Margaret's Musings: A moment in time - Still photos give you more than the eye can seeRalph Bleuer’s children decided that I should be the one to receive his camera equipment. Ralph was trained as a Navy photographer during World War II.
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
Ralph Bleuer’s children decided that I should be the one to receive his camera equipment. Ralph was trained as a Navy photographer during World War II. His daughter Marcia and I were born a week apart and his wife, who is still living, met my mother in nurses’ training. They remain friends to this day.
One of the smartest things my parents did in my youth was to take me down to the Bleuers every summer from about the age of seven, dropping me off for a week. This practice continued through high school. It gave me a chance to share in the tumultuous world of a very busy family, with four children living on and working a farm, while both parents also pursued their own careers. It was remarkable, and as a result, I still think of them as my second family. Each of the four children grew up, married and has adult children and grandchildren but I still remain close to Marcia. So it was a great honor when she told me several months ago that they would like me to have Ralph’s camera and photo equipment.
Last weekend was our annual trip to their area of Illinois, west of Chicago. As I collected the heavy leather suitcase, lined in blue velvet and filled with an odd assortment of items, I remembered the negatives that used to hang in the kitchen of their old farmhouse. As a kid you are so busy exploring, you don’t stop to ask the questions that you seem to always want the answers to after people are gone. Now some of those questions may be answered by looking at the items in the case. The Naval School of Photography Manual, four books glued together, published in 1943, gives me a glimpse not only into Ralph’s life but a look at the historic changes in photography in the nearly 70 years since. If you have ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, you may have toured a part of Ralph’s naval history. He was an aerial photographer in the Navy, stationed on the aircraft carrier, USS Guadalcanal. He took most if not all the pictures you can see at the museum of the capture of the U-505 German submarine, which is on display there. The capture of the boat and its crew changed the war, due to the fact that we were able to get the Germans’ decoder book. This enabled us to know where the U- boats were located. The United States did not report the capture or that we had their men in prison until after the war was over. The Germans thought it was sunk and everyone had died.
It was a critical event in the war and he was there to document it.
Ralph did not live long enough to see the digital age of photography come in to its own. However, his negatives and books give us a look back in time when photographers mixed their own chemicals from scratch instead of opening the now almost extinct yellow packets from Kodak that I used from high school until the shift to an all-digital environment.
Still photos are still the best
There are times in your life were you have to fill in the blank that says occupation. I still write photojournalist. It is simply startling how photography and journalism have changed in the 27 years I have been in the business, never mind since Ralph was a young sailor learning every detail about photography in 1943.
Remember the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words?” Today, it is all about video, fast and first. With the advent of YouTube everybody can be a producer.
However, I still maintain there is nothing as powerful as a single image capturing a split second in time.
The first thing I did Monday was to pick up the papers to see what wonderful images were captured by the photojournalists working the Super Bowl. I was not disappointed. They were spectacular, showing the human emotion and amazing skill of the football players, frozen in a fraction of a second, something not visible in a video, replay or slow motion. From the boyish grin of Aaron Rodgers behind his face mask as he and Jordy Nelson celebrated to the moment in time when Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson stretched out the entire length of his six-foot one-inch frame to break up a Pittsburg pass — an effort we all know resulted in a game-ending injury. The next frame, which did not make it into the paper, was probably the grimace on his face as he hit the turf.
If you look back at the great moments in history whether it is during war, a sports event, natural disaster or general news it is that ability of a photojournalist to capture that fleeting moment for all the world to see that becomes the collective memory for all of us. For years I was a member of the National Press Photographers Association, actively attending workshops and seminars that included some of the great names in the field of photojournalism. They all had a passion and sometimes the patience for the right moment to make that image that becomes not only a part of their portfolio but a part of history, social conscience or just plain fascinating because of the moment it captured.
I hope that with the movement to video and emphasis on ‘moving pictures’ we remember that still today, it is that fraction of a second that provides us with something so special the human eye cannot see it unless it is captured and shared.