Volume THREE, ISSUE 48

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Tribute to Michael A. W. Evans

Michael Evans

Michael Evans ATLANTA, GA (Dec. 1, 2005) - Michael A. W. Evans, a noted newspaper, magazine, President's photographer, early developer of software systems for cataloging photography collections and picture agency ZUMA Press' first CTO and father of their original database, died peacefully Dec. 1, 2005, while surrounded by his family at his home in Atlanta. Mr. Evans (61) succumbed after a four-year fight against cancer. Story Evans, his wife, this morning wrote, "The presence of God and the community of our friends sustained him to the very end. For that we will be eternally grateful."

Michael Evans was born in St. Louis, Missouri. As the son of Canadian diplomats, he was raised abroad. He spent over 20 years in photojournalism and picture editing. His career as a photographer began at the Port Hope Evening Guide (Ontario, Canada)--followed by The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), the New York Times, TIME magazine--and ended as picture editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, his best known shots are the iconic images of presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, begun on assignment in 1976 for a trade magazine dedicated to covering the world of horses Equus, and later, his revealing record of life and politics behind the scenes of the Reagan Administration on assignment for TIME Magazine among others and for the White House itself. His image of Reagan with a cowboy hat is the most recognized image of the late president.

Evans' photojournalism career began in Ontario at the Port Hope Evening Guide in 1959, when he was 15. "They paid me two dollars for a photograph and ten cents an inch for the stories I wrote on the [school] football games," Evans said. "I wrote very long stories." Evans says he has two distinct memories from his younger years of study at Queen's University that influenced his career choice. The first is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which states the very act of observing a phenomenon changes the nature of the phenomenon, and the second was a televised fundraising speech Ronald Reagan gave for Barry Goldwater. The first recollection led Evans into the world of photojournalism, and the second ended up being the main subject of his photography, Ronald Reagan.

After a brief stint with Cleveland's Plain Dealer in 1968, he was hired to the staff of the New York Times by legendary picture editor John Morris. He was Morris' first hire after becoming picture editor at the Times. From the outset, Evans displayed a unique eye and passion for his work that was widely recognized by his peers. Only two years after starting at the Times, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography.

Michael Evans

After leaving the New York Times, he started to freelance for TIME magazine, among others. On assignment for TIME under famed picture editor Arnold Drapkin's direction, he covered every aspect of the Reagan presidential campaign, from pre-convention July 1980 until Christmas, 1980. Then newly nominated President Reagan offered Evans a position as personal photographer. He would be independent of the White House press office and given unparalleled access to the president. Although he had more lucrative opportunities, he accepted the offer and spent the next four years making a pictorial record of the administration and its chief executive.

Lois Romano, a staff writer at The Washington Post, aptly described Evans' position in 1985 as "a job that requires him to be both ubiquitous and invisible." Evans also led a small team of photographers and picture editors, oversaw a photo lab in the White House basement and occasionally interceded with administration officials on behalf of his colleagues in the media. Of Evans' work, President Reagan once said, "Through Michael's lenses are captured the special moments of history which will exist long after I leave office. He records for future generations the good and the bad--the victory and the defeat...Michael always does this with grace and skill. Being one of his subjects is always a pleasure." Longtime friend Donald Winslow recently wrote an article on Evans for NPPA's News Photographer magazine. "Mike Evans was a skilled photographer, but his genius was storytelling," Winslow said at Evans' passing. "Mike took the potential for telling stories with pictures to a new level. You can see his eye and his intellect in picture after picture and his integrity in the choices he made. You see him thinking, What is important here, and how will my picture tell the truth about it?"

Michael EvansAfter covering four long years of the day-to-day grind of the White House, he started on a new venture: the Portrait Project, a nonprofit for which he assumed the audacious task of photographing all the individuals he considered to be the era's movers and shakers in Washington. In the end, 595 subjects agreed to sit for their portraits, an unpartisan selection that included the chief justice, members of Congress and socialites, as well as journalists, a secretary and a senior Capitol janitor. The project culminated in an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution titled People and Power: Portraits from the Federal Village and a book of the same name. Evans said he made an explicit egalitarian statement in titling the project People and Power--not in, of or with power--and that he wanted to preserve a "geological record" of government in a single moment of time for future citizens. Some of the show's prints are in the Library of Congress, while the negatives are now housed in the National Archives. George Will noted the equalizing urge behind People and Power, writing, "Representative governments are, well, awfully representative, at least in this sense: They are made up of folks who look like and are like most other folks. [Evans'] portraits testify, I think, to democracies' pleasantness."

