Back when newspapers seemed more important—long before 24-hour television news, before the Internet and all its dubious reporting—seeing an acquaintance’s name in print was a big, big deal. Seeing someone in a photo was an even bigger deal.
So we waited with no small degree of anticipation for the Monday after Easter every year to see a picture of the famous bunny in The News Journal. It was a miracle of sorts. For years, my stepmom dressed up to entertain kids on The Green during the New Castle Lions Club’s annual Easter celebration. There were scads of kids in their holiday finest, women in bonnets. Photographer Fred Comegys knew he’d always find a good photo there, so for years, he took Kay’s picture.
I attended that celebration many times. I never saw the shooter, just the evidence. Which was the case of every Comegys image I’d seen in my long relationship with the paper (except for UD football games, where he was a fixture on the sidelines). In my mind, the man was some kind of superhuman being. He was everywhere, all the time.
So imagine my surprise when I took a call about 12 years ago. “This is Fred Comegys. I need to take your picture for the paper.”
Fred Comegys? The Fred Comegys? The shot he wanted wasn’t for the biggest story in the world. Why was he assigned to shoot such a minor thing?
So many of us have similar stories about Fred, which makes a good point about people who are great at what they do. They perform their jobs diligently day after day, which means they often end up in the right places at significant times.
Just look at the evidence here. For five decades Fred Comegys has photographed some of the most important local events. He has also shot some of the most mundane, but in a way that makes them seem anything but. In doing so, Comegys is the mirror we hold up to ourselves. His images not only help show us who we are, but they have helped us define ourselves as Delawareans. Who would we be without him?
If you’ve been a longtime reader of the paper, you know what I mean. If you doubt his cultural significance, visit the Delaware Art Museum. A retrospective of his work will be on display from February 12 till May 1.