There were the cowboy boots, ever present. The tuft of silver hair...definately not gray. The smile, beaming like a Colorado sunrise. The nicest, cleanest, snappiest cameras, always a Leica amongst them. The Jaguar, yes there definitely was the Jaguar. What other photographer owned a Jaguar? Can't think of one. Kind of hard to imagine that he's gone. Bernie Boston died today. He was one of those guys who you don't imagine having time to die, as he still had too many things he was working on. He'd moved from DC to the Shenandoah hills after a 40 year newspaper career (Washington Star, Los Angeles Times), and was publisher and photographer (its easier to do that when you ARE the publisher!) of a little mountain newspaper, but it kept his eye sharp, and his trigger finger on the ready. But mostly, Bernie embodied a term that is, frankly, overused. He was a great guy. A Great Guy.
Bernie Boston, photographer (photo by Stephen R Brown)
When I first came to DC in the summer of 1967, Bernie was one of those figures who, once you met them, you'd always remember. I was being taken around the town (the Hill, LBJ's White House) by my mentor, Time photographer Wally Bennett, and in doing so I'd run into all the regulars. George Tames of the Times, Charlie Tasnadi from AP (who passed away just a week ago), and of course Bernie. In '67 he was still working for the Washington Star (ah, the days when there were two big, viable DC papers) and that year he would take the picture of the anti war protester stuffing flowers into the barrel of a soldier's M16 at the march on the Pentagon. That picture, more than most, came to symbolize his career: a great picture, taken at a big event, in the town he loved, Washington D.C. He really was a DC fixture all those years. Like many colleagues, Bernie WAS a White House photographer: by that I mean, someone who worked at the White House covering events for a paper or a wire service or magazine, and who saw in those public events of very public people, the chance to get a private moment: something which illuminated the personage in ways that no other medium could do. He loved DC, he loved the fact that being here meant you were at the center of the action. And I think he shared that feeling which I feel every time I walk past the guard house at the northwest gate: You are entering the White House, the President's House, the People's House; it is never something done lightly. There is an aura about the place, no matter who the President is, no matter which party is in power. The House is above all. When you have that kind of appreciation for the White House, it colors your view of your work. You feel an extra obligation to do something special everytime you enter those gates. It does not breed mediocrity. Bernie loved being there, loved the idea of covering those events which everyone in the country would learn about that night on TV, or the next morning in their paper. It is a very seductive feel, and not a bad one, really.
In North Carolina, in 1982, Bernie and I were invited to speak at a gathering of press photographers. I was in the early stages of my globe trotting, Bernie by and large was doing his Washington thing. It was a good mix. I'd flown down to Fayetteville, but Bernie, typically, had driven his Jaguar from DC. Now I suppose if I had owned a Jaguar, I would have driven, too, and avoided the pitfalls of trying to fly with Piedmont Airlines. On the last night of our stay, after our presentations, we joined in a volley ball game at the home of our host, the chief photog at the local paper. Well, as fate would have it, going for a slam, Bernie fell badly and broke his ankle. We all worried about how he would fend, but Bernie's only real concern was.... Who Would Drive the Jaguar back to Washington? Sadly, I wasn't nominated. That's a trip I would have loved taking.
Bernie was a singular personality. His camera was part of him, yet he was much much more of a gentleman. I don't actually recall him ever bad-mouthing anyone: there are few people I can say that of. I suppose if he had bad-mouthed someone, it would have been right on the money. But Bernie was a class guy, who you could always rely on for a smile, a joke, and a hand if you needed one. I saw him the last time at a party for another photographer, Frank Johnston, in Alexandria last summer. Bernie had rallied from his sick bed, and was forthright about his illness, yet unchanged in his amazing optimism, and positive view of life. One had the impression that Bernie was somehow still waiting to meet most of the six billion folks he hadn't had the chance to meet just yet. Sadly for them, that won't happen. But for me, every time I see a Jag, or a Leica all spruced up, or a pair of cowboy boots that catch my eye, I'll think of that wonderful guy with the camera who brought so much of his life to the lives of the rest of us. We're just sayin.... David