Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Have to Start Somewhere, Right?

Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1974

My first published photograph appeared in an international non-profit organization’s newsletter when I was in high school. I received no payment for the use.

My second published picture, above, was of an overturned truck carrying forty cows. You have to start somewhere. Why not with dead cows?

Needless to say, this shot was not planned. Gregory Crewdson was only ten years old at the time. The idea of meticulously arranged photographic tableaux like his hadn’t come along yet.

I took the picture on a steamy Sunday afternoon in late June, when the Mid-Atlantic takes on more of the humid feel of, say, Southeast Asia. Sensible people—Richmond was full of them in those days; you recognized them because they wore seersucker in the summer and, legend has it, never perspired—were indoors or under the shade of a tree. I, having no common sense and living in a damp, un-air conditioned basement apartment, was out in the sun taking pictures.

I was on my way home from taking pictures at a festival in Chimborazo Park when I saw the accident from an overpass. I quickly found a place to park and ran back onto the bridge and snapped the picture.

I took my film to the newspaper building. One of the security guards took my film and my name and address and said they’d get the negatives back to me.

When I went out to the street the next morning to get the paper, I was pleased to find my picture above the fold on the front page of the main news section. Hundreds of thousand or so other people around Virginia also saw it. I did not become an overnight sensation, however. It turns out that pictures of overturned cattle trucks are not the makings of greatness.

But quite by surprise I got my negatives and a check for $100 in the mail the next week. That proved a lot more useful than celebrity.


  1. Good on you! Quick thinking and fast action got you a byline (and on page one, no less) and $100 (which, if I remember correctly, was a fair chunk of dough in 1974).

  2. Wow! That's very cool, Chris! And quite a photo, too! Did all the cows die? What a story.