Words to live by
“More background; less foreground,” said the man to the young photographer.
The man waved his arms like the band leader he was, orchestrating each command as though holding a baton. “Right up to the M down here; some sky up there.”
For the next 90 minutes, William Revelli, director of the Michigan Marching Band (MMB), led an animated photo tutorial in his yard on Granger Avenue. The year was 1953 and Revelli’s trainee was a Michigan Daily staffer. The U-M student had recently returned from the U.S. Navy, where he’d served on the USS Hancock.
Tom Gaskill, who played clarinet in the MMB, had put in a good word for his veteran brother Dick, who now found himself following Revelli’s hands — so familiar to so many marching musicians — as they punctuated the air with specificity and precision.
“He took a lot of interest in everyone who worked for him, not just the musicians,” Dick Gaskill says of Revelli, the legendary conductor who led the MMB from 1935-71. “He told me how to take pictures the way he wanted ‘em. It was really something.”
Gaskill, BBA ’57, has followed Revelli’s direction ever since: “Most incredible man I’ve ever met.”
Ticket to history
Seven decades later — and millions of negatives, prints, digital files, and too many memories to cite — Gaskill has finally put down his gameday camera. The 2021 season was the first year he couldn’t be found at every game high atop Michigan Stadium in the open-air press box photo deck.
But the Gaskill family line continues at the Big House as Dick’s son, Mark, his longtime assistant, takes over. At 55, the marketing professional is more than ready for the gig. Mark was 2 years old when he attended the first of nine Rose Bowls, and in 1979, he was a preteen sitting on the field in Pasadena for Charles White’s infamous “Phantom Fumble” that led to USC’s “victory” over Michigan.
And though he’s been to a couple Orange Bowls, a Holiday Bowl, and a Fiesta Bowl, Mark ranks the Rose Bowl experience as the ultimate, no matter the year.
“So many times, I remember waking up on the bus at four in the morning as the band was getting ready for the parade,” he says. “I eventually assisted my dad on the photo deck at the Rose Parade.”
The family always held four tickets in Michigan Stadium, but once Mark turned 18 the elder Gaskill started bringing his son to the photo deck with him. “My Dad’s been grooming me for this my whole life, but I don’t think I’ll make it quite as long as he did,” Mark says.
He does have two sons and a niece who are photographers, though. And hope springs eternal.
Still, it’s unlikely any of Dick Gaskill’s progeny will match his impressive attendance record since 1953. He shot the band for the Daily as a student and became the official photographer in 1960, even as he pursued a full-time career in banking.
He missed just two games before passing the torch in 2021. Once, he was unable to shoot due to hip surgery. The other absence was because of Mark’s wedding. (Gaskill also gets an asterisk for the COVID years and the three seasons during which he served in the military.) He holds the record for the longest stint in a marching band without playing a note or marching a step.
The history captured in his photographs is challenging to comprehend. Gaskill made the final pictures of Bob Ufer at Michigan Stadium in October 1981 when the beloved announcer bid farewell to the fans due to cancer. Known for his boundless enthusiasm and unique pronunciation of “Meeechigan,” Ufer was a staple of Wolverine football for 36 years (1945-81).
“The whole stadium was looking up here,” Gaskill recalls of the emotional goodbye, “and I just told him, ‘They’re all looking at me.’” Ufer died nine days later.
Gaskill holds another poignant memory close to his heart. After the 2006 death of President Gerald R. Ford, BA ’35, Air Force One flew over the stadium with Ford’s casket on board. The pilot tipped the wing one last time to honor the distinguished alumnus and Gaskill caught the moment. That image, along with photos of the MMB playing “The Victors” as Ford’s casket came off the plane, now hang in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.
One of his favorite and most popular photos comes from the 1994 Holiday Bowl against Colorado State in San Diego. Gaskill flew in a helicopter over the USS Kitty Hawk and photographed the MMB as they formed the Block M on deck. Gaskill’s ship had docked in the same port when he served in the Navy.
“Isn’t that something?” he says.
Play it again
The year 1992 looms large in his legend, as Gaskill was the first — and only — photographer inducted as a lifetime member of the MMB. To mark the Oct. 28 occasion, the musicians formed the word ‘Gaskill’ on the field.
“We were in the old press box, and my wife noticed it first. She said, ‘Get your camera out. It’s you!’ I’m the only photographer in the history of the band who got saluted like that.”
Though harkening to the past, Gaskill remains rooted in the present. On this frigid fall day in 2022, Michigan is playing Illinois, and the temperature feels sub-zero in the windy crows’ nest. Gaskill is wrapped in Michigan swag from head to toe. The injured running-back Blake Corum has been missing from gameplay for several minutes and will not return to the field for the rest of the season.
“Wait, is Corum back on the field?” someone shouts as commotion erupts on the sidelines. Gaskill trains his camera on the action. “It’s that dog doing tricks again,” he says. Even so, he grabs a couple more frames, always focused on documenting football Saturday at the Big House.
The massive scope of Gaskill’s photographic trove is difficult to comprehend. He attended all of Michigan’s Bowl games from 1970-95 (including 15 Rose Bowls). And he’s been to away-games at Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. Many of those photos will make their way to the Bentley Historical Library one day, as Gaskill and other band alumni are scanning prints and negatives for the University archives. The photographer printed every picture in his in-home darkroom until 2001 when he finally went digital. He also has an audio collection of MMB pre-game and halftime shows that he recorded himself. He says he’s been transferring and sweetening those files for posterity with friend and band alum Al McCord.
These days, the elder Gaskill watches most games from home in Livonia, as his former crew on the photo deck works the current season. He’s attended a home game in each of the 2021, 2022, and 2023 seasons so his streak continues, albeit at a slower pace. Mark Gaskill now holds his father’s spot often accompanied by his own son Jack, a high school drumline alum. The Eastern Michigan University grad studied cybersecurity, “but he loves photography and loves to come to the games with me,” Mark says, especially 2021’s thrilling victory over Ohio State.
For now, Mark is determined to continue the trend his father started, citing a multi-generational family of stadium ushers and several other related volunteers he’s come to know after working so many game days.
“It’s just part of the culture around here,” Mark says. “It’s like Dad’s story. He started by just hanging out with his brother who was in the marching band, and before you know it, he’s got more than six decades of spending Saturdays at Michigan Stadium.”
(Lead image: On Oct. 28, 1992, the Michigan Marching Band inducted band photographer Dick Gaskill, BBA ’57, into the MMB as a lifetime member, even though he never played an instrument or marched on the field. Credit… who else? Dick Gaskill.)