Retired AP photographer Charles Kelly dies at age 84

AP News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2016 4:24 PM
Retired AP photographer Charles Kelly dies at age 84

ATLANTA (AP) — Charles Kelly, a retired Associated Press photographer who documented more than three decades of history and captured iconic images of the Civil Rights movement and legends from sports and politics, has died at age 84.

He had lung cancer and died Friday at his residence in the Atlanta area, said his son, Alex Kelly.

During his time with the AP, he covered the Atlanta Braves franchise for 32 years, beginning when the team was the Milwaukee Braves and continuing after it moved to Georgia.

He also photographed former presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter; and newsmakers such as Martin Luther King Jr.; Vince Lombardi; Paul "Bear" Bryant; and Ray Charles.

He also covered 18 Super Bowls, four Kentucky Derbies; as well as the funerals of Martin Luther King Jr.; Elvis Presley and William Faulkner.

Kelly joined The Associated Press in Memphis in 1961 and moved to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, bureau the following year. In 1966, he moved to the AP's Atlanta bureau, where he was based until retiring in the mid-1990s.

He began shooting photographs as a teenager, and entered college in Cumberland, Kentucky, at age 16, according to a self-penned autobiographical sketch. He took pictures for the college newspaper and yearbook, developing them at night inside a makeshift darkroom — a broom closet in the men's dormitory, he wrote.

His first full-time journalism job was at The Charlotte Observer, where he started as a retouch artist. Though he worked in the art department, he spent much of his time hanging around the photo department and the newsroom, and was eventually hired to take pictures. He also became "a feature columnist with unusual pictures used as illustrations," his biography states.

In Charlotte, Kelly got his first taste of big-time college athletics, as the paper covered Duke University; the University of North Carolina; North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University.

Later, after joining The Charlotte News, Kelly worked the night shift, covering such assignments as the Billy Graham Crusade, stock car races and basketball tournaments.

"Charlie was a wonderful photographer," said John Bazemore, an Atlanta-based AP photographer who worked with Kelly. "He taught a lot of us how to be news photographers."

Gene Blythe, a retired AP administrative photo editor, worked with Kelly for 17 years. He called Kelly "a legend among wire service photographers:"

"He always seemed to get the best picture of whatever he was covering and many times the competition was working beside him," Blythe said in an email. "His angle, the lens he used, the expression he got or split-second reaction he captured just plain beat the competition."

Kelly is survived by his son, Alex, 55, of Atlanta; and his wife, Lois, 85, also of Atlanta.

A service is planned for June 17 at Wesley Woods Towers in Atlanta.