Friday, October 9, 2009

Meet Eddie Adams

The 2009 edition of the Eddie Adams Workshop got off to a rousing, but an often emotional start Friday night, with remembrances of friends and family, and a suggestion about how lasting the Barnstorm experience can be. Producer Mirjam Evers welcomed students, noted the 17,000 emails she'd received this year, and said: "Enjoy your journey. Take my advice -- be open to anything. The Eddie Adams Workshop will become part of your soul."

She soon introduced Alyssa Adams, who said of both students and staff, "Everyone is here because they want to be here." She noted the continued support of Nikon and other sponsors during a tough economy and the massive changes in the photography and publishing industries, plus the personal costs of students to attend. She said the experience will be well worth it. "That money you spent on air fare will be the best money you ever spent."

She was followed by Hal Buell, formerly a longtime top executive and guiding force for the Associated Press, and Walter Anderson, the former chairman, publisher and (for many years) Eddie Adams' editor at Parade magazine. Both were longtime friends of Adams', and both told stories of what that sometimes could mean, including the experience of landing on the late photographer's notorious "shit list." Anderson explained to laughter, "You didn't know how you got there, you just knew you were there." But he also explored the depth of feeling Adams had for what he did, quoting Adams: "A good picture reaches into your heart and twists it."

The working relationship Adams had with his longtime editors was recounted as a powerful example to follow for any photographer. Anderson pointed out that even the most experienced photographer has insecurities, and whenever he gave Eddie the call, Adams would anxiously ask him specifically what he was looking for. Anderson would tell him, and Eddie would always come back with something better. "Not once in 20 years did I publish a photo (from Eddie) that was my idea. He always came back with something better." Any photographer who didn't, Anderson said, was never hired by Parade again.

Then, as with every Workshop since 1988, the 100 students in the Barn heard from Eddie himself, during a 20-minute excerpt from the new feature documentary "An Unlikely Weapon." (The entire 90-minute film will be screened at the Workshop on Monday morning.) What they saw and heard was a sometimes cantankerous, larger-than-life character in a black fedora, a tough guy who would sing Johnny Cash songs at karaoke bars. And he was a photographer who cared about what he did and strived to improve at every stage of his career. "Like anybody, I always wanted to be the best," Adams says in one scene from the film, as he walks the streets of New York. "I'm not, but I'm still trying."

He saw war close up, captured one of the most significant images from the Vietnam war, and he wrestled with the consequences of that. The final image on the screen was a handwritten statement from Adams: "Life goes on -- we photograph it. But, it's much better with love."

Steve Appleford

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