Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Lost Photos of Tom Lynch

THE Tom Lynch
Who inspired your love of photography?

For me, the answer is simple: Tom Lynch.

The hard part is, I can't show you an authenticated example of his work.

While over 40 billion photos and videos have now been shared on Instagram, not one of them has been a photo by Tom Lynch.

I'm referring to THE Tom Lynch -- the news photographer for the Passaic Herald-News and The Beacon who died in 2001.

For decades in New Jersey, the photo credit "by Tom Lynch" was a signature mark of a work of art.

Early in my career when I was a reporter for The Beacon, the newspaper for the Diocese of Paterson, I worked with Tom.

The photo of him here is a screen grab from the 50th anniversary of that publication, posted online in 2017. (No back issues are posted before May 2014, so the trail to find his photos online went cold there.)

Beginning in 1967, Tom was freelancing for The Beacon as "Christopher Shawn," because he didn't want his employers at the Herald-News to know about his second job. The thing was, his photos were so good, and so distinctive, they were instantly recognizable as Tom's.

You could spread out a dozen random black-and-white news and feature photos from the 60s, 70s and 80s -- and I guarantee that I, like the editors at the Herald-News, could pick out the one Tom Lynch photo in the bunch, based on the unique point of view and clarity of perspective.

For example, I'd be willing to bet this uncredited screen cap from The Beacon's anniversary post -- Bishop Lawrence Casey looming over linotypist Brother Michael Hlinka with a galley of the paper's first edition in hand -- is from a Christopher Shawn photo.

Since his "Christopher Shawn" ruse was in vain, Tom soon joined The Beacon under his own name (and started a second job repairing clocks). I worked with him in the early 1980s (when my own second job was writing obituaries for the Paterson News anonymously in the evenings, so my Beacon employers wouldn't know).

When we worked on Beacon assignments together, Tom would talk about his craft, and afterward I'd visit his darkroom to see the chemical development process.

It was art and magic at the same time. It engendered in me a love of photography.


Steel stacks in Bethlehem
Fast-forward to today, when cellphone cameras and software have enabled me to at least approximate the same experience, without the same struggles.

There's an effortless magic to Instagram, and I love to post on that platform. Included here are images I posted yesterday at a stable in rural New Jersey and during a side-trip to Bethlehem, PA.

I love that people create things and put them out in the world for others to appreciate and connect with.

I don't know what Tom would think of Instagram, though. I wish he was still with us, so I could show him.
My favorite horse

Instead, I've decided to assign myself a second job in 2019: find and post photos by Tom Lynch.

If The Beacon doesn't mind and the Herald-News doesn't mind and the union doesn't mind, I may take a little time and start an Instagram account under the name Christopher Shawn.

There are already billions of images out in the world, like the innumerable lights in the night sky.

So many of these images are so beautiful, but only a few evoke an aesthetic that resonates with all of us.

To create something like this... to create something of meaning... we need someone to guide us.

To me, Tom Lynch is THE North Star.

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