To All The Ships At Sea
On more than one occasion I’ve made an announcement on the loss of a very special human being. As a young man I wrote a letter to John Dominis, staff photographer at LIFE Magazine and much to my surprise I received a beautiful letter back and phone call. Like all great talented people, most of them are genuinely humble. John was the epitome of this.
It was several years before we had an opportunity to meet in person and nothing changed. Still one of the greatest photographers of our time and a helluva great person. I guess I’ve learned to celebrate someone’s life and not go into a morbid funk about their loss. Having said that, I will share a story with you. John Dominis turned out to be my Photo Editor at Sports Illustrated. When he took over he called me into his office and asked me what lens I used which was a total shock. When I told him it was a 16mm Nikkor (or was it a 15mm Nikkor I don’t remember?) He told me never to use a full frame fisheye on an S.I. assignment again or I will hear the words – you’ll never work for this book again. That was a side of John I had never seen before – stern, to the point and no bull – his way or the highway. About a year later, he gave me an assignment which may have been the longest assignment I had ever had at S.I. It was in excess of 3 weeks and covered 8 states from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to SaltLake City Utah, Reno Nevada, with a stop in Atlanta, Georgia and I forgot where else. I was doing a story on the Wittington Brothers who had just won Le Mans and were in the process of breaking the speed record in a WWII P51 Mustang. After three or four days of delays Bill Wittington, also known as the Wildman, said, “okay let’s go now.” I sat in the back of the P51 where the radio used to be. He said there was room for me, one camera, one lens, and some film. He also suggested I take an ID in case we crash. I looked at my assistant and said give me the F2 with the widest lens we have. He handed it to me and the next thing I knew we were at 900 feet doing a snap roll (it got my attention.) It was not lost on me that I had the full frame fisheye which if you bend off it’s axis it will just look like a super wide angle lens. When the assignment was over, I turned in all my film and heard nothing. It was a future bonus piece so there was no deadline per se. A few months later about 1 AM the phone rang and John Dominis was on the line. He said, “I just wanted to tell you I just edited your Wittington Story and it’s one of the finest stories to go past my desk. You did one hell of a great job and I did not want to wait to tell you. By the way, what lens did you use in the cockpit?” I said, “John I think it was an 18mm.” Dominis said, “I helped design that lens and that was no 18mm. Didn’t I tell you not to use that lens? It worked for this but don’t ever use it again.” That’s my story.
If you want to see a some really fine photography check out John Dominis’ work. He’s right there with W. Gene Smith, Alfred Eisenstadt, Carl Mydans and one of the all time greats.