I’ll never forget the first time I met David Bradley.
For anyone who met David Bradley, they too likely remember the first time. David wasn’t one to tiptoe into a room. When he was near his presence was known.
When I met David, I was assigned to write a story on Summit Academy OIC and its director, Louis King. David was given the photo assignment. Often, when covering a story I was tasked with writing and taking photos, so it was a bit of a relief to know I could just concentrate on the interview without having to drop the pen and pick up my camera to snap a couple of quick photos.
Then I met David.
Before I could introduce myself, David greeted me.
“You the guy that’s writing the story,” asked David, seemingly already knowing the answer.
I answered to the affirmative and David said he had been reading my articles and thought highly of them. While I appreciated the compliment, I was still taken aback by David. He was loud and brash, but it was clear he meant no harm.
Without me asking, David offered up several life details. A retired postal worker originally from Chicago, David picked up photography as a hobby that would turn into his life’s passion. His attire announced he was a Vietnam veteran. I would later learn Vietnam was a place of horror and source of torment for David.
“Vietnam killed me long ago, but I’m just not buried yet,” David once told me.
During the interview with King, more than once David interrupted to offer his perspective; and I’ll admit, I was becoming annoyed. Together, we trudged through the interview and went our separate ways. I didn’t see David for a while, but I saw his work.
The man knew what he was doing with that camera. Or I should say those cameras. He always had two or three dangling from his neck. I don’t know if I ever saw David without his cameras around his neck. Even when he’d come to the office just to drop off photos he’d be strapped, so to speak.
And we knew the moment he stepped in the door. With our offices on the second floor, David would enter announcing his presence … “This is David Bradley here to see Harry.” I’m sure the neighbors could hear him. Before he could get to my office, he’d stop for a conversation with Batala McFarlane, Insight News’ publisher; or as David called her, “Scooter Mom,” a nickname he gave her following the birth of her son, Reginald McKeever III … aka “Scooter.”
Like I said, photography for me started less as a passion, but more out of necessity. Staffers at small papers do whatever needs to be done to tell the story, so if we didn’t have a photographer available, by default, I was it. Point and click a couple of times and move on. I was a writer, who took pictures.
David didn’t see it that way. He kept saying he saw something in my photos, but I certainly didn’t. At the time I had a standard amateur photographer camera … you know, the autofocus with the fixed zoom lens and fixed flash. Your basic Best Buy special.
David kept telling me to upgrade. He was always talking about his cameras, field of depth, aperture, F-stops and sorts of things that at the time meant nothing to me and went way over my head.
“You need a real camera,” David kept saying. “You’ve got the eye; you just need the equipment.”
In August of 2016 my father passed and David said, “I got something for you coming to the office.” I assumed it was flowers or something of that nature … the typical expression of sympathy, but when the Amazon package arrived, I was left speechless. David’s idea of flowers came in the form of a Nikon D3300 with a detachable 18-55mm lens.
I couldn’t comprehend the level of kindness bestowed upon me. The next day David came to the office bearing more gifts.
“This is all equipment I used, but I’m giving it to you,” David told me while emptying a box filled with a Tamron 18-270 mm lens, a Tokina AT-X Pro macro lens used for super close range shots, three external flashes for studio photography, two flash umbrellas and a white studio backdrop. Later, after David got tired of seeing me put my equipment in my backpack, he gave me two different camera cases.
“Like I said, I see something in you with this photography,” he told me, when I quizzed him about his generosity. “And to reward me, all you have to do is take photography seriously.”
Not wanting to let my mentor down, I immersed myself in learning my new gear. I switched from autofocus to manual. I learned depth of field, aperture and F-stop and purchased a couple of other lenses, which I was eager to tell David all about.
He eventually upgraded me to the Nikon D7100 – this time at a cost, but still a deeply discounted price – and he threw in another Tamron lens – a 70-200 mm with 1.8 aperture. It’s one of my favorite lenses for low-light shooting.
By this time David had moved away from Nikon and was in love with Sony mirrorless cameras. No longer carrying two and three cameras, that’s all you’d see him with. And he was a wizard with it, the same as he was with the Nikons.
David’s eye showed in his portraits, but his true beauty showed in his concert photography. Maybe because it was combining his two loves … the love of photography and of music; in particular jazz. David was a huge fan of Miles Davis. Owned all his records and knew most everything about the man. So, to see David’s capture an artist such as saxophonist Pharoah Sanders is to see art capturing art.
And his black and white photography was amazing.
I would always ask David to shoot in color because we pay extra for printing color pages and I didn’t want to use black and white if we’re paying for color, but David being David, he’d shoot in black and white anyway. He knew better than to listen to me. And if you visit his Facebook page, you’ll see he was right every time.
Insight News lost a beautifully gifted photographer. I lost a friend.
For a man who had so much love to give, I guess it made sense that his heart would eventually give out. He was working it too hard.
On Feb. 16 David Bradley transitioned. Thankfully he didn’t take his photos with him. Those he left for us … a final gift.