As the old newspaper adage says, a picture is worth 1,000 words. If that proves true, longtime photographer Ed Blochowiak’s work has done an astounding amount of talking. While he allows his work to do most of the speaking, he isn’t opposed to the occasional smart remark.
Note: An in-depth look at the life and work of News-Star photographer Ed Blochowiak and the impact his career has made on the community.
As the old newspaper adage says, a picture is worth 1,000 words. If that proves true, longtime photographer Ed Blochowiak’s work has done an astounding amount of talking.
While he allows his work to do most of the speaking, he isn’t opposed to the occasional smart remark.
Perplexed that he’s so often asked how to spell his name, he simply spells out E, D.
For five decades Ed, 65, has gathered visual information, capturing the essence of the community where he was born and raised.
For nearly all of those years he’s done it for the Shawnee News-Star. In fact, while working in Tom Coffey’s drugstore as a teenager, Ed said he often took photos for the daily –– until he went into the military a year after high school.
But four years later, Nov. 19, 1973 –– just six days out of the air force –– Ed entered into his new role as a professional photographer, just like he predicted he would. He said he had told the folks at the paper they needed to hire him –– and he bugged them until they did.
Ed said he liked seeing his work printed in the daily.
His love for photography started in his teens, he said, and –– though he worked on the yearbook staff in school –– most everything he has learned about photography has been trial-and-error through his own experience.
He apparently was an excellent teacher and student, as evidenced by the countless awards he’s won.
His photographs have earned him three Photo of the Year designations –– two from the Oklahoma Press Association and one from the Associated Press. He also has been merited with more than two dozen first-place awards as well as a bunch of others, he said –– more than 100 from various contests –– as well as being inducted into the Journalism Hall of Fame in 2014.
If the number of awards isn’t convincing enough to believe the man has mastered his art, his range of subject matter will. Whether it’s catching a trail of slobber slinging from an agitated bull’s mouth or a rider’s abnormal posture while being flung through the air, Ed’s summer shots of the International Finals Youth Rodeo (IFYR) are an annual favorite. He said rodeo events are among his most challenging subjects.
The action doesn’t stop there. Ed has been on scene to capture countless fires blazing out of control and he’s been up front and center during football plays so intense that he’s actually been mowed down on the sidelines.
During his tenure, he said the Shawnee Wolves high school football team has won the state championship three times.
“I got to shoot it twice –– once in 1973, then again in 2003,” he said.
Some of his favorite events to shoot have been police-related incidents and fires, and anything to do with flying, Ed said.
“As part of the job, I’ve gotten to ride in a B-17 Bomber twice; an AWACS from Tinker Air Force Base; a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker while it was being refueled in the air; a Huey Helicopter, a 1943 Stearman Red Baron pizza plane twice; and two hot air balloons,” he said.
He’s been through some exciting rides where the pilot performed a 360-degree loop, as well as flew straight up in the air and cut the engine before coming back down, while Ed was on-board.
“And, I’ve been in the Oscar Mayer Weiner Wagon, which can play the Weiner Song in seven languages,” he said.
He has photographed celebrities, three U.S. presidents and first ladies, a first-son, and a vice president or two.
Ed said people and animals make good subjects for photos.
“I know people like to see nice, feature-type stuff, as opposed to hard news, that they can check out over a bowl of Cheerios in the morning,” he said.
“Kids are always fun to photograph,” he said, “and years ago, it was really easy to find great shots of the elderly. You could see the hard lines on their faces –– and you could tell they had had a rough life. They had a lot of character to them; they always made for good pictures,” he said.
Animals are usually easy subject matter to find, as well.
“I can usually find birds or animals out at the lake. Once, I saw a couple of geese out there while it was snowing, that photo turned out pretty nice,” he said.
The winter months aren’t always good for pictures, Ed said.
“It’s really the worst time of year to take photos. A lot of the time everything is gray –– there’s no contrast –– and no events going on. It’s hard to find stuff outside when it’s like that,” he said.
But find stuff he has, and does –– now in his 43rd year shooting Shawnee.
“I’ve taken pictures of a large chunk of Shawnee history. I’ve documented a lot of events, like when businesses like W.R. Jones and Demco burned,” he said.
Some of Ed’s historical documentation appears to have made it pretty far away.
He said he’s been told that one of his photos was seen on display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
Ed has certainly come a long way from the old days when he was on vegetable detail.
“There was a grocery store out of Ada, years ago, that used to bring a pickup load of food items for me to photograph. I would have to take pictures of each food by itself for the weekly grocery sale advertisements,” he said.
“I used to think to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m shooting asparagus. Nobody shoots pictures of a head of lettuce’.”
Since then, Ed has worn out five film-loaded cameras as well as a digital one.
In the early years, Ed said he used to take a lot more photos trying to get the best pictures. “Now, I just watch for the right moment to shoot; I can usually get it,” he said.
“Once in awhile, I can go through photos I shot and discover something I didn’t realize I caught. Once I was shooting a fire from far away and when I looked over the photos I noticed that I had caught a flock of birds just as they were coming out of the trees to get away from the fire. I didn’t even remember seeing them when I was there at the scene,” he said.
Ed recalled a time when he got to a photo assignment only to realize he had forgotten the camera.
“It sticks out in my mind, because it’s the only time I ever did that,” he said.
Camera equipment hasn’t changed too much, but technology ultimately has altered part of the process.
Ed said the biggest change has been the amount of time that is now saved because he is no longer developing film.
“There were times I would be in the darkroom for days and when I’d come out there would be a stranger working in the newsroom,” he said, “it would be a new employee I didn’t know had been hired.”
He said he spent a good 30 years in the darkroom. Things started to get a little easier when negative readers came out, he said, when he could put them on a computer screen.
“I liked printing photos, but it was so time-consuming,” he said.
In the old days more photo editing was done during the developing and printing process, not afterward –– like now.
He said he once experimented with a photo he took of a model by putting a texture screen on it, making it grainy. “I got in trouble because the publisher at the time –– Ross Porter –– really didn’t like it; he was mad for days. I was glad there were two ways into the newsroom so I could avoid walking past his office.”
Ed said when he started out he was just a picture-taker –– not a photographer, but a fellow photographer had a significant effect on how Ed viewed his career.
“A kid sent some stuff from Oregon, his resume and some samples of his work and that really got me to thinking, ‘Ed, you need to get serious about this.’ We hired him and he worked here for several years,” he said.
“At that point, my eyes were really opened to what I could be doing,” he said.
That epiphany is reflected in his work.
Equipped with an invisible frame, Ed’s naked eye scans images wherever he goes, always searching for a story to tell.
He likes to drive around town real slow so he can look around for things to shoot, he said. “I’m sure it’s irritating to whoever is on the road behind me,” he said.
Most probably don’t mind so much, once they realize what the local celebrity is doing.
“I can’t go anywhere incognito,” he said, laughing. “Most everyone recognizes me and my car.”
As popular as he is, Ed said he intends to retire before too long. He said he will probably take a vacation from the camera for a little while to focus on his hobbies. He said he enjoys woodworking.
“I’ll eventually pick up a little camera just for shooting pictures of the family –– Ed has 31-year-old twin sons –– and the granddogs,” he said.
To view a visual essay of some of Ed’s favorite photos, look in the Lifestyle section of today’s Shawnee News-Star or visit news-star.com and look under “Our Photos.”
Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.