In Washington, Evans met his future spouse, Story Shem, a former Carter administration aide and founding partner of Arrive, a Washington communications firm with an all-woman staff. Evans promptly enlisted Shem to help organize his ambitious portrait project and coax a number of notable holdouts to schedule photo sessions. The couple married and moved to Atlanta, where Evans briefly served as photography editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Though Evans stopped taking pictures, he was soon to be considered one of the foremost authorities in the digital image processing and distribution fields. Over the years, media giants including TIME magazine, the Miami Herald and Keystone Canada, as well as the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, used his photo database systems. Another was ZUMA Press, the independent picture agency and wire service for which Evans served as chief technology officer. (ZUMA is also the sole representative of Evans' photo collection.) Fighting cancer till the end, he worked for ZUMA as a big-picture man, always looking for great solutions to the big and small tech problems of running technology for a cutting-edge picture agency/wire service in today's cutthroat, demanding marketplace.

Evans was alway up for ever challenge and relished the opportunity. Michael is survived by his loving wife Story. Michael and Story Evans have two daughters: Abigail, 20, and Madeleine, 16. In addition, Michael has four adult children: Ewen Riddell, Drew Evans, Megan Evans and Amanda Evans. He also is survived by two sisters, Judy Evans and Esme Comfort and one brother, Tony Evans. Michael has four grandchildren. Evans supported Alzheimer's research, homelessness awareness and other efforts to improve the length and quality of life, but he was uncomfortable calling attention to his charitable activities.

Michael EvansWhile Evans' newspaper work, portrait project and work at ZUMA were stellar and he leaves behind a strong legacy, he is most remembered for his portrait of then defeated presidential party candidate Ronald Reagan. He was on assignment for a horse magazine, no longer in business, to do a story on Reagan's love of the ranch and horsing. This image was shot in the summer of 1976, the week before the Republican convention where after fighting hard to get his parties nomination Reagan had lost in the primaries to incumbent President Ford. Instead of an image of defeat, Evans made one that showed Reagan's strong conviction and love of hard work and day-to-day ranching. That image that has come to represent Ronald Reagan to many Americans and people all over the world: the cowboy with a working man's tan, lined face, well-worn hat, an affecting, slightly crooked smile and confident, clear eyes that belied both his age and his political zeal. It has been said that this one picture rivals Matthew Brady's image of Abraham Lincoln's ethereal, weary, wartime gaze as one of the most recognized in the history of presidential portraiture. It is so quintessentially Reagan that at the time of the former president's death, it became the only photograph to be used as the cover of TIME, Newsweek and People Weekly, as well as countless usages worldwide in the same week. Evans sometimes referred to it as "the picture."

Long time friend and fellow photojournalist Arthur Grace said after hearing the news, "Michael Evans had it all as a photojournalist-intelligence, wit, curiosity, tenacity, an abundance of class and prodigious talent with a camera. He was a consummate professional and a true gentleman. He will be sorely missed by all those who had the pleasure of working with him or competing against him. Fortunately, his iconic photographs will keep his reputation growing and his memory alive."

"Mikey was an amazing mentor for me and a never-say-die cohort as I built my agency from nothing to a player in the industry. Without Michael, ZUMA would be a shadow of its present self," said Scott Mc Kiernan, founder and director of ZUMA Press. "As a rookie photog in Detroit covering my first convention, Mike pointed me to where George Bush had gone and told me I might want to stay on him. He was on assignment for TIME, and I was working for the competition, Newsweek, but he helped me nonetheless. Bush later that day became the surprise VP to the future winning presidential ticket. Years latter when I was looking for a new way to distribute my images and ZUMA's on the newly created World Wide Web, he again was there for me and gave me great guidance. His work for ZUMA helped us in many ways. But my biggest and brightest memory will always be his way of looking at the big picture and his sense of humor and grace. And that unforgettable smiky smile and the ever present gleam in his eye. Mike, we will miss you, thank you for enriching our lives. Rest assure you will never be forgotten."

A memorial service for Michael will be held on Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 3:45 pm at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, 3098 St. Anne's Lane, Atlanta, Georgia. Donations may be made to the Michael Evans Memorial Library Fund at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, Atlanta, to the Arts and Photography programs at Davidson College, Woodward Academy or to Hospice Atlanta.

Michael Evans

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