Chuck Boyd stood in a long line. As he waited, he thought. The longer he waited the more devious his thoughts were. Little did he know it would be a defining moment in his life and career.
After graduating high school in 1957, Boyd having “no desire to go to college,” joined the United States Marine Corp during peacetime. In the wake of completing boot camp Boyd wanted no part of what was next: MP school. He was now looking this option straight in the eye.
“They were all set to send me to MP school after boot camp but I lied and told them I’d been published in Life magazine,” remembers Boyd.
Straight-faced, Boyd told the sergeant, “I’m a photographer.”
He laughs at the memory now. “There were 23 people in front of me, 25 behind me and one went to the photo lab,” said Boyd. That one person was Charleston native Chuck Boyd.
Then he hesitates, considering the decision he made 50 years ago and says in defense, “It wasn’t really a lie it was a premonition because six years later I was published in Life.” (He admits in his personal blog, “I would have been a skinny, lousy military cop”).
That is a fact.
In 1962 Boyd landed at the San Diego Union-Tribune as an “inside guy,” a photo lab technician but within a year he was covering and photographing events.
In 1964, he stumbled on to an interesting photo opportunity.
“We were coming back from the beach where we’d been photographing surfers,” remembers Boyd, “and we were flying over and I glanced down and did a double take because there was a word carved in the ground big enough that I could see it. So I swung my camera around and I got one shot off, a second shot off.”
QUIET. That was the word carved into the ground.
“When I came back I offered it to the photo editor and he said, ‘Nah, we don’t want that.’ So as all photographers were doing then, we were calling Time and Life magazine,” remembers Boyd. “They said, send us a copy. So I did. Then they called back and said we need a caption. I said, ‘this sounds good.’”
Boyd jumped in his TR3 and tried to find the site where he took the aerial photo from. “I couldn’t find the damn thing,” he said. “I had to go rent an airplane at $90 an hour. We circled around and around, finally I spotted it. I made some references to landmarks. When we landed, I drove back and knocked on the guy’s door.”
The farm owner who carved the word in his field told Boyd, he was the first to ever mention it. “He was near the end of the runway at Miramar naval air station in San Diego and he was tired of the jets making all the noise and rattling his crockery,” said Boyd. The man decided to send a message to Miramar by plowing the word QUIET into his field. “He never measured it out or anything, he just eyeballed it,” added Boyd.
“I think now they use it as a target to kick in their after burners, the sound is worse,” the farmer told Boyd.
Boyd informed the Tribune editors the photo was going to be published in Life magazine. Suddenly, the throwaway image had new value.
His eight-year run with the Union-Tribune placed Boyd – and his trusty camera – along side people and in places he’d never imagine possible when he first started snapping family photos as a kid. Boyd photographed President John F. Kennedy, The Beatles, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Raquel Welch, Liberace, Lyndon B. Johnson, you name it, if it was in San Diego in the 1960’s Boyd most likely photographed it.
He actually photographed Kennedy twice while in San Diego. First as a college photographer in 1960, and again, in 1963 with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In 1960, then Senator John F. Kennedy visited San Diego. “I just walked up and asked a policeman, showed him my student ID, said I was the official photographer for USD, can I get up on the platform?” Without a second thought the officer let Boyd on the platform to photograph Kennedy.
Boyd paused. One still of young, smiling Kennedy coming off the platform, sat idle of his computer screen. He replied, “innocent times.”
Boyd photographed Kennedy again in 1963 when he returned to San Diego. Now President Kennedy, Boyd took photos of the President when he received an honorary degree at San Diego State University, just five months prior to be shot in Dallas.
The work was exciting and always new. Everyday it was another location, another subject. His most memorable assignment didn’t involve a celebrity, remembers Boyd. “It sounds really weird, but a four-day search for a missing boy in the desert,” he said. “It had a happy ending. They found him, he was alive, he was healthy and I was in the front row taking pictures of him on the stretcher.”
After leaving the newspaper in 1969, Boyd caught on as a researcher for CBS-TV news. That’s when Boyd was assigned to cover the Charles Manson murder trial in Los Angeles.
“I was in the second row. For four months not once did I make eye contact with Charlie,” said Boyd. Manson was a mere 10-12 feet from where Boyd was sitting during the proceedings. “He looked out into the crowd a lot, he was just eerie.”
During his coverage for CBS, Boyd had the unenviable of seeing Manson at his worst. Boyd returned from lunch early one afternoon, making his way past the Manson family parading and chanting at the entrance. “The trial had already started,” he recalls. “So, I was the only news man in there and I watched Charlie, who was wearing shower shoes, do something I hadn’t seen him do before.
“He kicked his shoes off and (folding his legs under his backside) he was sitting like this in his chair. Then he got his other leg under him and before anyone knew it, he leaped across the table at the judge with a pencil in his hand, shouting something.
“I made the mistake of standing and stepping into the aisle and the bailiff ran past me and knocked me down. Bailiffs were flying through the air, catching Charlie, slamming him to the ground and taking him out of the courtroom.”
This all started when Boyd decided to start taking family photos as a kid. Using a Kodak Duaflex II camera, little Chuck snapped pictures of mom, dad and his brothers. Boyd still owns the late 50’s Kodak camera. “You’d take a roll of film, bring it up to Walgreens and come back a week later to pick it up,” he remembers, thinking of how far technology has advanced since his earliest photography efforts.
As Boyd writes in his personal blog, “in the ‘good old days’ you shared photos by sitting with a friend or family member and opening an envelope from the drug store and passing around your hot, fresh snapshots. The black and white prints used to have something called a deckle edge. Now it’s possible to snap a digital photo then quickly look at the screen on the back of the camera to make sure everyone had their eyes open and double check that no background objects had become weird additions to the person being photographed. Telephone poles often grew out of heads …”
Now retired and living in Hanahan Boyd chronicles his journey’s – past and present – and shares them with the world in his own personal blog (http://chuckography.blogspot.com).