Photojournalist Charles McCarty Obit



Charles J. McCarty

Charles J. McCarty, an innovative mentor to a generation of photojournalists, died of heart failure at the age of 88 on Jan. 20, 2004, in Brussels, Belgium.

McCarty was found dead at his Brussels home.

Over a half-century, McCarty pressed for major changes in the profession. He was instrumental in making 35mm cameras the standard for newspaper and wire service journalists, who had been using cumbersome 4x5 Speed Graphic cameras.

He influenced a generation of photojournalists, including a virtual Who's Who of the industry, including such famous photographers as David Hume Kennerly, Dirck Halstead, Mal Langsdon, Daryl Heikes, Joe Marquette, Frank Johnston, Bill Campbell, Mark Loundy and Bill Snead.

In June 2002, McCarty was honored by the National Press Photographers Association, which presented him with the John Durniak Mentor Award, recognizing McCarty's impact on the profession.

"Over his lifetime, Charlie McCarty has left a profound impression on photojournalism, and the photographers who have practiced it," said Halstead, who spent 30 years as Time magazine's chief White House photographer and who went to work for McCarty at United Press in Dallas in 1957.

McCarty enlisted in the Army Signal Corps during World War II when that service started using Acme (the forerunner of United Press) picture transmission equipment. He was stationed at the Western Defense Command at the Presidio and set up an Army picture network between San Francisco and Washington.

After nearly four years in the Army, he took a job with Acme in San Francisco as a staff photographer.

In 1951, he was appointed as Southwest Division Newspictures Editor of United Press in Dallas. In 1953, he persuaded The Dallas Times Herald to award a contract with UP to run the newspaper's photo department. He experimented with fast processing and small 35mm cameras at a time when the 4x5 Speed Graphic was the standard camera.

With his dual hats, as Times Herald director of photography and UP bureau manager, McCarty was called on to cover the top stories, from Dallas to South America. While covering the Little Rock School integration crisis in 1957, he photographed a scuffle between white and black students that won a Picture of the Year award in 1958 from the National Press Photographers Association.

As Halstead noted in a profile of McCarty done in July 2002, McCarty also tried unorthodox ideas, such as putting high-speed shutters in 35mm Eyemo movie cameras to photograph football games, in effect coming up with the predecessor of motor drives on 35mm cameras.

As "McCarty's Rangers" proved the viability of 35mm in daily operation, the other bureaus began to notice. In 1953, UP surprised the opposition by arming Stan Tretick with a 35mm camera when he went on the roof of a Denver hospital to photograph President Eisenhower during the first photo session after his heart attack. The use of the telephoto lens on the 35mm camera totally upstaged the pictures made by 4x5 toting photographers.

In the 1960s, McCarty was assistant general manager for UPI pictures in New York. During this period, he continued to find and nourish talent, including a brash young photographer from Los Angeles, named David Hume Kennerly, who won a Pulitzer in 1972 for UPI for work in Vietnam, went on to work for Time and became the personal photographer to President Ford.

"Charlie was an inspiration to a whole generation of photographers," said Kennerly, who began work for UPI at age 20 in 1967. "Photography was Charlie McCarty's life. I think he lived vicariously through the antics of those of us who were cavorting around the world, pretending we weren't having a good time."

"The two most influential people in my early photography career were Charlie McCarty and Larry DeSantis of UPI," said Kennerly, now a contributing editor for Newsweek. "They are the two people whom I credit for what I am in the business."

Kennerly said "there are a lot of executives who ruled by terror, but Charlie had a much softer touch and a great Irish sense of humor. My visual memory of Charlie McCarty has always been a man with a big smile on his face, saying 'How you doing, kid?' and wanting to find out. He will be greatly missed by all of us."

In 1972, McCarty moved to Brussels and started an innovative desking operation for UPI, which resulted in photographers working as editors and also covering major stories throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In 1984, McCarty moved to Reuters and personally shaped the company's new picture agency. He retired from Reuters in the early 1990s.

"Charlie can best be described as the last tough old-school no-nonsense newsman," said UPI International Editor Claude Salhani, who was hired by McCarty as UPI's Beirut photo manager in 1981 and later worked for McCarty at Reuters from 1985-1990.

"When you worked for him, you worked hard, he expected 110 percent, but he took care of his people," Salhani said. "Working for Charlie was better than going to any journalism school. You learned more and you were on expenses."

Pat Benic, UPI acting director of photography, worked with McCarty at UPI and at Reuters. "I consider him one of the top 10 guys in photojournalism that shaped the industry since World War II," Benic said. "He basically trained award-winning photographers, then he went to Europe and trained a new generation."

McCarty is survived by a daughter, Pat.