colonels and admirals to call their offices. He knew something was up and at halftime called the AP bureau from a pay phone. “Max,” he was told, “get your ass back here. We’ve been attacked!”  As soon as Max returned to the AP bureau he was told to go to the State Department. At that time the State Department was in the Old Executive Office Building, now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He rushed to the bottom of the steps just as Japanese diplomats Kichisaburo Nomura and Saburo Kurusu were leaving the building. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was following them, extremely angry and berating the diplomats in a loud voice.  Desfor made pictures, rushed back to the AP bureau, and was told to get to the Japanese Embassy. When Desfor arrived at the Japanese Embassy, on Massachusetts Avenue, he found photographer Tom O’Halloran of Harris and Ewing and other photographers in the courtyard. They were making pictures of the embassy staff burning top-secret documents.   The staff tried to prevent the photographers from making pictures by coming at them with brooms. Without any planning, the photographers broke up into two groups.   While the Japanese staff chased one group with their brooms, the other group would make pictures. Desfor would see one of the Japanese diplomats again—nearly four years later, on the deck of the USS Missouri as Japanese officials signed the document of surrender that ended World War II.

Max covered the war in the Pacific.  On October 6th, 1945 Max was told to get to the tiny island of Tinian as fast he could .  Max made it and  took the only photographs of the  Enola Gay landing after it’s Hiroshima mission.

Max returned to the Pacific for AP.and covered the Indonesian Revolution. Max covered the Indian Pakistan Kashmir War.  In Bombay, 1946, Max made the iconic photograph of Gandhi and Nehru.

Max won a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the Korean War and his photograph “Flight of Refugees”.

While Max was head of AP photos in Japan, President Nixon announced that he was going to China.  Max was part of AP’s on the ground team on that history trip.

Max came back to the states and became the Director of Photography for US NEWS & WORLD  REPORT

Max retired years ago, and is in good health.  Last November Max and his wife, Shirley, celebrated Max’s 100th birthday with a party at the National Press Club in Washington, DC

A few days ago Max called to tell me about a photograph that is on page 27 of PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES. The photograph is of Arthur Scott showing President Roosevelt the finalists in the White House News Photographers contest.  The president was to select the Grand Prize Winner.  Max said that I probably didn’t know that the little boy in one of the pictures was his son.  Max said that his son wasn’t feeling well and had one of those prize-winning expressions so Max took the picture.  The picture was prize winning but not  Grand Prize winning.  FDR selected the combat picture as the Grand Prize.  FYI, Max’s son is feeling better.  In his seventies and living in  the Chicago area, he comes to visit Max often.

Arthur Scott showing FDR the White House News Photographer finalists

Arthur Scott showing FDR the White House News Photographer finalists

  • Mathew Brady’s Photograph of Presidential Candidate Abraham Lincoln

    Mathew Brady's portrait of Presidential Candidate Abraham Lincoln

    Mathew Brady’s portrait of Presidential Candidate Abraham Lincoln

    On the morning of February 27, 1860, a relatively unknown ex-congressman named Abraham Lincoln walked into photographer Mathew Brady’s studio at 634 Broadway in New York. In preparing the homely, clean-shaven politician for a portrait,  Brady drew up Lincoln’s collar in an effort to improve his appearance. Then Brady made his picture. The result, historian Mary Panzer noted, was a portrait of a firm, determined Lincoln who had the look of a statesman.


  • The Speed Graphic: The sweetheart of press photographers for sixty years.

    Graphic redGeorge Eastman purchased Folmer and Schwing Manufacturing, a bicycle company that also made cameras, in 1905. Such a combination of products was not uncommon at that time. The 4×5 Speed Graphic camera was introduced in 1912. The camera contained a cloth curtain focal plane shutter and rail-based bellows mounted on a carriage that could be folded into a tight box. Improvements, such as a front leaf shutter and a sports finder, were added over the years, but the basic camera design never changed. In 1947 the company came out with the Pacemaker Graphic, which was the same camera without the focal plane shutter.

