We need to make a deal. I’ll show it to you on the condition you not get too excited. Here it is, the very first image I ever shot as a Bakersfield Californian staff photographer, on September 14, 1981. It is a group of Oildale residents at a Kern County Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss some course of action that would affect their community. I have long forgotten what the issue was. I had made plenty of images for The Californian during the nine months I worked as a reporter, but this is the first one I made on the day I moved to the photo department, achieving my dream of becoming a newspaper staff photographer.
We were responsible for filing our own negatives, which we kept in boxes on our desk. This is largely why I am able to do this project. I have a bunch of boxes full of my negatives from almost the entire decade of the 1980s! Here is what that “filing system” looked like before we got a library and a staff that began keeping track of everything we shot.What do I remember most about that first day? I remember my boss, chief photographer Jack Knight, welcoming me and showing me my desk on the fourth floor photo department. On it were two Nikon F2 camera bodies and an assortment of lenses. They were the equipment of Earl Day, the recently-retired photographer I replaced. The cameras were fine, but the lenses were all off-brand lenses that even a rookie wanted nothing to do with. I had a few of my own Nikkor lenses so I put those into service. Felix Adamo was the envy of the photographers – he had the only 180 mm f2.8 Nikkor, then the crown jewel of the department. I was envious, but drew even a few months later when my parents bought me one for Christmas. Within a year or two, The Californian began investing in serious photo equipment, and soon we were equipped with the best stuff in the business. The other thing I remember about that day was the labeled re-loadable 35 mm film canisters on my desk. We would roll our own film off of 100-foot bulk rolls of Tri-X. Jack Knight, I soon learned, loved – and I mean loved – his label gun, and just about everything in the photo department had a label on it. Being the mischievous types we were, we took great pleasure in hiding Jack’s label gun every now and then.
And then that first assignment. Oildale residents at the Board of Supervisors for some issue, and updated file shots of the supervisors. Exciting? In retrospect, not at all, but on that day, Monday, September 14, 1981, it was heaven.