Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. I was asked to shoot Dr. Clarence Jones for American Airline's inflight magazine American Way for an article on the anniversary. If you're not familiar with Dr. Jones, he was an important part of Dr. King's civil rights movement. Dr. King personally came to Dr. Jones' house in 1960 to ask him to for help with the movement. Later, Dr Jones helped co-author Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech; Of the nearly twenty minute speech Dr. Jones is responsible for approximately the first fifteen minutes.
It was fascinating to listen to Dr. Jones tell me the story of the night Dr. King came to his house. As Dr. Jones put it to me to illustrate just how popular Dr. King was at the time, "it would be as if Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Tom Cruise all rolled into one showed up at your doorstep". It was even more surprising to hear how he initially turned down Dr. King that night. Dr. Jones would have had to do extensive traveling and he didn't want to leave his wife. Dr. King persisted; The following Sunday Dr. Jones attended a sermon given by Dr. King at his local church. During the sermon Dr. King spoke about a brilliant young lawyer he had hoped would help him in his fight for civil rights, but the young lawyer had turned him down. The crowd was stunned. Dr. King continued talking about the young lawyer (never mentioning his name) and the good he could be doing. After Dr. King's sermon, Dr. Jones finally agreed to help Dr. King.
Today Dr. Jones is a professor at University of San Francisco and a scholar writer at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. He has written two books about Martin Luther King and lectures across the country.
The initial shoot took place in a small recording studio on the USF campus. This is where the magazine wanted the shoot done. The recording studio was a very small room with nothing in it but a chair, a microphone and sound baffling on the wall. There was little room for the much needed lighting I had brought and what did fit couldn't be placed where I would have preferred. To make things more interesting, because the magazine wanted a "wide shot" of Dr. Jones, the room was so small I had to be in a completely different room shooting through a glass window. This meant I only had a couple of angles available to me due to reflections showing up in the final picture.
The picture came out ok, but I wasn't that happy with it so I offered to do another shoot of Dr. Jones, this time at his Palo Alto house. Despite being very busy, Dr. Jones obliged and patiently sat through another photo shoot. This time I kept things simple; It was just me, Dr. Jones, my Mamiya and some film. This time I was much happier with the images. It was also great getting to spend more time with Dr. Jones and hear more of his stories. Dr. Jones was actually thankful that I was so willing to make sure the pictures for the story came out well.
So, if you're flying American Airlines this month, put down the SkyMall catalog and check out the issue of American Way.