Bernie Boston, Noted Photojournalist and RIT Alumnus, Dies at 74
Jan. 24, 2008
by Kelly Downs
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Bernie Boston, noted photojournalist and a 1955 graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, died Jan. 22 at age 74 of a rare blood disease.
One of Mr. Boston’s iconic photographs and his personal favorite, Flower Power, was shot during an anti-Vietnam protest at the Pentagon in 1967. The photo was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Boston was also a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for his photograph of Coretta Scott King unveiling a bronze bust of her late husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A native of Washington, D.C., Mr. Boston’s 30-year career kept him close to home as he documented stories of national significance while working for The Los Angeles Times. For much of his career with the West Coast paper, he served as its White House news photographer. Mr. Boston photographed every sitting U.S. president from Harry Truman through William Clinton as well as scores of other prominent newsmakers.
After graduating from RIT in 1955, Mr. Boston worked at the Pentagon and served in the military in Germany as a medic in radiology. Upon his return to the states, he assisted in a commercial photography studio before joining the staff of The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. He became staff photographer for The Washington Star in 1967 and served as director of photography from 1971 until the newspaper closed in 1981. He was chief photographer for the Washington bureau of The Los Angeles Times from 1981 until his retirement in 1994. Boston also served as president of the White House News Photographers Association four times.
In 1991, Mr. Boston was presented with the Kodak/White House News Photographers’ Association Achievement Award. In 1993 he received the National Press Photographers Association Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, the organization’s highest honor in the field of photojournalism.
Among the accomplishments of his academic career at RIT, he helped establish a professional photographic fraternity, Delta Lambda Epsilon, and was also president of the student body. Mr. Boston also served as editor in chief of Reporter, the RIT student-run magazine. In 2003, RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences honored Mr. Boston with the Outstanding Alumnus Award.
“It was a humbling experience, and I was first surprised and then honored,” stated Boston in a 2004 interview. “I have considered my years in the business as average, and honors and awards I feel are for other people.”
His work has been published in numerous books including The Best of Life and Life: The First Fifty Years. He was active in professional and community organizations and frequently served as a judge for national, state and local photography contests including the Leica Medal of Excellence.
He spent his retirement years in Basye, Va., and eight years ago Mr. Boston and his wife, Peggy, bought a local monthly newspaper, the Bryce Mountain Courier. Boston served as publisher and photographer, shooting 90 percent of the newspaper’s photographs.
“When I first met Bernie, I felt an immediate kinship with him because of his passion for pictures,” says Therese Mulligan, professor in RIT’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences and director of the school’s gallery. “He had that ability to capture a time and a place, what is referred to in photojournalism as the ‘decisive moment.’ That characterized his remarkable work.”
In 2006, RIT presented a retrospective exhibition of his prestigious work along with a companion publication, Bernie Boston: American Photojournalist. The 104-page catalog, published by the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, highlights his award-winning career.
RIT Archive Collections will be the repository of Mr. Boston’s photographic body of work. Gifts can be made to the archives in his name.
Boston is survived by his wife.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Photo Credit for “Flower Power”: Bernie Boston, 1967
Photo Credit for Mr. Boston Portrait: Rich Cooley, Northern Virginia Daily