    The 4×5 Speed Graphic was the sweetheart of press photographers for sixty years. At one time sixteen of the twenty Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs were made with this bulky but durable picture-making machine. The Speed Graphic became the identifying symbol of the news photographer. 4×5 Crown Graphic.

    The film was put into the back of the Speed Graphic with film holders and a slide would be pulled, much like the film holders in the Wet Plate Process. A photographer started the day with about ten film holders, each containing two sheets of film. Usually a photographer carried the holder in the camera and perhaps one holder in each coat pocket. Every exposure was important. The first thing that a press photographer would look for in a news situation was one good picture that would tell the story. It was called “making one for the bag.”

    Once the photographer had that one picture, he could relax, look for something new, perhaps a feature picture, but he had to have that“one for the bag” before he did anything.

  • Nixon announces visit to communist China

    Dirck Halstead, UPI and John Dominis, LIFE, wait for Nixon's arrival at the Beijing Airport.

    Dirck Halstead, UPI and John Dominis, LIFE, wait for Nixon’s arrival at the Beijing Airport.

    And then the battle began.  Every news organization wanted to send a photo team on the biggest story of the year–the decade!  The Chinese limited the number of Americans who could enter the country.  When the smoke cleared only the wires and the magazines won and they sent their best photographers: Horst Faas and Bob Daugherty for the Associated Press, Frank Cancellare and Dirck Halstead for United Press International, Wally McNamee for Newsweek,and John Dominis for Time Inc.  John Dominis worked for LIFE and LIFE sort of “bigfooted” the TIME photo department.  These “stars,”accustomed to the support of others, had to remember old skills, which included developing their own film.

    UPI photographer Dirck Halstead processing color in hotel bathroom in UPI's darkroom.

    UPI photographer Dirck Halstead processing color in hotel bathroom in UPI’s darkroom.

    Dirck Halstead give an excellent account of his historic and exhausting journey in his book MOMENTS IN TIME  (

  • It was just a walk in the park. Well, Almost.

    Obama 6 30 14It was a beautiful afternoon, bright sun, about 84 degrees, and LaFayette Park across the street from the White House is very pleasant at this time of the year.  The president was doing an event at the Department of Veterans Affairs so a walk back to the White House was a natural.  Great!  First, let’s clear all of the people out of the park, better make that all the way to 17th Street.  Next, stop the traffic on H Street, well, that had to be for the Presidential Limo and the tent erected over it. They would need all of H Street for the motorcade that was almost  as long as the walk from the White House to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Bring on security and the White House in town traveling pool and the walk Obama 6 30 14begins. The President, Vice President, and his pick to lead the Department of Veterans’ Affairs walking and talking–it almost looked like a “Photo opp”.

    Obama 6 20 14 Oh, and if you are the president, you are the one who gets to take off his suit coat and hold the coffee cup.


  • Photographer Howard Baker 1925-2014

    Holding a small Leica in his hand and the large Leicaflex around his neck, Howard Baker carrys on his political duties at the Republican Convention in Kansas, City in August 1976 Photograph by Dennis Brack

    Holding a small Leica in his hand and the large Leicaflex around his neck, Howard Baker carrys on his political duties at the Republican Convention in Kansas, City in August 1976
    Photograph by Dennis Brack

    Most Americans remember Howard Baker as a U.S. senator, Senate majority leader and White House Chief of Staff, but the photographers remember Baker as a darned good photographer.  Actually some of us thought that he would have much rather  been on our side of the cameras instead of being our subject.  Senator Howard BakerHe loved his Leicaflex which was much to heavy, (and too expensive), for news work.  He processed color film in his well equipped darkroom and had mastered a technique of eliminating green, (our nemesis at that time), by adjusting development temperature.


    Baker was a wonderful presidential candidate.

    Howard Baker campaigning for President is New Hampshire in November 1979 Photograph by Dennis Brack

    Howard Baker campaigning for President is New Hampshire in November 1979
    Photograph by Dennis Brack

    Ideal for his friends the photographers.  I did have one problem.  He had the habit of handing his Leicaflex to me to take a few pictures of him on the campaign trail.   Of course, that meant that I wasn’t able to take pictures with my cameras for TIME.  That was just fine for a good friend.

