It’s with a heavy heart, sitting here in an airport motel near Heathrow waiting to come home, that I’ve learned of the death last week of Al Paglione, the dean of New Jersey newspaper photographers. Al was a one-of-a-kind talent and character whose work touched thousands, myself included, because he took me under his wing when I was a rookie news shooter.
Al was a high school dropout and a longshoreman before he picked up the camera. He went on to create a body of incredible work, documenting the real people, the downtrodden, and the characters of New Jersey in his 30-plus years on the staff of the The Record.
Along the way, he won countless awards, was named a Nikon “Legend Behind the Lens” and mentored dozens of young shooters.
When I was first starting out on The Dispatch, Al offered me the opportunity to “ride” with him on my days off. I spent many of my days off for a couple of years, just hanging out with Al while he worked.
I saw the way he handled the street people, cops, criminals, nuns, teachers, truck drivers, and celebrities he came across in his assignments. He could relate to anybody, put people at their ease, and had an incredible eye and imagination for feature stories and pictures.
Over the years, he became a good friend of Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Eddie Adams, who once told me, when we were teaching together at a symposium hosted by Nikon, that “Al can shoot rings around me, and you too, Krist.”
Amen to that.
I learned so much from him, and at a critical time in my fledgling career. To this day, I don’t know any shooter who has more of a natural eye and feel for story-telling pictures than Al had.
Of course, like all the greats, Al had a bit of the con man in him.
Once, I was with him when he was shooting a picture page feature about a Catholic run old age home, where the nuns started a wheelchair bowling league for their charges.
I watched in amazement as Al conned a couple of nuns into clearing an entire auditorium of folding chairs because they ruined the background of his shots. He would have done it himself, he assured them, but he was “busy finding angles.” All this with a Jersey accent so thick, he made Tony Soprano sound like Ian McKellen.
Of course, it goes without saying that he created a series of heartwarming pictures of what was essentially a non-event. But that was Al.
Give him a sow’s ear, and you’d not only get a silk purse in return, but a whole set of designer luggage to boot!
I saw Al about a year ago, and he was as upbeat as ever and shooting CD covers for some rock musicians who were friends of his son.
If there is a heaven, Al is certainly up there; no doubt drinking “cawfee” with the angels, and talking them into a photo session.
Rest in peace my friend.