Listeners can learn more about this episode’s Andy Sacks at www.saxpix.com. Oscar-nominated film editor Jay Cassidy recently was featured in a Michigan Alumnus video. View a Michigan Today slideshow of his images, hear more “Listen In, Michigan” podcasts, and subscribe at iTunes, Tunein, and Stitcher.
Judging a book by the cover
As a 20-year-old Michigan Daily photographer, Andy Sacks, AD ’69, so convincingly pitched LIFE magazine to let him cover a campus protest that the editor flew in her own guy, Bob Gomel, from New York. But she encouraged Sacks to shoot the action anyway and submit his raw film for consideration.
In the 1960s, LIFE was the pinnacle, the Holy Grail, the Mt. Olympus of editorial photography. And after a few years covering student unrest in turbulent Ann Arbor, Sacks was confident and competent when it came to shooting chaos on the campus and elsewhere. When the Dec. 9, 1966, issue of LIFE landed, it was Sacks’ picture of the campus rally the editor published. It ran with the cover story, “The draft: Who beats it and how.”
Call it the arrogance of youth, but Sacks took the professional coup in stride. So a few years later, when he worked alongside another LIFE photographer whose work he admired, Sacks was more intrigued than intimidated. It was May 1968, and Robert F. Kennedy had just entered a number of presidential primary races. Campaign stops brought the candidate to Detroit and Indianapolis, which is where Sacks met LIFE’s Bill Eppridge in an open-air motorcade. Eppridge’s harrowing 1965 photo essay “Needle Park,” had elevated photojournalism to an art form, and to Sacks, the 29-year-old Eppridge was a seasoned veteran. He took the opportunity to watch and learn.
“Bill was deliberate, self-assured, and somewhat graceful,” Sacks says. “He carried three cameras – maybe two around his neck, one on his shoulder. The long telephoto lens was not pointed out with the body of the camera against his hip. It actually was turned the other way: nestled into his hip to protect the equipment and move through the crowd more efficiently. Those are things you don’t learn in a book.”
When Sacks first saw the cover of Chris Matthews’ biography Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit (Simon & Schuster, 2017), he thought fondly of Eppridge, whose name appeared in the cover-photo credit line on the book jacket.
Eppridge, who had a relationship with the Kennedys, died in 2013. The RFK cover certainly captured a magnificent moment in time: An ebullient crowd jams the street and swarms the candidate’s convertible. He is smiling at a little girl, held aloft in a large adult hand. An aide’s arm is wrapped around Kennedy’s waist, anchoring him in the convertible. The crowd is mostly young, mostly African American, and mostly male. Hands dominate the foreground — outstretched, reaching.
But the joy so palpable in the photograph would be fleeting. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles three weeks later on June 5, 1968.
Sacks recognized the setting in Detroit. Eppridge likely was riding shoulder-to-shoulder with him in the convertible “camera car” because the image looked much like his own from that day. Then a friend called to congratulate Sacks on landing the book cover, and he took a closer look at 15 frames he’d previously submitted to Getty Images for licensing to worldwide media.
There it was. That picture on the cover of Matthews’ book belonged to Sacks. Some 50 years had passed, and he’d outperformed LIFE magazine again. This time, the irony came with a sting.
Through a Getty attorney, Sacks says he notified Simon & Schuster of the mistake in November 2017. Matthews’ book was about three weeks into sales at that time. The New York Times bestseller is now in its fourth hardcover printing, and the publisher has yet to right the wrong.
Simon & Schuster acknowledges the error, says Sacks’ attorney, fellow Michigan Daily alumnus Stephen Selbst, BA ’76/JD ’80, a partner at New York’s Herrick, Feinstein, LLP. But the publisher, he says, rejects any liability for what it deems an innocent mistake.
“For technical reasons related to the copyright act, they hold the position they are not responsible for the problem,” Selbst says.
Simon & Schuster contends the graphic artist who produced the cover had dummied in a Bill Eppridge shot for an early iteration of the design but used a Sacks photo for the final version, says Selbst. So the dust jacket went to press with Sacks’ photo on the cover and Eppridge’s name in the credit line.
They never knew one another, but Sacks imagines the late photographer would be as aggravated by the mistake as he is, “just on a guy-to-guy basis,” he says. “But, if someone else’s name is on your photo, it’s a pretty great compliment if it says Bill Eppridge.”
Turn the page
A spokeswoman for Simon & Schuster confirmed in an email June 28 that Sacks’ credit will appear in future softcover editions.
But that doesn’t explain the publisher’s reluctance to right the wrong against Sacks. Selbst says Simon & Schuster manufactured the fourth hardcover printing of Matthews’ book notwithstanding the fact the publisher was on notice regarding the error. Notably, Selbst says, the editorial staff did make revisions – to other photo credits in the book – before going back on press with that fourth printing. And still, they missed the cover credit.
“They demonstrated by their actions that they know how to correct their errors,” Selbst says. “But they didn’t correct Andy’s.”
Selbst is now exchanging letters regarding the finer points of copyright law with a pre-eminent legal expert, bankrolled by an international publishing house. Michigan Today emailed and called the publisher’s lawyer at New York’s Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, but has yet to hear back.
“It’s a classic David & Goliath case,” Selbst says. “There is no question that Andy has been harmed. I’ve known him for a long time and have had the occasion to see lots and lots of his work. This is probably the most dramatic photo he’s ever taken.
“Today, you could never get that close to a candidate,” Selbst continues. “You would never be able to capture that immediacy and that power. That picture is so powerful.”
So much for posterity
Getty Images licensed the photo to Simon & Schuster for $500. (The image is credited correctly in Getty’s archives.) The license entitles the publisher to use the picture (worldwide) on 1 million books, Sacks says.
The challenge for Selbst and Sacks is to quantify economic losses the photographer suffered as a result of Simon & Schuster’s mistake. It’s the plaintiff’s burden to prove what, if any, portion of the profits earned by the publisher are attributable to the cover photograph, Selbst says.
That is difficult to demonstrate in a court of law, he says. The attorney hopes to make progress in the court of common decency, though, as he seeks an out-of-court settlement from the publisher.
For Sacks, the pain of this sucker punch to his artistic legacy is not likely to dissipate any time soon.
“My wife, Ann, found that even Google believes Bill Eppridge is the creator of that photo on the hardcover version of the Matthews biography,” he says. “What will Google make of the softcover volume crediting a different man for the same photograph? Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.”
Sacks, who currently lives in Chelsea, Mich., recently produced two documentaries based in metropolitan Detroit: Let’s Have Some Church Detroit Style won an Emmy award in 2016, and Grooming a Generation, about barbershop reading programs, was released in 2017. Both films appeared on PBS.