Reflecting on the life and death of Ed Reinke

Tribute graphic honoring Ed Reinke with "Ed" in white on a red and black plaid background.
Tribute graphic honoring Ed Reinke with "Ed" in white on a red and black plaid background.

The red plaid Ed Reinke tribute graphic. It’s become a pretty common sight in the last year.

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.

The simple fact of the matter is this: I didn’t get to know him very well because, for most of my career, trying to “beat” him was a key part of my job description. Whether shooting for UPI, Newsmakers/Liaison/Getty Images, Apex MediaWire or ZUMA Press, I’ve almost always been directly competing against the AP — and Ed Reinke — every time I saw him.

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.

Tea Party Republican Senate nominee Dr. Rand Paul (right) marked his ballot while voting on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010 at Briarwood Elementary School in Bowling Green, Ky. Paul's wife voted next to him in the center booth. (Apex MediaWire Photo by Billy Suratt) (US NEWSPAPERS ONLY - ALL OTHER LICENSORS CONTACT ZUMAPRESS.COM)

Senate candidate Rand Paul votes in the 2010 Kentucky general election. That’s AP photojournalist Ed Reinke kneeling in the center and America’s favorite college kid/political-tool-photographer-who-gives-away-all-his-work Gage Skidmore chimping on the left. At events like this, my livelihood often depends on getting photos distinctively different from what the rest of the pack comes away with. (Photo by Billy Suratt)

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.

I’ve sometimes wondered over the years how things might have turned out differently if the AP hadn’t become so greedy. I’ve done OK on my own, but if the AP hadn’t robbed me of a chance to let Ed Reinke mentor me as he has so many other great photographers over the years, there’s no telling what I might have accomplished by now. At the very least, I would have gotten to know him better, and that’s something I do regret.

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.

Associated Press photojournalist Ed Reinke (left) scribbles notes as Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul gets into a car after voting at Briarwood Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010 in Bowling Green, Ky.

Associated Press photojournalist Ed Reinke (left) scribbles notes as Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul gets into a car after voting at Briarwood Elementary School on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010 in Bowling Green, Ky. (Photo © 2010 Billy Suratt)

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.

We probably would’ve had a chance to chat at Paul’s returns/victory party later that night, but I was left off the credential list — despite the fact I’d photographed more of Paul’s campaign than anybody besides maybe Ed. A campaign staffer I knew finally appeared and took care of things after calling the campaign manager, but by that time I was lucky to even find a place to stand inside the crowded Warren County Convention Center. I saw the back of Ed’s head that night, but that was about it.

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.

I'm a Mid-South photojournalist, Kentucky writer and digital media consultant (or eNinja™). Circle me on Google Plus at, follow me on Twitter at @surattb and Instagram me at @BillySuratt. Got a news tip or suggestion about some journalism that needs committed? Email (discretion is always guaranteed).

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