Naval photography, the father of Naval photography
is Walter L. Richardson, the gentleman this building is named for. Richardson was a cook
aboard USS Mississippi when it came in to Pensacola to establish the Navy’s first aeronautical
station. Richardson was an amateur photographer as well. He started shooting pictures around
the base, particularly of aircraft accidents. It wasn’t long before the Navy realized that
these photographs are valuable. So Henry Mustin, skipper of the ship, decided that he would
send Richardson ashore and designate him as a photographer, let him shoot all the pictures
that was needed. We’re currently in building 1500 which was
the United States Naval Schools of Photography for close to 48 years. So I went to photo
school and realized how much I loved Naval photography. I remember when I stepped out
of the doors of building 1500, of the photo school, I really felt like I was part of an
elite troupe, you know, an elite breed. And I felt really well trained and ready to take
on anything. I think that’s one thing that I really treasure, was that moment of walking
out of the unique doors at photo school and just having that feeling of “bring it on”
you know, it was really cool. I would say to the photographer’s today, our
job is to document what Navy and Marine Corps do. You look at history books, they’re filled
with images – many, many images from WWII, Korea, Vietnam – they were shot by military
photographers. And from my point of view, from the Navy side, this was Navy. These guys
were out there on the front lines, they were shooting with cameras, not weapons. The camera
was their weapon. I remember being told one time in Vietnam that a journalist can sit
back in his hotel room and compile a story because he’ll talk to people, they’ll tell
him things. The photographers can’t do that. You have to go where the action is. And that’s
true whether it’s covering actual combat, an aircraft accident, a portrait, a ship’s
party – the photographer has to be there. He can’t make it up.
I have to honestly tell you, this is my first convention that I have been to. But when they
rededicated the building in January, it was like, “Oh yeah, this is the 100th anniversary.”
And then I started looking into my heritage as a Naval photographer, and started talking
to some of these guys who were doing aerial reconnaissance before me, and what it was
like for them, and hearing their stories of what they went through. They’re talking about
everything being mixed by hand and processing by hand and it’s like, “Ok, I did some of
that.” “Oh, you won’t remember the Speed Graphic camera.” That was the first camera I touched
when I was in the Navy. Just hearing their stories about what they went through and how
it relates to how things have changed for me. And how they actually listen to what I
have to say, it’s just real interesting listening to those guys and hard to believe that it’s
been 100 years that we’ve been doing Naval photography.
We today pull out our cell phones and take pictures, just snap ’em away like it’s nothing.
Learn the basics. Learn what the f/16 rule is. Learn about film processing, it’s not
gone. There was so much you could do with film. Learn how all that works. Learn composition.
Take the time to learn the basics, not just be a happy snappy guy.
For us to go forward we really have to know where we came from. Documenting that history
is very, very important. The only lessons that I would hope that photographers today
would think about is, don’t take shortcuts. Just because you have digital gear, just because
you have a quicker path to tell your story, don’t compromise anything. Don’t compromise
lighting. Don’t compromise any kind of storytelling. Make it as rich as possible. Put everything
you can into it, because you have so many more tools in your toolbox now.