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Retired photographer frames career, life in flashes of memories

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Whether photographing John Glenn, John F. Kennedy or an OSUMichigan football game, every picture truly told a story when shot by retired Columbus Dispatch photographer Fred Shannon. Step into the basement darkroom of his Clintonville home and the pictures speak volumes.Shannon, 77, has been a well-known figure on the newspaper scene in Columbus and around the OSU campus for many years.”He is a real personality and very respected. The other members of the press could always spot Fred in the crowd at the OSU football games, because he always wore his French beret,” said Charlie Hays, 56, longtime friend and staff photographer at the Dispatch.”Fred has the ability to bring out the best in people, he’d get everything he could out of his subject’s personality and put it on film.”I don’t think there’s any question, Fred is a people-person. It’s a real gift he’s got. I think Fred sees things through his heart, he is so likable and this warmth shows in his photography,” Hays said.Not only is Shannon well-known for his many pictures of Woody Hayes, Archie Griffin and OSU football during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, he also photographed many candid and often intimate portraits of American presidents, sports figures, musicians, actors and many others.Shannon’s list of subjects reads like a “Who’s Who” of American history; Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Lyndon B. Johnson, David Rubinoff, Mickey Rooney, and even his friend, Jack Nicklaus. One of his most prized possessions is an award-winning photo of Jimmy Connors as a young budding tennis star, separated from his shadow as he jumped up to return a shot.The son of a theater owner in Woodsfield, Ohio, Shannon grew up around art and film during the Great Depression.”I think I got the art thing from my mother, who was very artistic. My family ran the movie theater, which became a part of me, and that was probably the beginning, the fact that I enjoyed seeing wonderful, great and beautiful pictures and how they’re done.”Shannon went to college at Purdue University, where he played football and received electrical training. He served with the Navy from 1944-1946 during World War II and said that after he got out, he couldn’t find himself. That is when the photo bug bit him.He went back to college and graduated from the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, Conn., then moved back to Ohio with his wife Millie, whom he married in 1952. He then worked as a commercial photographer in Cleveland and Columbus.Shannon was first hired by the Ohio State Journal in 1953, where he remained until 1959, when he moved to the Dispatch. His memories of being sent to cover OSU football games are a rich tapestry of Buckeye lore.One of his photos shows Archie Griffin slashing his way into the end zone for a touchdown. Another shows an elderly, irate Michigan fan with a folding chair in his hand having just tried to hit Shannon in the face inside of the stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. The scoreboard in the background of a picture shows OSU winning the game by 42 points, thus explaining the sore feelings.Shannon is also the proud producer of a Richard Nixon photo with then-Ohio governor John Bricker, holding a copy of the Lantern, from which the headline read, “Nixon over Kennedy” in 1960. Kennedy won and so did Shannon, with pictures that capture the expressions of people from all walks of life.Another award-winning photo shows a little girl lost at the fair, while an elderly person’s hand gently caresses and reassures her.”He always thought up new ways of getting great pictures. He works with everyone from little kids to old men and he’d talk to them sort of like a brother or a father would,” said Hal Schellkopf, 73, retired assistant editor from the Columbus Dispatch.”When we covered OSU football games a long time ago, we sent everybody available out to the game. We had a camera called ‘Big Bertha,’ which we would perch all over the stadium,” he said.One of Shannon’s first big breaks came when he was sent to cover a fire at a lumber yard in 1954, around Hudson Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. The photograph was taken for The Ohio State Journal and Shannon inventively captured the true scope of the fire by shooting two separate pictures that were joined.”I couldn’t hold a candle to Fred’s pictures,” Hays said. He shot photos with a very hard camera to master, the 4×5, and was really innovative in using his “Rembrandt” style lighting.Shannon has appeared in the 1984 movie “The Jesse Owens Story,” playing the role of you guessed it: a photographer.He is also well-known in closer circles as a great impersonator of people such as Groucho Marx.These days, Shannon is still busy shooting photos and still makes time to play tennis, a sport he dearly loves.On looking back on a remarkable career, he said, “I worked very hard, but it was really not hard work because of the beauty of the thing. I am being so blessed with all the fabulous things that have happened in my life due to my profession, and mostly due to the wonderful subjects I’ve had in front of my camera and the people I have talked to. It has given me a whole wonderful outlook on life.”

One comment

  1. Mr. Shannon, I am a resident of Sidney, Ohio. While going through some photos, I found a picture you took of my son. Scott, my son, and I went to a “garage” sale at William Saxbe’s home in Mechanicsburg. The date was Aug. 12, 1977. My son was four and you took a picture of him playing with the knobs on an old radio. The next day it appeared on the front page of the Dispatch. Thank you for that. Today Scott is CEO of Marsh in Columbus. I hope you are well.

    Thank you

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