Carl Viti took many memorable pictures, but one in particular stands out in my mind.
Early in my career at the Advertiser I was out one Sunday with Carl when we went to a tenement on School Street that was being torn down to make way for a new building. The residents -- mostly welfare recipients and Section 8 types -- had been craft enough to seek out a city councilman to stave off the demolition. Carl and I had gone to see what was up.
The assignment was entirely forgettable in a way. Just Sunday fodder. But Carl came away that day with what I consider a brilliant shot that spoke volumes about the human condition.
Carl was extremely good at this -- almost was reporterlike in trying to ferret out information while getting his shots. He wasn't satisfied to merely tag along and shoot whatever was in front of him. Carl's life and work traveled the same road in this respect -- he didn't necessarily follow the pack and wasn't afraid of cutting a path to something that interested him.
Carl was disinterested in shooting some of the more obvious pictures that day. He worked his way around the ramshackle wooden building until he came upon an uncommunicative gentleman who was enjoying a Bud tallboy while relaxing in a threadbare recliner. In front of him was one of the more precious possessions there -- a new 25-inch television.
At the time, IBM was running an image campaign that rhetorically asked people to think of all the possibilities that exist in this world. This was punctuated by a black screen with "What If" in stark white lettering.
Carl was quick enough to shoot a picture of the down-on-his-luck man sitting in the foreground and contemplating the television and What If in the background. A message consiering all the technological capabilities of computers had been turned into a statement about humanity and lost promise.
The picture was so good that no story was needed -- it ran in the paper the next day with a caption about the eviction.
I will always remember Carl for that and his many deeds. We were part of the same informal surf brotherhood that exists in the newspaper building. Guys who trade information about swells and get up at 5 a.m. to rendezvous at various surf spots, dress for work in parking lots and come to the office with their hair wet.
Carl was a competent surfer with a distinct style. The way someone surfs speaks about their personalities and how they behave on land. To mee Carl stood like a prize fighter when he rode waves, with a slight and arms to fend off any unwanted punches. He was ready for anything life could throw at him. He also wasn't timid about chasing down waves, committing himself fully to the capture of any swell within 25 yards of his surfboard.
Surfing much of the time is a silent sport -- guys don't banter all that much in the lineup as they mentally map out the approach of waves, currents and the jockeying of other surfers. As you might have guessed, Carl was different in this respect, giving a quick smile or talking about whatever he was passionate about that day.
All the cliches about someone who is good and who dies tragically come to mind with respect to Carl. Why should others who detract and harm others live while someone so valued dies? How could someone who lived a life of respect and care for others be taken in such a violent manner?
These are all true with respect to Carl. There is something else, however.
Carl's death helped me realize that journalism, for all the bruises and criticism thrust upon it, is populated with basically good and decent people.
Sure, we have our contingent of uncaring and overly ambitious people. There are those that are in journalism more for themselves than delivering something meaningful to the public. We frequently hear of journalistic sins and readers no longer trusting what they read.
It's easy to become demoralized about the trade and many newsrooms are pits of unhappiness. But step back and take a look around you.
As a whole journalists are good and hard-working people such as Carl. Most of us have fascinating backgrounds and rich educational experiences as Carl did.
We fight for stories we believe are good for the public interest. We'll work longer hours than we get paid for if the story is a good one. We believe in ourwork and are upset if an editor doesn't think we took the right approach to a story.
Carl was all of the above and would want us to be the same way.
I want to make clear that Carl Viti was no saint. He was human. He had off days shooting and he could drive you crazy by suggesting one too many story ideas.
But I'll tell you this: I miss him, his smile and his surf stories. My mother died when I was just out of grade school and since that time, I don't cry easy.
Carl's death was different though. I shed more than a few tears when when Carl Viti died and know others did too.
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