Retrospective: An education with Joseph A. “Joe” DiPaola, Sun Photographer

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“It was my first day on the night shift. He took me to the Calvert House for a beer and a bowl of crab soup — my first…That was Joe in a nutshell. Nothing ever fazed him.” — Robert K. Hamilton

Baltimore Sun’s award-winning photographer Joseph A. “Joe” DiPaola, Jr., passed away Friday at the age of 91. Director of Photography Robert K. Hamilton recounts his first night shift at The Sun with Joe almost thirty years ago.

More on The Baltimore Sun: Obituary: Joseph A. ‘Joe’ DiPaola Jr.

Joe was near retirement when I came to The Sun as a staff photographer in the 1980s. The seasoned veteran, figuratively and literally, had served his country in World War II and spent nearly five decades with The Sun photographing iconic images for the newspaper.

Joe took pride in his appearance, most days sporting a jacket and tie, as was the custom when he first started at The Sun. He had wavy dark brown hair that he kept combed back neatly. Joe was a bit of a jokester, who liked to tell stories.

When I pulled my first night shift, it was with Joe.

He decided I needed an education, so he took me to The Sun’s hangout bar and restaurant, an establishment called the Calvert House. Needless to say, I was more than a little nervous about having a beer on my first night shift, but Joe kept telling me to relax and proceeded to tell me the ups and downs about the newspaper. Considering I had just landed my dream job, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

As I got him to talk about photography and the pictures he had taken, his mood changed. He developed a passion for photography at a young age. He started at the paper as a copy boy, and used to hang out with the photographers on staff. Purchasing his own speed graphic 4×5 camera, he started freelancing. A photo of a big fire helped launched his career with The Sun as a staff photographer, when it ran on the front page.

When asked about his favorite picture, he didn’t hesitate. It was from the 1962 Preakness. At the finish line two horses, Ridan and Greek Money, with their jockeys aboard, are seemingly overlapping each other as they cross the finish line. The tension is fierce as the horses seem to float on air — not a single hoof is touching the ground. The image won awards for Joe and was Photo of the Week in Life magazine.

Joe retired about a year later after that and we had never ventured back to the local dining house again. He was one-of-a-kind and I’m glad I had the chance to hear him and some of the other old timers tell me how it was back in the “old days,” when you had a 4×5 camera and only four sheets of film to cover an assignment.