Filed Under:

Clear, Sharp And Properly Exposed: How A Photo Made A Career

Play associated audio

As part of a new series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

On Jan. 18, 1990, Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry was arrested for possession and use of crack cocaine in a hotel room during an FBI sting.

Meanwhile, at The Washington Post, intern Bill O'Leary was waiting for his first real assignment.

"I had been administrative staff at the Post. It's pretty much clerical, background work. And I was anxious to get out on the street with a camera," he tells NPR's Arun Rath. "An editor comes running in and says, 'There's a rumor that the Mayor has been arrested.' For this to be happening was a monstrous local story."

Staff photographers were quickly dispatched to the FBI office at Buzzard's Point to cover the developing story. Two people were left behind.

"Just me and one of the older photographers who had been going through a divorce and had asked for light duty," O'Leary says.

Their editor sent them to Barry's house as backup in case the other photographers missed him.

Shortly after O'Leary and his colleague arrived at his home, an FBI SUV pulled up and four men exited the vehicle. One of the individuals was Mayor Marion Barry.

O'Leary raised his camera to take a picture, but an FBI agent got in his way and started to push him back. But then a competitor for Channel 4 News started running up, shouting questions at the mayor. The agent turned toward the commotion.

"At that instant, I get off this one picture — BAM! — with a punch flash, direct strobe, hideous in the middle of the night," he says.

O'Leary rushed back to the office and developed the photo in the darkroom.

"I finally start to unwheel it from the spool, hold it up to a light box, and there it is. It's clear, it's sharp, it's properly exposed, and it's the mayor," he says.

It was the lead picture in the Jan. 19 issue of The Washington Post.

"It was magic," O'Leary says. "That was my big break."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

MTV's Rewinding The '90s With A New Channel

The '90s are back! Pokémon has taken over the world again. A Clinton is running for president. And now, MTV is reviving '90s favorites like Beavis and Butt-head on a new channel, MTV Classic.
NPR

Salvage Supperclub: A High-End Dinner In A Dumpster To Fight Food Waste

The ingredients — think wilted basil, bruised plums, garbanzo bean water — sound less than appetizing. Whipped together, they're a tasty meal that show how home cooks can use often-tossed foods.
WAMU 88.5

The Politics Hour – LIVE from Slim's Diner!

This special edition of the Politics Hour is coming to you live from Slim's Diner from Petworth in Northwest D.C.

NPR

Writing Data Onto Single Atoms, Scientists Store The Longest Text Yet

With atomic memory technology, little patterns of atoms can be arranged to represent English characters, fitting the content of more than a billion books onto the surface of a stamp.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.