All in a day’s work


Legendary Canadian photojournalist and photo editor Bob Carroll remembers some of the more interesting events that happened during his early days as a wire service photographer.


In the 60’s, working and learning from Montreal Star photogs, I was using a Nikon 35mm camera borrowed from a staffer. I dropped in some film and went about taking pictures for the day.

The next day, the photog asked me if I needed more film or if was I finished. So I brought the camera back. He went to unload it and he noticed that the film tension hadn’t moved too far.

Many, many pictures turned into no pictures. I had made the one mistake many of us have made in our careers. I had not checked to make sure the film was advanced enough. It never went through. That was the first and last time I ever did that.

Check, check and check again.


In the days of film, we had to hand-process our own images. One day, I went to my usual dark-room area to process. Lights were off, I closed the door, loaded the film onto the Nikon spools, reached for the developer tank and started to slide the spools in the skinny tube. Suddenly, the lights came on!

There had been a power outage when I started and the room lights were really “on”. I didn’t check. Some film was usable but much was fogged beyond use. Again, check.


I was in Cyprus with Canadian UN-troops shooting pictures of the Greek – Turk problems. UPI used a local Greek photog for pictures. I arrived with film to process. No problem, he would help me out. When my wet negatives arrived, he dunked the film in methal hydrate to help speed drying and hung up the dripping film. He then pulled out a cigarette lighter and lit the negatives on fire!

I just about died.

Instead of using a squeegee, this was his way of getting the excess drying liquid off the film. In the end, the film dried and was printable. Haven’t seen this drying method since.


Ottawa: I had to take a plane from the Ottawa airport to meet up with (then) Prime Minister Trudeau at a logging camp.

Walking to the aircraft, I noticed it only had pontoons and it was sitting on a dolly with wheels. The pilot and I boarded. I question him about how takeoff works on this dolly thing. He says, ‘oh, it’s a piece of cake but coming back is a little dicey.’

Down the runway we went. Once the weight was off the wheels, brakes automatically applied and the dolly stopped on the runway. I questioned the return….

The pilot said they simply put the dolly out there and land on it. (His) Laughter followed. Of course not, he continued, they wet down the grass between the runways and set the pontoon plane down on the wet grass. I did not return via this route.


Ottawa, long ago and young, I stayed out a little too long one night. I forgot that I had an early government charter flight to catch, heading to Halifax, to hook up with Canada’s first oil carrier. To make a long story short, the alarm was not turned on and I missed the flight. When I woke, I knew I was in trouble. Called my boss, who already knew all about it. They had held the government plane and we sent another photog. I never missed another assignment. I thought for sure I was out of a job.


I was the “local” photographer for UPI at a Huntsville, Alabama, stop for (then) US President Richard Nixon. “Local” means you’re the ground person in another position covering the President. It also means you’re responsible for picking up UPI White House photog’s film and processing, editing, printing, captioning and transmitting the photos.

Due to location, crowds and security, I missed the UPI White House film pick-up. A big no-no in the wire business. I was 30-feet away, waving, shouting, even asked a Secret Service man to “please get me the bag that UPI-photog was waving”. The agent never moved an inch. I watched as the UPI photog started up the steps of Air Force One. I knew I was in trouble.

Nothing for me to do but get to the hotel, process what I had and get pictures on the wire, asap.

Having processed my film in the bathtub, I was about to edit when the phone rang. It was southern HQ in Atlanta. They were on the phone with our photog aboard Air Force One. The film had been dropped to an FBI agent who was leaving the plane and he would deliver it.

A loud knock on my hotel door. UPI White House film had arrived!

I was still in a panic mode. Reaching for the processing tank in the bathtub, I lowered the film into the cylinder. In the dark, something smelled funny. The “developer” turned out to be fixer.

Now in full panic mode, I rapidly pulled the film out of the fixer, washed it off and submerged it into the only other tank, developer. Thankfully, some film had not been fully fixed. I was able to save a few frames. Not a good day. Slow down. Panic caused this trouble.


One of my first jobs at UPI / USA: I was to shoot a golf tournament where Jack Nicklaus was competing. Jack was hot and looking to win this event for the 3rd time. Thinking about pictures to illustrate this in advance, I remembered an ad in a magazine for a piece of glass that one puts over a camera lens to make a triple exposure. I purchased it.

Made a picture of Nicklaus hitting ball at the range prior to the first round. Processed and transmitted them to UPI-HQ in New York. A few hours later, I got a phone call from our NY-editor politely asking, “How did you do that Nicklaus picture”. I was thrilled a NY-editor was calling me and so I explained. Silence…..

He then barked, “throw that damn thing away and don’t ever do this again” and hung up.


In Hilton Head, South Carolina, for the Southern Governors Conference and the first public appearance of (then) Alabama Gov. George Wallace since he was shot campaigning for president in Silver Springs, Maryland: The picture here was likely the handing over of the gavel to the new president of the conference, Gov. Wallace, to start the meetings.

I had a junior photog with me. I overheard my competition outlining their plans. Their Washington editor (a non-shooter) told one photog to “stick with Carroll” and their other man to do wheelchair-bound Wallace’s arrival and departure.

After making my plans with our junior photog, Alex, we went inside with me on the conference floor and he above. I made sure the AP photog was following me. I got up and left the room just before the gavel was presented to Gov. Wallace. The AP photog followed me as he was told.

Outside, I heard the gavel fall, opening the conference, and waited for the film from Alex who had taken my place on the floor. We had the picture and the competition missed it. After prints were made, I called New York for transmitting time. They told me it would be awhile. Athletes Village in Munich was under attack. Our pictures no longer mattered.


