Every year in Laramie, Wyoming there is a week long event celebrating the history and culture of this larger-than-typical Wyoming town. Laramie Jubilee Days is a a summertime celebration filled with rodeo, a carnival, farmers markets, street dances, a parade, live music, chili cook-offs, bar hops...basically everything you can do during the summer organized into one week of chaos. For me, it was hell week.
Each year we would get the "calendar of events" and I would prepare my schedule for what I was going to cover based on their level of importance to the celebration. A day could start by covering a pancake breakfast at 8 am and go all the way through until a downtown street dance at 9 pm. Sometimes I would stop by the office, edit a handful of photos of what I had covered that day to give to the copy desk just in case I didn't make it back by our 10:30 deadline.
By the end of the sometimes 60-hour week I could feel people watching me walk into the newsroom with an expression that said...
"I wonder if he is going to collapse today?"
Anyways, back to the photo...
In 2013, while covering the Jubilee Days downtown farmers market, from a distance, I captured a photo of an elderly man sitting at a picnic table. What stood out to me (why I decided to take the shot) was a combination of his expression, posture and just the way he was sitting there quietly watching the events unfold around him with this simple but friendly smile.
Immediately after I created the image I knew that I was going to want to run it in the paper but in order to do so, we held a standard at the newspaper what we had to get permission from anyone who was recognizable in a photo, which meant I had to introduce myself.
I nervously approached him as he sat at the table and said "Hello, my name is Jeremy and I'm the...," but before I could finish he said, "I know who you are. I see you all over town."
"Really?" I said. "So did you notice when I took your photo from over there?"
"Yes, I noticed." he said, "I used to do what you do...and you do good work."
Intrigued, I sat down next to him and asked what he meant and what type of photography he did. Honestly in my mind I was thinking here's another bird watcher or guy who just likes to carry his camera around with him when he drives around town.
But he went on to introduce himself as Harold Magness and told me that he was a retired Marine Corps combat photographer capturing images during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Here is a man who has traveled the world for the United States Marine Corps, taking photos of WARS, probably in some very dangerous situations and he has the humility to tell me he used to do what I do? Um, no you didn't "used to do what I do"! I instantly became the guy carrying his camera with him while I drive around town. I was blown away. It was like capturing a real photo of Santa or Big Foot and getting a chance to interview them. I immediately told him that I would love to see some of his photos some time and possibly do a photo story for the paper.
He smiled and shook his head and said that he wasn't really interested in doing that but he didn't mind if I used his photo I'd just taken for the paper that day.
Still in awe and a little disappointed although I feel like I understood, I thanked him and let him enjoy the festival.
He was right though. After our meeting I began noticing Harold at quite a few events that I was covering and I would always make a point to say hello and ask him how he was doing. Over the next year we would have a lot of these casual interactions until one day he approached me and said "I have some black and whites from my camera I'd like to show you." (or at least that's what I thought he said). I told him absolutely! Come by the office anytime and I would be happy to look at them with you.
A few days later he stopped by the office carrying this...
The case he had brought in has to weigh around 30 lbs and you could tell that it has been "through some stuff" from the aged black leather handle and scuffs all around it.
I was little taken back by how many photos he had brought in to show me but still very interested but when I opened the case, there wasn't a single photo in it.
He explained to me that this is the camera that he had to carry with him during his time of service in the military. He had to learn the ins-and-outs of the camera so he was able to shoot (take photos) in any situation. It wasn't until later on in his career that they finally managed to get him a much smaller 35-mm camera.
I was in camera nerd heaven. Photographically, it was hands down the coolest thing I had ever seen and just the fact that he had to lug this thing around with him while also baring the weight of his other gear is still amazing to me.
I looked through the box asking him all kinds of questions about what everything was and how it all worked and how he managed to take take photos with something so heavy and cumbersome. He just smiled and told me that it was all that they had.
About that time, he said he had to get going and began to walk off. I asked him if he needed any help carrying the case back to his truck and once again, he just looked at me and smiled saying, "No, the camera is yours."..."I have no use for it anymore and don't have anyone that will appreciate it like you do."
Even the phrase "I was speechless" would not express how I felt in that moment. I told him repeatedly that although I appreciated the gesture, there was no way I could accept something like this. He insisted and casually walked out of the office with that same friendly smile. It was then that I realized he didn't say "I have some black and whites from my camera I want to show you." He said, "I have a black and white camera I want to give you." My mind still doesn't fully wrap around this gesture of kindness. When I brought it home I just sat it on my desk and stared at it in disbelief.
Even though I would occasionally still see him around town up until we left Laramie, Harold never did show me any photos he had taken, tell me any stories about his time in the Marines or mention the camera, he would just smile and say...
"You're still doing a good job"
Thanks for reading and take care of each other.