Mike Strong

Photo Story

How the Big Boys Do It

1968, RFK Campaign Coverage:
I Learn How the "Big Boys" Do It

In early 1968 Robert Kennedy campaigned on the UNL campus. These pictures are from March shortly after he announced on March 16th. The Nebraska primary was in May. RFK won that primary. He was assasinated in June


I shot these pictures with a Contax 35mm rangefinder from the J-School. The Contax had the first metal focal plane shutter with a vertical travel. It also had a wide, knurled wheel rather than a lever to advance the film. The technique for that was to use your forefinger to roll along the wheel, winding the film and cocking the shutter. I was using a Nikon 105mm F2.5 p-series lens at the time. To view the shot a separate viewfinder was mounted above the camera and you had to keep turning a parallax-correcting dial for each focusing distance. I also carried a Canon rangfinder I bought with a 50mm lenses so I could shoot color film as well.

Most of the Kennedy shots were done at about 4 feet which was about as close as the 105 mm could focus. Because the focusing/parallax correction for the 105mm lens took so much time I just set the focus and moved the camera to remain at the same distance. I learned early on to estimate distances for a pre-set focus. Truth is that I put these pictures away for a long time because I thought they were a bit too formulaic and also because it seemed like "picture" dropping. I like them better now and I wanted you to see what I was doing at age 20 to get a sense of the continuity between then and today. This was also where I learned how to move like a news photog.

I have a long series of shots on this visit both inside and outside. These shots were taken as Kennedy stood in the back seat of a pale yellow convertible in front of the auditorium where he was about to make a speech. A network TV camera man (film camera) with his sound man were next to me on my left. At that time a network photog earned about $350-$500 a day. The camera guy was using an Auricon 16mm sound camera with 400-foot magazines.

As RFK turned to his right to exit the car the network crew opened the driver's door of the convertible (for structural reasons convertibles only have two doors so the front seats fold forward to let people into the back). I remember a startled look on the driver's face as the network crew pushed the back of the drivers seat forward, shoving the driver toward the front right floor area. This opened enough room for the crew to clamber into the back, behind the driver and then follow Kennedy out the other side of the car. They all but walked on the driver.

I gulped and followed. I looked down at the driver as he saw me take the same route. He looked up at me, wide eyes and a bit helpless. I went on but never forgot his expression. From there it was into the auditorium and on to the stage, again from about four or five feet below the podium position. I had just learned "how the big boys" do it.