Every Monday, we present a gallery of recent pictures taken by our staff photojournalists and tell the story behind one of them. This week the Inquirer’s photo editing staff talks about how they gathered Philly photos of Kobe Bryant — who played basketball at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore and NBA games against the Sixers — following his death in a helicopter crash with eight others on Sunday.
As on most weekends, Inquirer staff photographers were covering the region — pictures were being made of a pop-up bagel shop and exploding firecrackers during the Lunar New Year celebration — while the paper’s four photo editors, busiest during the week, had the day off.
The staff dropped everything as news of Bryant’s death unfolded. Danese Kenon, the Inquirer’s director of video and photography had just gotten off the phone with a friend when he called her to say, “Do you see this Kobe story? He was killed."
She immediately texted the other photo editors and headed to the office, stopping to pick up digital photo editor Rachel Molenda. Deputy director of video and photography Frank Wiese was already on his way home from a weekend in Maryland, so his wife dropped him off at the paper. And photo assignment editor Alejandro A. Alvarez mobilized the staff photographers around the city and got a former Inquirer summer photo intern now living near Los Angeles to drive to the basketball arena there.
At the office, there was a group text going between editors and photographers. Staff photographer Yong Kim drove to places in the city that Bryant hung out while he lived here, and Elizabeth Robertson went to Lower Merion High School, his alma mater.
At home on his day off, Charles Fox went through his digital files to pull photos of Bryant’s last NBA game in Philadelphia, a Sixers win on Dec. 1, 2015, while Michael Bryant copied a print he’d shot on color negative 35 mm film when the future NBA star was named High School Player of the Year by The Inquirer during his senior year at Lower Merion in 1996.
Meanwhile, as Molenda began building galleries from the file photos already in the library system, Kenon found the exact dates that were important to Kobe’s early years so Molenda could order the original negatives from Temple University’s Urban Archive, where all the Inquirer and Daily News photo files and negative now reside.
Molenda, who arrived at The Inquirer this past year was appreciative of the longtime photographers she works with. “Much of our staff has been photographing Kobe Bryant since he was young, and so having that institutional knowledge is really invaluable in situations like this. They knew all highlights of his career,” she added.
After Temple sent the negative over (fastidiously filed by those photographers years ago!) Kenon and Wiese began the task of looking through each strip. Luckily he still had the loupe — a tool used to magnify negatives — he got “from collecting the bar codes off Fujifilm packages in the late 1990s,” and even though The Inquirer has been fully digital for two decades, Kenon said her “film loupe and mini light table stays on my desk for special occasions. In this case, a horrible one.”
Wiese scanned the negatives to convert them to digital files, and before they knew it, day turned into night and they were looking at the print pages with the designers and news editors. “It was collaboration at its best,” said Kenon.