I was on vacation from my job at WCVB-TV Boston in September 1986 and had spent the early evening playing cards. At 11:30 I quit to pick up a friend RELATED ARTICLE
“The Best Picture I Never Took”
– Stanley Formanat The Herald. I always enjoy cruising the streets of Boston late at night and into the early morning, looking for news.
Like most TV stations, Channel 5 requires cameramen to leave photography equipment and cars at the station when on vacation, but I did have my still equipment. Driving my wife’s car, we cruised for a couple of hours. Finding nothing happening, we decided to call it quits about 2:30 a.m. I dropped my friend off at The Herald and headed home.
Something about that car made me take a different route home. Suddenly I saw a blue light from a police cruiser. As I got closer I realized there was a building on fire. No fire engines were there. In fact, the call had not even gone out over the fire department radio. I parked on the opposite side of the street and ran, with my still camera armed with a 35-mm lens, carrying a 135-mm lens in my pocket. I had seen one person leaping off the porch as I was parking the car. When I got there rescuers were lowering a baby. I calmed myself. I was using a strobe with alkaline batteries. I knew the recycle time was slow. I had to really manage my shots—not like in daytime where I could just shoot away.
I waited for them to let go of the baby, and—bang!—got the picture in midair. Next, a man on the roof was trying to coax his girlfriend to jump. The flames were getting heavier and everyone below was screaming for them to jump. The woman panicked, fell to the floor of the roof and her fast-thinking boyfriend just pushed her over. I was trying to conserve my flash power but I had to take a few pictures of the struggle. I really didn’t know how many shots I could get with the strobe firing and was counting seconds in my head between shots.
She fell to the ground with a great thud and then her boyfriend took a running leap. I took stretcher shots as they were being carried to waiting ambulances and then a bonus shot as a former boyfriend was identified and arrested for arson.
(The former boyfriend was found guilty and sent to jail several months later. All of the victims recovered from their injuries. The policeman in the picture holding the baby was later indicted for trying to solicit bribes as he gave out tickets for moving violations.)
I got a friend to develop the pictures. It was about 3:30 a.m. and I knew I could catch the afternoon papers. I called Vin Alabiso, Photo Editor of the Boston Bureau of The Associated Press, now Executive Photo Editor and Vice President of The Associated Press, who sent a courier to rush to the office to get the pictures on the wire. Channel 5 sent a taxi for a set of prints, which they used on the first morning newscast and did a story for the 6 o’clock evening show.
It was a rewarding series of pictures. It had everything I could dream of. If I could have done anything different it would be to have the baby and the woman facing the camera.
The pictures won several local awards and the National Press Photographers’ Association award for spot news that year.
I guess the best part of it was I was on vacation, and I still knew how to use my 35-mm. The next day Prince Charles was on a tour of Boston and my pictures upstaged him on page one. I still use my 35-mm for news when I am on vacation. Other than my two Pulitzer Prize photos, I have taken nothing as spectacular as these pictures.
Stanley Forman is a 1980 Nieman Fellow.