Listeners can learn more about this episode’s Andy Sacks at www.saxpix.com. In addition, Jay Cassidy recently was featured in a Michigan Alumnus video. 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 staffed it with her own guy, Bob Gomel, who flew in 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 was featured in the cover story about the draft.
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 photo journalism to an art form, and to Sacks, the 29-year-old Eppridge was a seasoned veteran. Sacks took the opportunity to watch and learn.
“Bill was deliberate, self-assured, and somewhat graceful,” he says. “He carried three cameras and he had them arranged – maybe two around his neck, one on his shoulder. And the long telephoto lens was not pointed out with the body of the camera against his hip. It was actually turned the other way and 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. But you could learn a helluva lot working at The Michigan Daily in 1968. ”
When Sacks saw the cover shot on Chris Matthews’ biography Bobby Kennedy: Raging Spirit (Simon & Schuster, 2017) last year, he thought of Eppridge, whose name appeared in the cover photo credit line on the book jacket. Eppridge who had died in 2013, had a relationship with the Kennedys and 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 apparent in the photograph is fleeting. Kennedy would be assassinated in Los Angeles three weeks later on June 5, 1968.
Sacks recognized the setting in Detroit from his own contact sheets. Eppridge likely was riding shoulder-to-shoulder with him in the convertible camera car because the image looked much like his own. Then a friend called to congratulate Sacks on landing the book cover, and Sacks was compelled to take a closer look at a cache of 15 frames he’d previously submitted to Getty images for licensing to media around the world.
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. Having sold more than 250,000 copies, 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, of 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.
The publisher 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. The graphic artist neglected to revise the credit before the dust jacket went to press with Sacks’ photo and Eppridge’s name in the credit line.
Though they never knew one another, 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’s Bill Eppridge.”
Turn the page
A spokeswoman for Simon & Schuster confirmed in an email June 28 that Sacks’ credit would appear in future softcover editions.
But that doesn’t explain the publisher’s reluctance to right the wrong still being done to Sacks. Selbst contends Simon & Schuster manufactured the fourth printing of Matthews’ book notwithstanding the fact that the publisher was on notice regarding the error. Notably, Selbst says, the editorial staff did make revisions – to other photo credits in the book – prior to 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 arguing the finer points of copyright law against a pre-eminent legal expert, bankrolled by an international publishing house. Michigan Today attempted to reach the publisher’s lawyer at New York’s Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP, but has yet to hear back by email or phone.
“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,” he 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, credited in its archives to Andrew Sacks, to Simon & Schuster for $500. 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. 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.”