The Phony Press Pass

(reading time approx. 8 minutes)

 The temperature was 100 degrees, even after the sun set. We were celebrating July 4th, at the Municipal Stadium, in South Philadelphia.  This was the night of the annual championship stock car races on the stadium’s oval track. After the races, there would be a great view of Philadelphia’s fireworks displayed on the Delaware River, for all to see from the grandstands at the races.

Photography was my hobby at the time.   I had my Speed Graphic press camera, and a phony photographer’s press pass which I made myself, bearing my picture for a convincing ID. I walked freely into the stadium, no admission fee, no restraints, free to roam anywhere, including the center of the track among the cars and drivers.  I was afforded all of the privileges of a legitimate press photographer.  This press pass got me into any sporting and news worthy events, anywhere in the city, state or the country, including photographing notables everywhere.  I had access to even the King and Queen of Sweden, the governor, mayor and a celebrity called Father Devine, in his new main line estate.  I also had a place on the apron of boxing and wrestling matches. If I asked, they would even pose as I directed (with my phony press pass).

The stock car races were about to begin.  I was in the infield with my Speed Graphic press camera, ready for action.   I photographed the usual pictures of cars crashing, rolling over, and all of the winners taking one more lap, displaying the checkered flag of triumph.  The winners of the races were easy marks to buy a picture of themselves with winner’s flag in their hand.  I took a few shots, but was really there just because I could add them to my collections of events I photographed, with my trusty Speed Graphic.

At intermission, I went up in the stands to get a coke. I met a young man who introduced himself as George Giordano.  He also had a Speed Graphic press camera.  George got it at a church flea market sale for a “real steal price of $5”.  He borrowed the $5 from a lady at his church who befriended him.   As he spoke, I realized he was handicapped with a speech impediment.  He presumed that I was a genuine press photographer and expressed that he yearned deeply for such a job.  He showed me some of his pictures, which were excellent compositions.  As we spoke, I realized that he was talented but very shy, due to his speech impediment.  He paid normal admission fees and just sat in the bleachers watching the races, hoping to get a picture.  I got in free and could roam anywhere.  George never did get the opportunity to take real action pictures from a good vantage point, such as the infield at the races where I was.   He expressed to me that he was unable to get a job.  His mother was supporting him and his brother.  His brother was very smart, but unemployed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of an auto accident.

George’s brother’s name was Charles. He developed and printed the pictures taken by George, when they could afford film and the materials for printing.  Their mother provided for their care, as a waitress in a South Philly restaurant.  Their father disappeared with a new lady and left the three of them alone, and penniless.   I felt sorry for this family and their situation wrenched my heart.  I decided to offer my help.

The first thing I did was to fund the beginning of a new venture for them with a loan of $100.   The loan was to purchase photo chemicals, film and paper to print the pictures that he was going to take at sporting and newsworthy events.  The second thing was to give him one of my phony press pass cards, which would get him into any newsworthy or sports event in town. It would identify him as a press photographer.  If it didn’t work, the worst would be a refusal to admit him. But it always worked.  Boxing and wrestling events were available, boat races on the river, auto and horse racing, graduations, and any other event where the photographed person would buy a copy or two: $10 for the first 8 x 10 photo, $5 for each additional, or whatever he could get.

After the fireworks display that night, I went home with George and met his brother Charles. We set up the whole program, that very night until 2 A.M.  The excitement ran high. George and Charles were bursting with joy and anticipation. “I can do that”, George declared.  He couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.  Charles worked and lived in the basement of their house in South Philadelphia.  There he developed the pictures where he had a bed and table for his needs.

The next morning was the first day of the rest of their new lives.  They were in business.  The following week, I went to the races again. There was George, in the center field, taking pictures, with the phony press pass in his hat, approaching the drivers and taking orders.  The very first night, George got orders for over $100 from the winners.  Next week, I called brother Charlie and he reported that George was going everywhere in the city, shooting pictures and bringing home over $200 every week, more than his mother made in a month (this was 1950).  Charlie was finding the events in the newspaper and dispatching George to take photos.   I felt great! Although, I never met their mother, she sent me a thank you card, pouring out her heart in gratitude.   It all happened on July 4th. It was no exaggeration to say that George and Charlie got a “big bang” out of their new business, launched on the 4th of July.

We all felt wonderful. No one got hurt in spite of my “PHONY PHOTO PRESS PASS”.  A month or two later, I got another thank you card.  It was from Charles and George, reading, “PAID IN FULL, THANKS” with ten, $10 dollar bills to repay the loan.  Included was a picture of a VW van, proudly displaying a banner reading: “GIORDANO BROTHERS, ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY” lettered on the door, and a special loading ramp for Charlie’s wheel chair.

THE PHONY PHOTO PRESS PASS put George and Charles in business. George continued to take the pictures and Charles developed and printed them.  Their Mother was able to stop working with the new income.  They now shared a much better income from George and Charles’ “action photography business”.  Sports and special events are happening in the big city areas, every day of the year, every year.

With a camera and “guts”, you can do the same thing.  Printing now is even easier with digital cameras.  All you need is an impressive looking camera, a photographer’s press pass with a photo I.D., and some courage to approach your subject to say, “I’ve got a picture of you doing that.  How many would you like,  5 x 7’s or 8 x 10’s?”    Use your imagination.  It’s a living!        




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