Another long night. Greensboro, NC. NCAA basketball championships: After the games, food and drinks, bed was about 2:00AM. My room phone rang about 6:30AM. It was HQ in Atlanta. A US military aircraft had crashed in a place called Silk Hope, NC, some 120 miles from me. I needed to get over there because The Golden Knights Parachute Team was said to be aboard. I showered and headed to the elevator. The doors opened and there was my friend from AP, Hal. “Wonder where you’re going,” he said. He suggested I ride with him.

Thank you Hal. I was able to get the much needed sleep in his car. Once there, we both trekked through corn fields and found the plane. It was the parachute team. No survivors. We made pictures.

The military saw us inside their lines and when we came out, we were ordered to hand over the film in our cameras and then to “get the hell outta here”. So we did exactly that. We expected this might happen so we hid the good stuff in our boots, reloaded the cameras and fired off a bunch of frames.

We made it back to our car and got out of there in a hurry. Straight back to Greensboro Coliseum and processed and transmitted pictures. Once this was done, it was time for the first afternoon college basketball game. Another long day/night was upon us.


Charlotte, NC: I was setting up a dark room for a PGA event, with our stringer there. I was called from Atlanta to fly up to Richmond, VA, for a picture machine problem at the paper. (We sometimes had to fix picture receivers, too.) I got a plane ticket and, just in case, also booked a hotel room. Fixed the machine problem in Virginia and called Atlanta. There had been an explosion in Valdez, NC, a few hours north of Charlotte and a family of four was dead.

Off to the airport and back to Charlotte. I was met there by the stringer who had picked up the darkroom from the golf course. We drove to Valdez, arriving long after dark at the explosion site. I made time exposures of the site, found another hotel, my third for that day, and transmitted the pictures. The family died because their “bunker” built in the lawn of the home blew up after a thrown light switch ignited fumes from gasoline being stored inside. Few hours sleep, back to the golf course to set up for four days of PGA.


Working out of Atlanta, I was scheduled to do the Kentucky Derby with my boss. Off we go to the airport, tickets given to the agent, she says “two for Lexington”. The Derby was in Louisville, we had a long drive….

The route home was better. My boss knew people with Coke and they had heard of his mistake and offered us a ride back on the corporate jet to Coke HQ, Atlanta.


The South 1: I was set up at a another golf event. (You do a lot of golf and NASCAR events working in the South.) I had the UPI “network” and a darkroom in a small room. The network is a leased Bell line that instantly connects to our New York office. There is constant chatter on this circuit with people all over North America offering pictures for transmission.

The first day after finishing up my work, I locked up my work space for the night. When I came back in the morning, the door was broken. Nothing was missing. The story was that the overnight security guard heard what he thought were people talking in that room and he had requested they come out. “They” did not come out so he shot the lock off the door and found the Bell telset talking to him. He was unaware of what we were doing.


The South 2: NASCAR….. Big sport down there. If, as a wire service, you didn’t cover NASCAR, newspapers simply didn’t take your service.

Enroute to a race, I was stopped by the highway patrol for speeding near Pittsboro, NC. Six months later, I made the mistake of driving through Pittsboro again, heading to another race. Police got me a second time.

The officer asked me if I was Canadian. Then he asked, “didn’t I get you a few months back?” He remembered I was from Canada. He said this time, my second ticket, I’d need to go to court.

Back at the paper, where the UPI office was, I checked around and found a lawyer who could help me. Called and headed back to Pittsboro, this time within the speed limit, to visit the lawyer prior to going to court.

One look at me with my long hair and the lawyer said the court date was postponed until next week. I questioned why. He said, “with long hair like that, you’re guilty. Next week, we’ll go before a blind judge.”

So it was. The judge was blind and let me off for what they called “a prayer for judgment”, meaning the Baptists would pray for me to mend my ways. I paid court costs and the lawyer, and I was free. But if I got one more ticket in the state of North Carolina that year, it would have surely cost my licence. A few months later, I transferred to Atlanta.


Evacuation day from Saigon, Vietnam, April 1975: I gave away all the company camera gear to our freelancers. I had two shopping bags of local money (Dong) used to pay for freelance pictures. The money was devaluing as fast as I gave it away. The official bank rate was Dong 750. to US$1. But the street rate when I was handing it out was D5,000 to $1.

I left Saigon, Vietnam, the afternoon of April 29, 1975, the same day the country expired, aboard a US (Jolly Green) chopper headed for the South China Sea, 17-miles away, and the deck of a 7th fleet ship.

Later that day, we were listening to BBC news on a portable radio and heard the voice of a freelancer I was using. He was calling for all media to go to a certain location to meet with him and that everything was going to be fine.

He was a fair shooter and, from time to time, he did have a good picture or two. But I never had a good feeling about this person. Now I knew why. He was a Communist spy which was why he was able to get some of the pictures he did. In conflicts and foreign lands, you just never know….


Manila, Philippines: The famous “Thrilla in Manila”. Heavyweight boxing match between Joe Frazier and Mohammad Ali. After the fight, we had packed up transmitters and darkroom gear and tried to leave the stadium. We were stopped by police. No reason given, no one could leave. I asked our local photog to check around and find out why the delay. He returned and said there was a dead policeman in Joe Frazier’s dressing room.

After some time, (but no pictures), we were permitted to leave. The cop accidentally shot himself while doing the “quick draw” thing in a full-length mirror in the dressing room. Had nothing to do with the fighters.


Currently, Bob Carroll is Photo Editor at The Windsor Star


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