EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan, a long-time journalist, are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in July 2005. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.
Old memories are often stored in dusty attics, cluttered closets and stuffy storerooms. It was not until a recent visit with Meagan, my granddaughter in Los Angeles, that I even remembered I had an old leather camera gadget bag filled with cameras, wide angle lenses and assorted other photographic gear I had used in my journalistic career.
I discovered she was interested in black and white photography and was taking special courses to perfect her skills. I promised her that when I returned home to Roseburg, I would send her the gadget bag and camera equipment that I had not used, or even seen, for over a quarter century.
The problem was when I did return home, I couldn’t remember where I had stored it. I searched the barn where most of my household overflow goes. I did not find it, but I did find my old darkroom equipment neatly boxed.
The gadget bag with all my camera gear wasn’t there, however. Nor was it in the storeroom off the back of house where stuff that wouldn’t fit in the barn lies as another legacy for my children who will have to clean up my mess in what is called an estate.
I then searched the closets upstairs where more estate items are stored. It was not there, either. I decided I’d best clean the one closet in my downstairs office where I would never expect to have camera gear. It was there I found the leather gadget bag.
I unzipped it to check its contents. Two 35mm cameras, two wide angle lenses and one old Rolleiflex, the first press camera that replaced the old heavy, bulky Speed Graphic.
Inside that bag was more than just camera gear. It contained a storehouse of memories of where this gadget bag had been in my career as a working journalist.
But first you must understand I was forced to be a photographer. With the ink still wet on my bachelor’s degree in journalism, I interviewed for my first job on a small daily in Fullerton, Calif. The publisher was impressed and hired me, but on the way out of his office, he called to me and said: “I forgot to ask, you do shoot a camera, don’t you?” I knew my job hinged on my answer, so I boldly said, yes. In truth I had never even taken a picture with a Brownie.
My first day on the job, I was assigned to cover a parade — all moving subjects. I had to think fast. With the huge Speed Graphic press camera in hand I went directly to Roy’s Photo Shop and said to the owner:
“Can you show me how to work this camera? I don’t have much time.”
“How much time do you have?” Roy asked.
“About 15 minutes.”
Roy gave me the 15-minute instruction, showing me how to insert the film holder, pull the slide, and cock the shutter. He advised me to shoot everything at 200 speed at an aperture setting of f/16. I suddenly became a news photographer — what’s known in the trade as a combination man. I never changed camera speeds or apertures.
Since that time I not only covered parades, but royalty, presidents, the famous and the infamous in one of the most exciting careers one could have in a lifetime. Life Magazine once featured a picture I took of a deadly shootout on the Street of the Blue Lantern in Dana Point, Calif.
One of the cameras I turned over to my granddaughter went with me to England and sailed back to Long Beach, Calif., on the last voyage of the Queen Mary. Today, it is in good hands, a third-generation photographer who will probably not take my advice to shoot everything at 200/16, but do all kinds of tricks with film her grandfather never learned to do as a combination man.