One virtual coronavirus convention down, and one virtual coronavirus convention to go.
Before the pandemic, The Inquirer’s plan was to send two photographers to Milwaukee and two to Charlotte. I would have been at the DNC, photographing at what likely would have been my last political convention.
So, of course, I’ve been thinking of my first one.
I was the greenest photographer working on the United Press International coverage team at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit, having just been hired as a staffer that summer, after an internship in the Dallas bureau, and four years as an eager stringer (part-time) photographer in Minneapolis.
As such, I was assigned to photograph many of the “fluff” features before the convention opened. The worst one: Wayne State University somehow got ahold of a recently passed pachyderm and the students were doing a necropsy. Get it? The GOP convention and an elephant? A perfect tie-in! But trying as hard as I might — even after getting over the smell and the sight of the 3-ton carcass on the floor of a campus garage — I just could not make a decent picture that any newspaper looking for a pre-RNC feature photo would actually publish.
An elephant photo of mine that WAS seen in hundreds of newspapers around the country? The convention souvenir shop selling GOP ladies undergarments. (Time or Newsweek, I forget which, even used it.) Until I made a picture a few years later of a young joey kangaroo at the zoo fitted with a size 16 sneaker on an injured foot, it was my most published photo — sort of the 1980s version of a viral meme.
This past week, while I was not in Milwaukee, I tried each night of the DNC to make a non-virtual news photo.
Day One: Protesters outside former Vice President Joe Biden’s national campaign headquarters in Center City Philadelphia. It was led by Cheri Honkala, a longtime poverty activist, who protested at both the 2000 RNC and the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia.
Day Two. Three Biden supporters wait hours in a Wilmington high school parking lot to see former Second Lady Jill Biden arrive for her virtual address to the convention, live from her old classroom. They didn’t know it at the time, but her husband was with her in the SUV.
Day Three. Crowds gather outside the Museum of the American Revolution where former President Barack Obama made his virtual address,“from the birthplace of democracy, at a museum that underscores just how much this country has given up to live in a democracy.”
Day Four: TVs inside, tuned to sports and not the DNC on its final night, as bars and restaurants allowed to reopen for outdoor dining.
Since 1998, a black-and-white photo has appeared every Monday in staff photographer Tom Gralish’s photo column in The Inquirer’s local news section. Here are the most recent, in color: