Ward's career 'eclectic,' but passion remains in photography

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2012

Salisbury native and 1956 Boyden High School graduate Bill Ward, a frequent letter writer to the Post, is an accomplished photographer and this year’s chairman of the first Carolina Artists Photo Expo. Ward also has been an avid student of history for close to 50 years, occasionally contributing articles for the Post. Here’s a look at his extensive background in photography.
SALISBURY — When he discusses his career and work history, Bill Ward uses a word that he claims to dislike. That word is “eclectic.”
He began his career as a U.S. Navy Hospital corpsman, with Hospital Corps training at Great Lakes, Ill.
Later, through education and experience, he developed expertise in fields such as bio-medical engineering, medical technology and technical writing.
At one point, he attended a professional program for technical writing and editing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and through his 10 years of work for Roberts Systems Inc., wrote 57 technical manuals about complex machines.
“That’s more than most technical writers do in a career,” Ward says.
But Ward also devoted much of his life — and still does — to photography. In some cases, it has been award-winning photography.
While stationed at the Naval Regional Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., Ward became curious about photographic film and whether it could be processed in chemicals used for X-ray film.
He took photos with a basic Kodak Brownie camera that he had bought at the post exchange and tried the X-ray chemical processing.
“I didn’t know my butt from deep left-center field about those things,” Ward says in colorful Navy terms.
His love of photography had begun, however.
From Portsmouth, he transferred to Long Beach, Calif., and the 7th Fleet. He was assigned to the USS Frontier AD-25, a destroyer tender.
On the Frontier, Ward met Henry Jordan, a first-class aviation photographer’s mate, who was part of ship’s company.
Ward’s new friend had a small photo studio and complete darkroom on the ship with an enlarger. Jordan also was willing to give Ward pointers about film processing and printing.
“That prompted me,” Ward says, “to go to a civilian camera store and purchase a standard Argus C3.
The Argus was a low-priced rangefinder camera produced from 1939 to 1968 and credited with popularizing the 35mm film format.
Ward carried the Argus when the Frontier deployed on a WestPac cruise; first stop, “Battleship Row” at Pearl Harbor.
That was in 1959, and while they were there, Hawaii became the 50th state.
Ward doesn’t recall having his camera with him, but he does remember walking down one of the main streets of Honolulu celebrating with some buddies, not with glass-in-hand but with a glass in each hand.
The whole island of Oahu, and especially Honolulu, was one big party, Ward says, adding “No time for picture-taking that night.”
Within a matter of days, the Frontier received emergency orders to join up with a carrier battle group in the Pacific.
Chinese field artillery was bombarding the islands of Matsu and Quemoy. The American fleet’s job was to go in as The Taiwan Patrol Force and, with Marines already included in the task force, rescue American civilians from the island.
The Frontier set course for Subic Bay in the Philippines, a stopover point for ships needing refueling and repairs.
Over the months that followed, Ward shot hundreds of color slides all over the Philippines, using mostly Ektachrome and some Kodachrome film. He also got some black-and-white photographs on the island of Corregidor at Gen. Douglas McArthur’s World War II headquarters.
From Manila, Ward has a prized photo of himself — made by Henry Jordan — taking a picture of a chandelier in the sumptuous presidential palace of the late Philippine president and dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
The Frontier’s missions took Ward to Hong Kong Island, then on to the desolate Buckner Bay area of Okinawa.
While in Sasebo, Japan, in 1960, Ward bought his first “real” 35mm film camera — a Topcon single-lens reflex (SLR). He still has his Topcon, although he has completely made the transition from film to digital photography.
The Frontier eventually returned to Long Beach, and Ward was released from active duty a few months later.
He traveled back to North Carolina and accepted a position as associate chief technologist at N.C. Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill.
One of Ward’s primary responsibilities in radiology was to service the department’s automatic film processor each Friday. He was sent to the Eastman-Kodak southeastern technical center for a week of training on the processor and was tutored by the mechanical engineer who had designed the original.
At UNC, Ward also started a business with medical photographer Ron Wilson. Their first paying job was to photograph the graduating radiology tech students.
Over time, they also shot considerable construction projects and architecture in Chapel Hill and Durham.
Because the photo bug had bitten Ward, he, his wife and their baby daughter moved to New York, where he attended the New York Institute of Photography.
NYIP drew on the New York show-business crowd and aspiring models as subjects for its commercial and portrait photography instruction.
Ward photographed a number of dancers from Radio City Music Hall. He also did freelance work around New York, thanks to instructors pointing him to jobs.
Ward learned what today is practically a lost art: dye-imbibition or dye-transfer photography.
This is a highly precise form of color photography, shooting three original black-and-white negatives through red, green and blue filters.
The different color negatives were “stacked” on special photo paper, like a three- or four-color printing process comparable to the Technicolor used with the film “Gone With the Wind” in 1939.
Ward’s portrait instructor at NYIP was a retired public-relations photographer from 20th Century Fox named Milton, or “Milty,” as the students called him.
“He could take the most plain man or woman — especially women — and make them look like visiting royalty,” Ward says. “He also taught me negative retouching. With special students, which were those who had worked ahead of their lesson schedule, we also helped do glamour and nude photography.”
Moving back to Charlotte, Ward was hired by WSOC-TV as a commercial and publicity photographer. Later, he worked for WTVI, which was licensed to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System.
Ward designed the cabinets and a wet-processing area for the station’s darkroom. He also designed a film-editing station and shot film for, produced and directed more than 200 television programs, many of which emphasized high-school athletics.
During the latter part of the 1960s, Ward did freelance work for NBC Sports and ABC Wide World of Sports.
One of those assignments in 1964 took him to the Southern 500 at Charlotte. He was the only motion-picture photographer on the far side of the track when Ned Jarrett, Fireball Roberts and Junior Johnson wrecked in the second turn.
Ward captured film of the crash from the time Roberts’ car hit the retaining wall backward, directly in front of him, until the car hit a break in the wall, flipped upside down and exploded.
“No one, not even me, expected my film to have the impact that it did,” Ward says. “At one point, I stood at Fireball’s feet filming, as his clothing was on fire and rescue personnel were attempting to extinguish the flames.”
The NBC director insisted that the station engineers immediately video a copy of Ward’s film so he could carry it back to New York.
Roberts died 37 days later of pneumonia and infection resulting from his burns.
In 1966, Ward worked for an independent production company’s film crew at the 50th anniversary Indianapolis 500 race.
Ward bought a small photo studio in Gastonia in 1968 and phased out all but his commercial and industrial photography. A studio and office in Charlotte followed.
“It was,” Ward says, “the best of both worlds in the heyday of the large, national ad agencies in Charlotte and the thriving textile mills and associated industries, such as machinery manufacturing.”
Ward’s photographic portfolio reflects every manner of assignment and, in more recent years, his devotion to the craft and new technology.
He did work for companies such as Belk, Ivey’s, Cannon Mills and Firestone. His work frequently appeared in nationally circulated magazine advertisements. He even did covers for area telephone books.
In 1969, he won an award for the best color commercial photograph in North Carolina. For the past two years, his regionally winning photographs have qualified for the national Veterans Administration contest in Wisconsin.
Ward’s advice for photographers: Keep a sharp eye out for things others may not see.
Also, use your imagination.