When our world seems to be run by madmen and the front page is devoted to horrible deeds that human beings do to each other, I feel it is so important to salute those who live with goodness and respect for humanity in their hearts.
Anacleto Rapping, a former photographer at the Los Angeles Times, who passed away on September 17, 2017 at the age of 63, after a 3-year battle with colon cancer, was one of those people. A photojournalist by profession, his iconic work was infused with humility and facilitated by his great smile. He produced images that were memorable for their artistry but also revealed a deep connection between subject and photographer. His ethos adds a very human dimension to the stereotype of the hard-charging photojournalist that many might have. Not that he wasn't competitive -- he was -- but he always put people first.
Photo of Anacleto Rapping by Al Seib.
As a colleague at the Times, I felt lucky to work with him, not only for his talent and the generosity with which he shared his skills. His gifts went far beyond his technical ability as a master with lighting and composition, and his unique eye. It was who he was as a person, his appreciation for the wonders of nature and the diversity of the human condition that shone through every image he made and helped him forge connections with those he photographed from every walk of life -- from the streets of Soweto to the celebrities on and behind the Oscar stage, from a jubilant Brandi Chastain on the soccer field to the Olympic athletes he documented in 1996 in Atlanta, (and the images that made him a Pulitzer finalist) and the many young people he mentored.
I still remember an assignment I gave Anacleto when I was working as a features photo editor. I needed someone to capture a street scene in the community of Orthodox Jews around Beverly Boulevard and La Brea. I knew this was a tricky assignment but was hopeful that Anacleto could pull it off. It was a beautiful image that he brought back, full of the joy of life, along with stories of how he chatted with the young boys after he made the picture, letting them look through his telephoto lens, a hefty and formidable 300mm 2.8 that surely impressed them. But as he told me about his talk on the street that day, I wasn't surprised. It was his ability to connect with people so personally, and to take every opportunity to teach and share what he knew about photography that made Anacleto who he was.
So it made complete sense that after 20 years as a staff photographer at the Times, Anacleto left the paper to become a photography teacher at Brooks Institute in Ventura. At his memorial it was noted that he left his job, which he loved, just because he felt it was time to give back and inspire the next generation of photojournalists. Judging from the many former students who came out to honor him that day, the future of photojournalism is secure. During his time with his students he returned to South Africa with them, a place he had gone on assignment with the Times when Mandela ran for President. Together he introduced them to the people and the countryside and their efforts culminated in a book that helped fund the trip. He remained a teacher and mentor while he also pursued a freelance career in photography.
When news of Anacleto's passing spread through the internet, the outpouring of affection and remembrances on social media was overwhelming. From photographers who he competed with to students he taught, from people he met as an avid mountain biker to parents of kids he coached in soccer, many felt moved to come forward and talk about the beautiful person they knew who had touched them in some small but unforgettable way. At his memorial it seemed fitting that the first speaker said Anacleto would want to encourage everyone to take care of their health with early screenings, colonoscopies and attention to warning signs.
I had the opportunity to work with Anacleto around Christmastime last year when I joined him to volunteer with help-portrait.com, a nonprofit that organizes photographers who travel to low income locations and shoot formal family portraits. For some, these would be their first professional portraits. I kept an eye on him between shoots, trying to soak up as many lighting pointers as I could, but mainly I just enjoyed seeing how he interacted with the families and how they responded to him. It was a very joyful day.
After his memorial, Jesse Watrous posted a comment about her relationship with Anacleto as she was one of the last group of students he taught. "Until the very end, he was the best professor/teacher/mentor that I ever had. He was stern, fair and kind," she said, adding that he inspired her to pursue a career with a local newspaper and taught her what it meant to be a photojournalist.
Anacleto will be sorely missed, but those who knew him will find ways to keep his memory very much alive. Patrick Downs, another former LA Times photographer, said he has a mantra he often repeats: "WWAD." What would Anacleto do? It's a way to keep him close and to try to honor him, and make the world a better place, one person at a time.