Famed photographer, native son Eddie Adams to be honored | TribLIVE.com
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This image is by photographer Mychal Watts, who is participating in the Eddie Adams festival. Photo courtesy of Mychal Watts

In all areas of life, we look for people who make a difference, Dolly Mistrik says.

New Kensington native Eddie Adams was one of those people, says Mistrick, president of the Alle-Kiski Valley Historical Society, Tarentum. “He used his talent as a photographer to share with the world, through his famous photos, a story of making a difference.”

It will be worthwhile to stop at the society’s Heritage Museum in Tarentum to view some of those photos, she adds, “asking yourself if you, too, can make a difference in someone’s life.”

It will be an appropriate time to do that Saturday and Sunday when there will be activities, including the Eddie Adams Dinner on Saturday. The dinner will open the first annual “Eddie Adams Photography Festival” and kick off “Eddie Adams Month” in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

The Saturday event will include an exhibit of the 15 winning juried photos of New Kensington Camera Club members who, in the spirit of Adams, were invited to use the power of their photography “to bring truth into focus.”

“We knew this would be a difficult assignment, but we also knew that we have talented and creative photographers who needed a challenge that would honor Eddie Adams,” says William Hall, an officer in the Camera Club and a museum-board member who is master of ceremonies of the dinner.

Adams’ work, and the photographs of William T. Larkin, the late chief of photography for the Valley News Dispatch who worked with Adams early in his career, will be on view throughout June during expanded museum hours.

“Unlikely Weapon,” a documentary about Eddie Adams’ life, will be screened at 1 p.m. Saturday and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the museum.

At a 12:30 p.m. museum program Saturday, Alyssa Adams, the photographer’s widow, will talk about the film and her late husband’s work.

“We honor sports figures with statues, we honor politicians with plaques, why not a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer?” asks Don Henderson, president of the Camera Club. The club and the museum are co-sponsors of the event. “Eddie made a name for himself on the world stage at a critical point in history, but it all started here on the streets of New Kensington. I think this town is what gave him the courage and inspiration to do all the things he did in his life.”

A career of photographing the pope, six presidents, 13 wars and many of the defining cultural and historic figures of his lifetime was capped for the 1951 New Kensington (now Valley) High School graduate with the most-revered award in journalism, the Pulitzer Prize, for an iconic photo of the Vietnam War. Adams, a former photographer for the New Kensington Daily Dispatch, which became the Valley News Dispatch, died in 2004 at 71.

“The people of New Kensington have always been proud of Eddie, and they want his memory to continue,” says Jim Thomas, board member and past president of the historical society.

That’s why the Camera Club is, in part, using the festival as a vehicle to raise funds for a historical marker, to be located at the site of the former Daily Dispatch office, that will keep Adams’ name in front of the public. “There is so much talent in this Valley in music, sports, science and other fields. We need to recognize and honor the talents of those who leave and those who stay,” Hall says.

In one sense, Henderson does not think that Adams left New Kensington. “New Kensington didn’t leave him. You could see it in his mannerisms and hear it in his voice and, more importantly, you could see it in his work,” he says. “There was an edginess to his photos that comes from a self-confidence that you see in the people around here.”

Mistrik says what she most appreciates about the Eddie Adams Festival is the opportunity it gives to share with others the local talent that exists in the Allegheny-Kiski Valley.

That includes Harrison native John Filo, who won the Pulitzer for his defining shot of the tragedy at Kent State University during anti-Vietnam War protests. Now the executive director of CBS News Photography, he will be a guest speaker Saturday evening at the Eddie Adams Dinner. At the dinner, Alle-Kiski Valley musician Heidi Jacobs, a member of the Camera Club, will perform folk music representing the era in which Filo and Adams won their Pulitzers.

“I hope people will walk away from all this with a sense of pride,” says Don Henderson, president of the New Kensington Camera Club. “How many small towns can boast that they have a Pulitzer Prize winner? Not many, and we have two from this area. I hope people see the big picture here, that, with hard work and dedication, you can accomplish greatness, that one photo can change the world.”

“We want to establish a scholarship fund for photography students and a children’s photography program to get cameras in the hands of kids to maybe inspire the next Eddie Adams and John Filo,” Henderson says.

Marine vet and photojournalist to discuss Adams’ influence

Marine veteran Mychal Watts, a photojournalist capturing people in the entertainment world, learned much by studying Eddie Adams’ work.

The New York City native, who will speak at the 12:30 p.m. program at the museum Saturday, became the director of photography for the Coalition To Salute America’s Heroes, a nonprofit providing financial, emotional and family support for our nation’s Wounded Warriors returning from battle.

“Eddie Adams is one of my heroes, a god when it comes to photography. He was one of those guys I admired because of his amazing tenacity. His work just blows me away. It is such an honor to be invited to this festival,” Watts says. “He had some guts to take that photo (a Pulitzer-winner of the Saigon police chief firing a bullet into the head of a Viet Cong prisoner in 1968). To take a photo like that with everything going on around you, the stress and the killing, just really made me realize what it takes to make a powerful shot. Other people can see what you felt.”

Henderson believes that sensibility can be seen in Watts’ portraits of Wounded Warriors. “This guy’s passion, respect and dedication to our country, our veterans and our war dead is unmatched,” he says.

Watts says he wanted to show the pride in their faces. “These guys don’t want you to feel sorry for them. All they want to be is respected,” he adds.

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