Biggs Museum appreciates ‘art’ of photojournalism

Delaware State News/Andrew West Biggs Museum of American Art curator Ryan Grover posts a caption for Delaware State News chief photographer Marc Clery’s photograph of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The shot is one of many in the “Ripped from the Headlines: Photojournalism in Delaware” exhibit. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

DOVER — Those of us who grew up in newsrooms heard the term often.

There was always an editor asking, “What’s our art?”

It meant what “photo” would was going to help tell the story of the day and draw in readers.

The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover will celebrate such pictures through Jan. 19 in its new exhibit, “Ripped from the Headlines: Photojournalism in Delaware.”

Several Delaware photographers and publications are represented in the exhibit, which opened with a reception Friday night.

The lead photo in the promotional material for the exhibit is from the archives of the Delaware State News.

It is an iconic shot of “The King” Richard Petty — sitting on a throne of Goodyear tires at Dover Downs International Speedway.

Marc Clery got the shot of the NASCAR star on May 19, 1984.

It captured the look of Mr. Petty, complete with cowboy boots, Charlie One Horse hat, sunglasses, cigar clinched in his teeth and an STP jacket.

Mr. Clery was walking the garage area looking for interesting shots, he said, without much luck to that point.

“I came around a corner and there was Richard Petty sitting on those tires,” said Mr. Clery. “I was blown away just because it was so interesting. I walked up and whipped off maybe five or six frames with a wide-angle lens.

“He got down, tipped his hat to me and walked away. No one else got that shot.”

The photo ran small on the front page of the next day’s Delaware State News.

***

The exhibit has more than 80 photos, an interesting selection of more than a dozen photographers’ work.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface of photojournalism in Delaware.

But what it does offer is a chance to ponder what those photos represent. A line in a pamphlet for the exhibit says it well:

“The art of photojournalism, especially in local newspapers, is underappreciated in American art museums even though they tell stories that unify communities.”

Marc Clery’s iconic shot of Richard Petty in 1984 was taken the day prior to his 199th NASCAR victory.

Mr. Clery and Gary Emeigh have newspaper roots that run very deep.

Both photographers have been associated with the Delaware State News for decades.

Mr. Clery is the newspaper’s chief photographer now, and Mr. Emeigh regularly freelances for the Delaware State News.

From his more recent work, Mr. Clery has an amazing shot of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds doing the Calypso Maneuver at Dover Air Force Base and a Cape Henlopen High field hockey championship.

From his vault, he also has a memorable photo of the raising of the DeBraak in the early 1990s. The British sloop sank off the coast of Lewes in 1798.

Among the powerful images on display from Mr. Emeigh is one of a 3-month-old girl being revived by firefighters at the scene of a 1969 fire in Capitol Park, Dover.

The story of that photo was told in a feature in the Delaware State News earlier this year.

“When I shot those pictures, I knew I’d never shoot anything more dramatic with such a positive outcome,” Mr. Emeigh told the Delaware State News earlier this year. “I knew it back then. Even today, I can’t drive by Capitol Park without thinking about it.”

His recollections and photos from that day are among many represented in his book, “Ink in My Blood.”

Mr. Emeigh, who has been shooting for 50 years in Delaware, got his start with the Delaware State News.

As part of the current exhibit, he will have a photo presentation and talk at the museum 6-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21.

***

On Dec. 14, the Delaware State News will offer tours in conjunction with the Biggs exhibit.

Titled “The Art of Making News,” the special event will lead guests through the process of gathering news to the daily start of the press. RSVP online at BiggsMuseum.org.

During the tour, we will be able to show the digital process that goes with today’s selection of “art” for the front page.

And, we’ll be able to talk about what it used to involve in the era of black and white photography. There was a certain joy in placing negatives or contact sheet on a light table and frame by frame reviewing the images with a magnifying loupe.

No doubt, there was a grease pencil mark around the frame that Marc Clery selected on May 19, 1984.

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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