May 14, 2012
A parting snapshot
The H-P’s John Madill is hanging up his camera
after 33 years of capturing Southwest Michigan
|ST. JOSEPH — Individual pictures
are frozen in time.
But over a career that stretched across five decades,
Herald-Palladium photographer and Photo Editor John
witnessed a changing scene develop before his eyes.
“The great thing about being here for 33 years, you can
really see and measure change,” said Madill, 62, who will retire
Thursday from the paper he joined in 1979. “I’ve seen a lot of changes
and things that have come to fruition. In St. Joseph, the beach
improvements, the carousel and Whirlpool fountain, and in Benton Harbor
with the Arts District, the Whirlpool building, the golf course, and new
construction along Main Street. It’s very exciting.”
After working as a professional photographer for almost
40 years, Madill, a Hartford
resident, decided that there were things he and his wife, Betty,
wanted to do together.
admitted to being “the world’s worst, but most avid golfer.”
He sails and canoes and wants to travel all of the Great Lakes in
five days (not entirely by boat of course).
He might take up fly fishing, after having recently met
Stevensville entomologist and avid outdoorswoman Ann
R. Miller, who recently wrote a book on the sport.
He also wants to see the states he has not yet visited,
mostly in New England and the Pacific Northwest.
A fall trip to Washington, D.C., has been postponed
because his stepdaughter, Jackie, is set to deliver their first grandchild
on their travel date.
With The Herald-Palladium, Madill has covered countless
events both big and small, including 25 Blossomtime parades. He estimates
that he has published 40,000 photographs.
He has twice been to the Berrien County home of
Muhammad Ali and has met golfing greats from Sam Snead to Tiger Woods.
Hollywood celebrities that have been captured with his lens include Jerry
Lewis, Bob Hope and Bill Cosby.
He has photographed every president from Gerald Ford to
George W. Bush, but he regrets passing on a chance to take photos of
President Barack Obama last year.
He said his most memorable assignment was the 1996
Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where he was sent to get photos
of local delegates. At the convention he spoke with Sens. John Glenn and
John Kerry, “and Al Gore grabbed my hand and pumped it furiously.”
That was ‘The Shot That Got Away.’ Gore wasn’t expected
that night, and Madill was replacing a roll of film in his camera when the
vice president strode toward him and took his hand.
Madill later did get a memorable shot of Gore and his
wife, Tipper, with President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton waving
toward him from the podium.
What goes into a good news photo?
“I read that the definition of a good news photo is
that you can look at the picture six months later and know what’s going on,”
Madill said. “You want it to be simple and easy to read.”
Madill, a Detroit native who went to high school in
Lansing, gravitated toward photography after serving in the Army during the
“I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living,” he
recalled. “I was a crummy college student who managed to get drafted.”
Overseas, he was a clerk at an island camp with 20,000
North Vietnamese prisoners of war, 2,000 South Vietnamese guards “and two
dozen of us to keep the peace.”
He came back home with a ubiquitous piece of
paraphernalia. “Everybody who came back from Vietnam came back with a 35-mm
camera and the G.I. Bill. I just put them together and studied photography.”
He was drawn by the craft of the darkroom. “Taking a
picture and watching it appear on paper, it was fascinating.”
His first freelance job, taking pictures at high school
football games, netted him $3 per photograph. He worked at weekly and daily
newspapers and was a photographer for Western Michigan University for three
years before joining The Herald-Palladium.
He was attracted to news photography because “it’s
something different every day.”
Out of the dark
Along with the changing community scene, Madill
experienced the transition from film to digital photography.
While some of the craft of the darkroom was lost,
Madill said he sees advantages to digital photography. “You know if the
picture turned out right away, and you’re not pouring any noxious chemicals
down the drain. It’s much more environmentally friendly.”
Herald-Palladium Managing Editor Dave Brown said Madill
is probably the best-known employee at The Herald-Palladium.
“It would be hard to find too many people in Southwest
Michigan who haven’t had their picture taken by John or at least been at
event where he was taking pictures,” Brown said. “For many years, he has
been our newspaper’s face in the community. And he has represented us well.
No one has ever complained to me about his professionalism or his respect
for the people he has photographed. And on top of that, he’s a great
Along with his ability to frame an event, Madill is
known as a welcome presence on the scene.
“John has an instant rapport with people. I know having
him around clicking pictures made my job easier,” Herald-Palladium Staff
Writer Kate Genellie said. “Everyone is more comfortable and conversational
after having a quick chat with Madill.”
In the newsroom he is comic relief.
“We joke with John a lot – probably because he’s the
biggest jokester in three counties,” Opinon Page Editor Dale Brewer said.
“Beyond the obvious dedication to his craft, I can’t imagine a greater
ambassador for the paper than John and his keep-’em-laughing personality.”
There was one memorable occasion when the joke was on
On a Christmas Eve, then-City Editor Jim Shanahan
informed Madill that a Sodus man had called about his holiday tradition of
taking a flaming lingonberry pie out of the oven at midnight – and he wanted
John to get a picture at the stroke of midnight.
Madill, who had plans for that evening, slammed the
darkroom door “as hard as he could,” remembers Staff Writer William F. Ast
III. “Once inside, he commenced cursing audibly and throwing things against
Shanahan strung him along the rest of the day before
telling Madill that the assignment was a joke.
Madill is also the trivia master of The Herald-Palladium.
“I think what I will miss most is John’s great
curiosity and love of films and books and other things he found
fascinating,” Local News Editor Ted Hartzell said. “For years he ran a
lunchtime in-house ‘Jeopardy’ game. I’ll miss that spirit.”
(One of Madill’s favorite factoids: What is the only
state capital without a Mc-Donald’s? Answer: Montpelier, Vt.) He is also
known for his generosity.
“I’m worried about who is going to keep me in
chocolate,” said Staff Writer Julie Swidwa. “John, when I least expect it,
drops a Take Five bar on my desk and tells me I look like I need a break.
Hey, wait, maybe that’s an insult!”
H-P photographer Don Campbell will
take over as photo editor.
“I guarantee he has more energy and more ideas that I
do,” Madill said. “Production will go up 20 percent with me gone.”
He also is impressed with the skill of Erin
Stubblefield, a photographer who is joining the paper. “She is very
Any advice for up-andcoming photographers such as
“You have to really have a passion,” Madill said. “I
don’t know how you can succeed without that passion.”