Black and white photojournalism by award winning photographer David Lee Longstreath
tales from the trail
The early days
I don’t go on great adventures much these days. I am retired from my post as Chief Photographer for the Associated Press based for 15 years in Bangkok, Thailand. As a young US Navy photographer back in 1972 I first heard of Bangkok from a Chief Photographer who described it and Thailand as the most photogenic place in the world. The first time I saw some of his photos of Thailand Buddhist monks and others in southeast Asia I was hooked.
I left the US Navy in 1979, worked a two-year stint as a newspaper photographer before taking on a part-time position with the Associated Press. That was 1981 an in a year it was full time with all the benefits of company equipment, salary and health care. John Shurr, may he rest in peace, had great faith in me and got me hired.
It was a dream come true for me. Since I was the only photographer, I did mostly what I wanted, but that changed. There were reporters to deal with, and stories that the AP covered that I felt were mostly a waste of my time. In Oklahoma, it was anything that had to do with the state house. At one point the only assignments I was getting was a weekly news conference by the Governor. I, however, spent my other time chasing police scanner calls and wandering the streets shooting feature art or working on a photo story. I also covered most of the sporting events at the major universities.
My mentor, Frank Hoy, may he rest in peace, did a great job of guiding me along the way with critics of my work. Franks always knew how to punch my buttons and when I got lazy I would hear from him for sure. I first met Frank back in 1975 when he was my news photography professor at Syracuse University.
In 1982 I was married, had a young daughter and needed stability. The sh position at the AP was just that.
In 1984 I was assigned to help with coverage of the Democratic convention in San Francisco. On a tag along assignment with veteran AP shooter Charles Tasnadi, a legend, I made a photo of Geraldine Ferraro, the first female Vice Presidential candidate, and Calif Rep. Barbra Boxer.
That image set things in motion for me. That week a gunman walked into a McDonalds in San Diego and went on a shooting spree killing more than 20 people. At the end of the Democratic convention two days later I was tapped by management to help out in San Diego with the story and coming funerals. I am sure this was a “let’s see what the kid can do” moment for AP Photo managers out of New York.
When I reported to San Diego a message was waiting on me from my local Chief Of Bureau at Oklahoma City to come home.
I stayed a week, and when I returned to my home base, I met a furious manager. He was upset that I had not told my New York boss that I had a state meeting to get back to where my job was to run a slide projector showing the winners of an AP-sponsored contest. I could have surrendered to the manager, but I felt that while Oklahoma was my assigned territory, the Associated Press was my career. I was not about to turn my back on future assignments no matter how much heat I would take.
My work had been noticed and liked by my New York handlers. This was the beginning of my adventures in photojournalism.
Tales from the Trail
David Lee Longstreath is a retired wire service photographer with more than 40 years experience on assignments around the world. He currently lives in upcountry Thailand.