  • Great News Photographers–minus One

    If you have been around for some time and follow news photography above is a gathering of some of the top photographers of the last century–all except the one on the far right, that’s me.

    The photograph was made in Plains, Georgia during  the summer that Jimmy Carter was running for president.

    Photo greatsOn the left is Joe Holloway,first UPI and later  AP.  Holloway made classic photographs of the Vietnam War and the Civl Rights Movement. Next to Holloway is Frank Cancellare of UPI. Cancellare had a lifetime of page one photographs from the depression to the Burma Road in WWII to the photograph of President Truman holding the CHICAGO TRIBUNE, “Dewey Defeats Truman”  After Cancellare, is Chick Harrity,AP,and U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT. George Tames ,THE NEW YORK TIMES, is next.  Tames made the iconic photograph of JFK titled “The Loneliest Job in the World”,but there were thousands of  prize-winning  photographs in his portfolio.  Joe Marquette is the thin man next to Tames.  At that time Marquette was working for UPI, but he went on to an important career with the AP in Washington.


  • “I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.” – Mahatma Gandhi -

    A statue of Gandhi at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town South Africa. photograph by Dennis Brack

    A statue of Gandhi at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town South Africa. photograph by Dennis Brack



    Oh, well,  Nobody’s Perfect

    “Everybody makes mistakes… Everybody has those days”.- another quote from a great philosopher  –HANNAH MONTANA

  • A Great Day for the Beach! Pebble Beach

    Pebble Beach 2If you are looking for a wonderful golf course and the Pacific Ocean, you are definitely on the wrong website.  This Pebble Beach is on the North Lawn of the White House and no one, with the exception of a few network producers, finds it attractive.  There are men and women who spend their day at this beach and on a summer day they might enjoy the sun with the breeze from a large Costco fan.  These people are on the crews that have been assigned to broadcast White House correspondent’s “stand-ups”.  These stand-ups are constant.  Ed Henry of Fox News makes the short walk from the Fox News cubical in the pressroom basement to give updates almost hourly.  When the world is in crisis mode, this space is buzzing with “authoritative news”–or lack there of.

    It started with a camera crew on sticks (a tripod), filming  their correspondent with the North Portico of the White House as a background.  Today it is the size of a small town. There was no doubt that the space was looking like a gypsy camp.  First Lady Laura Bush thought that something ought to be done and the Department of Interior went to work.  (remember the White House is a national park).  After the re-do the camera crews found that they were to stand on large round pebbles–hence the name Pebble Beach.  Recently there was  yet another  re-do.  The pebbles were replaced  by concrete and some of the newer crews call the area Stoneheng.  Around it was a hedge of small bushes–mean bushes with thorns like a rose bush, but nastier.  You do not want to take short cut through those bushes.  They will hurt you.

    For many years television viewers saw the correspondent in the foreground with the entire White House and some of the North Lawn as a background.  Recently, the networks are shooting the stand ups with longer lenses so the White House is much larger  and right over the corespondent’s shoulder.  To achieve this look the camera has to be 15 to 20 feet back from the correspondent, so the white canvas tents are long and narrow.

    pebble beachWhile president and first ladies might not like sight of this little city, I can’t help but think that it’s a good thing to have it close to the center of power.  It reminds our leaders that the media–the people–are watching and interested in the decisions that they are about to make.

  • Larry Downing, Reuters has visited fifty states while covering presidents

    Down AFOneCONGRATULATIONS TO LARRY DOWNING!. The stop in North Dakota marked the 50th state Reuters photographer
    Larry Downing has visited covering a president. He started with Jimmy
    Carter 37 years ago and has covered every president since.  Larry came to Washington, DC. as a photographer for United Press International.  NEWSWEEK recognized his talent and expertise as a newsphotographer and put  Larry on their staff.   After NEWSWEEK, Larry freelanced but really wanted to be a staff wire service photographer.  He was hired by Reuters–the best hire that they could have made.  There is a chapter on Larry Downing in the book, PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES.