Associated Press Kentucky photographer Ed Reinke died one year ago today. I don’t pretend to have known him nearly as well as many other photographers throughout Kentucky and the nation, but his life and death have had a profound effect on me nonetheless.
In the 15+ years I’ve been shooting for state and national publications, Ed Reinke has been there at nearly every major event I’ve covered. We’d usually make eye contact at some point, smile, nod and sometimes take a moment to exchange a few pleasantries if circumstances allowed, but that was about it.
This isn’t to say it was some sort of bitter rivalry or anything, because it wasn’t, but in the downtime before an event when many photographers choose to spend time socializing, I usually spend that time looking for pictures they might be missing. It’s a conscious choice I’ve always made and it’s one I don’t regret. Like so many choices we’re forced to make in our careers and lives, however, it can be a double-edged sword.
I can’t remember the first time I met Ed because it just seems like he was always there, except of course for when the AP would send him to the Olympics or Super Bowl or some other major event they were staffing. My first AP photo assignment came about in February 1998 because Ed was on the other side of the globe covering the Nagano Winter Olympics in Japan.
I ended up only shooting about two assignments for the AP, though, because I happened to come along at about the same time they started ripping off photographers with a work-made-for-hire contract. I can remember discussing that heinous contract on the phone with both Ed Reinke and Kentucky’s then-Chief of Bureau Ed Staats; I explained I couldn’t work for the AP under the terms of their contract, they explained they couldn’t do anything about it and we parted ways amicably.
Competing against Ed always brought out the best in me, though. One of my proudest moments was in December 1998 when I was one of only three photographers allowed in the courtroom for Heath High School gunman Michael Carneal’s formal sentencing in Paducah, Ky. Although Ed wasn’t in the courtroom, AP still got plenty of pictures since the other two courtroom photographers were from AP-member newspapers (Barkley Thieleman of the Paducah Sun and Sam Upshaw Jr. of The Courier-Journal).
That’s perhaps the quintessential Ed Reinke story, as well as a tribute to his skill: even when somebody else did occasionally manage to “beat” him, he still did just fine.
The last time I saw Ed was probably Nov. 2, 2010 in Bowling Green, Ky., when we were covering Election Day and the end of Rand Paul’s campaign for U.S. Senate. That race got a significant amount of national attention, so there were more photographers in town than usual.
Paul voted in the morning at a local school and there were quite a few national outlets on hand — in fact, more than I saw at any other point during the campaign. I got there later than most because I didn’t anticipate such a throng, so I spent most of my time inside the school jockeying for position. I was able to pull a ninja move on a precinct officer blocking several other photographers, so I got a better angle than the rest of the herd and ended up with a nice photo showing Ed Reinke right in the middle of the pack, doing what he did best.
I thought for sure I’d see him at the 2011 Fancy Farm picnic — one of Kentucky’s greatest political traditions — but, as fate would have it, he opted not to make the nearly four-hour drive from Louisville to Paducah last year and sent a stringer instead.
I had lunch that day with one of his colleagues and another photographer who was one of his closest friends. Naturally, Ed came up in our conversation, but little did we know he’d be gone less than three short months later.
I really wish he’d shown up for lunch that day.