Civil rights-era, Oswald photographer dies at 82

AP News
Posted: Sep 23, 2011 3:47 PM
Civil rights-era, Oswald photographer dies at 82

Shel Hershorn, a photojournalist who captured iconic images of the civil rights movement and of a fatally wounded Lee Harvey Oswald, has died at age 82.

Hershorn died Sept. 17 of pneumonia at a northern New Mexico nursing home, his wife, Sonja Hershorn, said Friday.

Born in Denver as Herbert Sheldon Hershorn, he learned aerial photography while serving in the U.S. Navy and began his career as a photographer at a Casper, Wyo. newspaper. He moved to Dallas in 1954 to work for the Dallas Times Herald and United Press International. He later captured images of the Freedom Riders and Alabama Gov. George Wallace attempting to block black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama.

Sonja Hershorn, of Gallina, N.M., said his charming personality allowed him to muscle into tough spots to get the shots he needed. "He could charm a Texas sheriff out of his gun," she said.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Hershorn followed then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and Senator Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson around Texas. He would photograph President Kennedy in 1963 speaking to a Dallas crowd before his assassination and days later, photographed Lee Harvey Oswald just as he was being loaded into an ambulance after he was shot by Jack Ruby.

The assassination of Kennedy began to turn him away from photojournalism. "After the Kennedy assassination he just lost all hope," said Sonja Hershorn.

In the immediate years following the assassination, Hershorn worked as a freelance photographer for publications including Life, Fortune, Newsweek, Esquire and Sports Illustrated. He helped with coverage of Charles Whitman's shootings on the University of Texas campus including the 1966 Life Magazine cover shot of UT tower viewed through bullet-shattered glass.

He would also shoot lasting images of the opening of the Houston Astrodome in 1965 and later New Mexico-based artist Georgia O'Keeffe.

Hershorn eventually donated his archives to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

In 1970, Hershorn moved outside of Taos, N.M. with the goal of "throwing it all away" as a hippie and living without many of the conveniences of modern life. He worked for a time in a plumbing and eventually became a furniture maker, his wife said.

He also taught photography on the side to actor Dennis Hopper among others, and often shared stories about his photojournalism past.

"I was charmed out, too," said Sonja, who met Hershorn in New Mexico while she was a teacher. "He'd talked about meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., and getting arrested with (comedian) Dick Gregory...what are you going to do? I didn't stand a chance."

Shel Hershorn is survived by his wife and two sons from a previous marriage, James "Tad" Hershorn of New Brunswick, N.J., and Pat Hershorn of Dallas.