Jack Smith Death – In his 35-year career with the news organization, Jack Smith, an Associated Press photographer, captured iconic images of the Mount St. Helens eruption, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, boxer Mike Tyson biting off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear, and weeping figure skater Tonya Harding at the Olympics. He was 80. On January 4, Smith passed suddenly in his La Mesa, California, home. His wife, Judy Smith, said that he had cancer and had been receiving hospice care. “People overuse the word legendary, but that might be an understatement in Jack’s case “said David Ake, director of photography for the AP. “No one I’ve ever met could make friends or take pictures as quickly as he could.
Information about his career
In the West, if there was a big story, Jack would be there first, beating you to the scene and snapping photos you only wished you could have taken. After serving in the military in Vietnam, Smith began working for the AP in Chicago as a photographer in 1966. He spent ten years there as well as in Washington, D.C. Then, in 1977, the AP hired him as its first staff photographer in Portland as part of an effort to increase coverage in Oregon and woo some of the state’s newspapers away from competitor United Press International, according to Steve Graham, who at the time served as the bureau’s news editor.
In addition to his acute eye and talent for capturing the perfect shot, Smith quickly strengthened the photo operation, according to Graham. He did this by keeping a stable of freelancers and cultivating connections with photographers at AP member newspapers throughout the state. When Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington state started to rumble in 1980, Smith set up assignments for the numerous outside photographers who arrived. In addition to taking some of the first pictures of the volcano when it erupted on May 18 of that year, he also captured priceless shots of wildlife covered in oil after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989 in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
Smith, who was 6 feet 4 inches tall and with a large attitude to match, was also nicknamed as “Chainsaw” because of his likeness to a conventional lumberjack. According to numerous of his coworkers, he belonged to a breed of hard-charging, competitive, and sharp-elbowed wire service photographers who aimed to acquire a good image at any cost and under any circumstances. He went to Barrow, Alaska in 1988 to see a number of California gray whales that had become entrapped in Arctic Ocean ice. In an effort to save the animals, Alaska Native whalers cut openings where they could surface and breathe.
Don Ryan, a veteran AP photographer in Portland who worked with Smith for approximately 25 years, described how Smith persuaded the AP to allow him to rent a snow mobile so he could access the icebound scene anytime he wanted to. He knew he would be on that remote assignment for days or weeks. Additionally, Ryan claimed that Smith persuaded the business to buy him a shotgun by convincing his superiors he needed it to defend himself against “rabid snow wolves.” Smith was a skilled sports photographer as well, covering numerous Olympics and Super Bowls for the Associated Press.
Soon after her ex-husband and bodyguard were accused of attacking fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan, he snapped a famous shot of figure skater Tonya Harding at the Winter Olympics in Norway in 1994, with her leg up on the judges’ platform and appealing emotionally to be permitted to replace a broken lace. When boxer Mike Tyson chewed off a portion of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a fight in Las Vegas in 1997, it became another of his infamous sporting moments. A passionate sailor, Smith frequently took friends sailing on the Columbia River, visited the San Juan Islands in Washington, and even kept up a 35-foot sailboat in his later years. One of his favorite tasks, according to Ryan, was covering the America’s Cup yacht race.
“When you went sailing with Jack you weren’t there for a pleasure cruise; you were working, pulling the ropes,” Ryan said. “He went through life that way: He was the captain, and you were the crew.” When it came to managing freelancers, Smith was strict and irritable with anyone who did not return from an assignment with what he thought would have been the crucial shot. However, many who worked with him claimed that his rigorous standards improved them. Eric Risberg, an AP staff photographer since 1982, said of Smith, who hired him as a freelancer when Risberg was still in college, “He was a taskmaster, but that’s how I learned.
U.S. Olympic Committee awards
Smith became close friends with Greg Wahl-Stephens, a longtime freelancer for the AP, who remembers being assigned to cover a U.S. Olympic Committee awards event in Portland in 1989. Swimmer Matt Biondi and sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner were the two honorees, and Smith requested that he take a single picture of them together. However, they did not share the platform, and Wahl-Stephens was unable to take the picture. On that particular occasion, he dismissed me again, according to Wahl-Stephens. “But he always let me back in whenever he fired me, and he took a man who wanted to be (the famous French photographer Henri) Cartier-Bresson and turned me into a photojournalist.”
Having a paper route as a young boy and stopping by the newsroom to complete other jobs, Smith, who was raised in Salt Lake City, developed his interest in journalism, according to Judy Smith. After being paired up on a blind date by friends in Alaska, where Smith was covering a collegiate basketball tournament, the couple remained together for 34 years. “He just loved the excitement of the job,” she said. “He loved the travel. He liked being good at something, and he was really good at what he did.” Smith is survived by his wife, two kids, Melissa and Matthew, as well as a granddaughter named Alexis.
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