One Hell of An Eye
The Official Blog of Mike Salisbury
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I took this photograph the evening of June 6, 1968:

RFK last minutes

RFK's last minutes, photo by Mike Salisbury

The negatives from that night were sent as fast as I could get them to Magnum Photos in New York.    Magnum, “…whose members have been among the world’s most distinguished photojournalists…..since Magnum’s founding in 1947 by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson…”

A short while after that night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated I called Magnum for my negs.  Magnum said they couldn’t remember my film.

They couldn’t remember?

I did.

I remember it was a celebration of Senator Kennedy’s victory in the California Democratic presidential primary election.  I remember working gently through the crowd, getting close enough to the stage RFK was speaking from to get that shot.

I remember it was my Leica M4 with the 21mm lens that I shot the picture with.  The camera with the brass chassis showing through the worn edges of the black finish.

I remember it was Kodak Tri X film in the camera.

I remember following the former Attorney General of the United States and his waving entourage as they left the stage all chatting with the smiling happy crowd following in the ballroom of the badly aging, sagging Ambassador Hotel.  The hotel at the end of a lawn the size of a football field, just across the street from the Brown Derby restaurant.  That one shaped like a brown derby. The hotel with the Cocoanut Grove.  The dead but unburied Cocoanut Grove.

I remember the tinny sound of small arms fire in that stainless steel kitchen pantry.

I remember standing over the head barely lifting from the black pool made by the blood of the bullet shot close range into the man breathing the last life of another murdered Kennedy.

Mike Salisbury, photographer - circa 1968

Mike Salisbury, photographer - circa 1968

I remember the snapshot-fast eruption of chaos in that kitchen. The screaming and stumbling of people running everywhere, getting nowhere.  Running into other people, arms askew in the air, tripping as high heels went sideways, others tripping over those falling.  I remember being madly pushed by a TV news camera crew trying to get a close-up of the dying with their big video camera that took more than one to carry.  I remember being purposely headbashed with that camera, carving a gash in the back of my skull.

I remember getting through somehow into the faded beige hotel lobby with the high ceilings and creepy stained carpeting.  The museum-size room that was wide enough for three cars to drive through side by side, now crowded to the walls with the escaping; the only escape route left open was jumping into the dribbling fountains all painted in the same sickly dirty beige.  It was full of running bodies making waves that washed over the fountain sides, tripping the panicked stampede.

I remember busting to the outside on that lawn, looking all around and up and down and not knowing where my wife was.  I remember when we found each other her telling me that it was the end of the world.

I remember seeing this photograph published.

I remember calling and writing Magnum…but Magnum, the world’s elite photo agency couldn’t remember.

“…..the (Magnum) archive was quietly sold to MSD Capital, the private investment firm for the family of Michael S. Dell, the computer tycoon.” The New York Times recently reported. “….the sale was $100 million…”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/arts/design/02magnum.Few html

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Comments:

I remember that night also. I was studying for a final, a total all nighter, when I got up to turn off the TV so I could maybe focus for a few hours on material I had not seen all semester.  As I walked toward the TV the world ended (according to your ex).  I could not study, no way.  So I cheated and got a B.  Bad deal all the way around.  Jerry K.

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Wow…. Bob S.

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I stayed up to watch his speech and when he was finished I turned off the TV.  Then found out the horrible news the next morning…what a bummer.  R

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Interesting.  You were a first hand witness to a shocking and significant event in history.  I read the NYT article link from your blog and it sounds like the collection will be in good hands in a scholarly institution in Austin.  It sounds like they “lost” your negs.  David S.

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A moment preserved for all of us even though it had a tragic ending.  I have often wondered what our lives and American Politics would be like if both JFK and RFK were not murdered.  Life is what it is.  You can’t change history.  Susan S.

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Great shot…better than great.  Chris N.

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Very cool; what were you doing there?  Ken M.

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Holy shit, Mike, you’ve been a witness to history in many, many ways.  A sad but splendidly detailed account of that fateful day.  Thanks for sharing.  End of the world, indeed!  Eric P.

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Oh my God, this is amazing…I was in 8th grade then.  Susan K.

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