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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on April 19th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 7

Los Alamos library features work of legendary 'Newsweek' photographer

By REBECCA ROSE

If you were at the Hitching Post on a certain night of the week, you might have encountered an elderly man sitting at his favorite seat at the bar. Listening to him make small talk about the food or local happenings around town, you might never have realized you were talking to legendary Newsweek photographer Ed Wergeles, who died in 2013.

“He never really would talk about himself,” said his daughter, Wendy Wergeles. “One time I went to pick him up and he said, ‘Some guy Googled me.’”


A LIFE LESS ORDINARY
After WWII, Ed Wergeles began a long and illustrious career with 'Newsweek' magazine, chronicling politics, entertainment, and other issues. His daughter Wendy Wergeles, a horse trainer with Cottonwood Ranch in Los Alamos, helped curate a series of his covers from 1959 for display at the Los Alamos Public Library.
PHOTO BY REBECCA ROSE

What that person probably found from that internet search was the story of a remarkable career in photojournalism. Through May, the Los Alamos Public Library is featuring an exhibit of Ed’s Newsweek covers from 1959. As children sit among the small stacks of books, studying for tests or reading in comfy chairs, his photos loom large above them, a constant reminder of the dark days of American history and some of the country’s biggest achievements.

Born in Newtown, Conn., Ed grew up in Brooklyn and later moved to Manhattan. His love of photography started at an early age, when he would take empty coal bins and convert them into a darkroom.

“He would sleep with a scanner to monitor the police,” Wendy said. “He’d find out what was going on with the police and go shoot pictures in the middle of the night.”

Ed worked for the New York Journal-American as a photographer documenting the streets of New York City. When World War II came, Ed became a war photographer, shooting pictures for the Army’s magazine Yank. 

His covers at Newsweek from 1959 tell the story of a tumultuous year in history that he didn’t talk much about with is friends at the Hitching Post in Buellton. The photos tell a story of a nation navigating the murky waters of diplomacy with the Soviet Union. They show a country coming to terms with the equal rights for women, waking up to the dawn of the space age, and laughing along with television stars like Jack Parr. Ed’s work paints a picture of a complex nation with growing pains, making steps toward technological evolution and social progress.

His career at Newsweek ended in 1961 when he moved to Forbes, where he was appointed art director. A medical condition all but ended his photography career, and he eventually retired from his beloved profession.

“He retired early from Forbes, due to a detached retina,” Wendy said. “Then my mom passed away around 2001.”

He had been living in Sarasota, Fla. When his daughter found out he’d been hospitalized, alone, she finally convinced him to come to California.

“I said, ‘This is ridiculous,’” she said. “‘Why don’t you come out and live near me.’”

The retired photographer decided to come out to Solvang for a month to see if he liked it. A year later, he had made the town his permanent home.


A FATHER, A LEGEND
Ed Wergeles’ bold 'Newsweek' covers tell the story of a nation staring down the face of history as the 1950s came to a close. But to friends who knew him as the colorful retiree tooling around town in his electric chair, he was just another local joking with patrons at the Hitching Post in Buellton.
PHOTO BY REBECCA ROSE

“He had his daily routine,” Wendy said. “He would get up and do his ritual. He would go to the Mandarin Touch. Every Monday we’d go grocery shopping. We’d have to get to the Hitching Post about quarter to four, so he could sit in his favorite chair.”

She said her father would never talk about himself, with one exception. If he encountered a service member, he would spark up conversation and tell them about the time he shot U.S. Air Force Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg for a cover.

“The next thing you know, they would strike up a conversation about Vandenberg and go on and on,” Wendy said. “He knew so many famous people; he’d been to so many special places.”

When he died in 2013, she held a celebration of his life at her apartment. She said her dad told them he wanted her to “use my ashes as pepper and flush me down the toilet when you’re done,” a comical request she said they never went through with.

Wendy, easygoing and friendly, is fond of reminiscing about her father’s works, despite the tinge of sadness that echoes each word. She grew up in New York and eventually wound up at Cottonwood Ranch in Los Alamos, training competitive show and racehorses. Her father’s memorabilia and photographs fill a room in her home, as she works to document and archive it as best she can.

Snapshot of America
An exhibition of the Newsweek covers by late photographer Ed Wergeles is on display at the Los Alamos Public Library through the end of May. More info: 344-1025.

“I really didn’t get to see him very much, because he was always traveling with his work,” she said. “He would come home on weekends and be gone again by Mondays. I don’t think either of us knew each other that well.”

Wendy helped plan the exhibit at the Los Alamos Library as a way to honor her father’s legacy, unaware of the volume of public interest it would receive. On April 8, Newsweek senior writer Alexander Nazaryan spoke to a packed crowd at the library about the history of the magazine. While the technology and tools for media may have changed, the general goal is still the same, he said.

“I think we do it different now but at the same time, a cover is a cover,” Nazaryan said. “It has to sell what’s inside. … It’s a challenge that’s age old.”

For Wendy, some of the best memories of her father are of the time when he didn’t have a camera in his hand, when he was tooling around town in his electric chair, staying with her, and living a quiet life.

“That was really special,” she said.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose wanted to be a photojournalist at one point in her career. Contact her at rrose@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
Where do you take the most photographs?

At the beach, sunset.
When out with friends, selfies!
With family, group shots for the memories.
At restaurants, of my food.

| Poll Results