About Gene Barnes

Gene Barnes, my father, died 15 years and 4 days ago as of this writing. He wanted so much to get this published while alive but I am thrilled to be able to share it with the world through wordpress and amazon self-publishing. Immediate gratification is a beautiful thing. – Christina Barnes

Now, About Gene Barnes…
Veteran photojournalist Gene Barnes presents an engaging journey with his collection of intriguing black and white portraits from the 50’s & 60’s. Barnes used only available light and did not “pose” his subjects. He captured the essence of the individual, that “X” factor that gives a portrait depth, a chink in the armor they may or may not want the world to see. Many people you will recognize, some you will not. He photographed his colleagues with the same admiration and interest as he did the celebrities and politicians that will be presented here over time. He simply felt they were no less significant in the grand scheme of things.

As one of the first staff cameramen for NBC News, Barnes covered major California new stories during those turbulent years. Rather than trade “war stories” with other journalists during breaks, Barnes grabbed his still camera to capture revealing moments of the era’s renowned and infamous personalities. He sought out the unpredictable during typically staged news events. A background in theater arts and pantomime led him to look for a subject’s characteristic movements and expressions which provide the telling details of his portraits.

Barnes, winner of 12 News Picture of the Year and 4 Golden Mike Awards, is regarded as a pioneer of television news. In 1957 he revolutionized news coverage when he hoisted his 16mm sound camera off its tripod and onto his shoulder to seize an exclusive interview with a mass murderer, Steve Nash on his way to San Quentin’s death row. This was the first hand-held sound on film, an innovation recognized collectively by the National Press Photographers Association; School of Journalism, University of Missouri; and Encyclopedia Britannica with a 1959 “S.O.F.” (sound on film) award, a category especially created for Barnes. Another photographer happened to catch the photo of him in action during that historical moment and that is the cover photo for this book.

With Los Angeles primarily as the back drop for most of the portraits, subjects encompass a broad range of well-known national and international figures from the art world, news media, crime, entertainment, science and politics. One portrait shows architect Frank Lloyd Wright retouching a rendering of one of his structures that had been built 40 years before. In another, elusive artist Simon Rodia (builder of the Watts Towers) rants at newsreel cameramen as they try to photograph him at work on the towers.

Other images include the sardonic smile of Vice President Richard Nixon being upstaged by Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller during a Nixon departure speech at Los Angeles International Airport; an angry Madam Ngo (widow of South Vietnam’s President Dinh Diem Ngo) at the Beverly Hills Hotel jabbing her finger at the press corps as she accuses President Kennedy of killing her husband; Walter Winchell typing unperturbedly at his desk in the Los Angeles press room, fronting his “gallery” of stripper pin-up photos; India’s Prime Minister Nehru appearing to contemplate weighty world matters while actuality, he was staring at a mechanical coyote wagging its tail at Disneyland.

Not limited to famous faces, included are photographs of the Watts Towers from angles not readily accessible today, assemblage art pieces by sensationalistic 60’s artist Niki de Saint Phalle, and the earliest shots of the atomic bomb at Cape Canaveral. A small metallic skull from the bench of “Hangin’ Judge” Fricke which stared down at some of California’s most notorious convicted criminals as the judge sentenced them to death.


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