July 28, 1985. The other picture

bikiniwebMost of you know about the Hart Park Lake drowning picture that I shot in the early evening of Sunday, July 28, 1985. It changed my career, gave me a voice in my profession, and catapulted me and The Bakersfield Californian into the photojournalism ethics debate for years to come. But what you don’t know about, and Bakersfield has never seen, is the other picture I shot that day. Earlier in my shift, I was assigned to cover a “best bikini contest” at the Kern County Fairgrounds. I was struck by the sea of thousands of young men who had assembled to watch, and knew that their reaction would make the best photo. I positioned myself on the stage, and was able to record this image. When I brought the picture back to the newsroom, it was immediately rejected by the duty editor. “We can’t run this, ” I remember him saying. “Do you have any idea how many phone calls we’ll get?” And just like that, the picture was dead. Hello, reject bin. The next day, and in the days that followed, the paper would be overwhelmed with phone calls, letters and cancelled subscriptions. I would come to work, and for the next two weeks did nothing but media interviews. But, of course, not for this photo. One day our executive editor Bob Bentley, who personally made the decision to run the drowning photo, said to me, “In retrospect, I should have run the bikini photo instead.” You are seeing this photo for the first time.

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3 thoughts on “July 28, 1985. The other picture

  1. How many of us were sent to shoot photos at a strip club during our career? I can remember four different times at different papers. And no matter what we came back with, no matter how tame or battered down it was, had to hear “we can’t run this! There are people in it.”

    1. My favorite was when they would send me to photograph people bringing in the New Year, but had to have the picture by 9 pm. There would be nobody at the nightclubs or parties yet, and they’d say, “but there aren’t any people celebrating!” Year after year. It never changed.

  2. Thanks for posting these photos…they bring me back to my childhood in Bakersfield. I was there for that death at Hart Park (I was 7)…one of many traumatic events I recall growing up in Bakersfield.

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