The “dark room”was blacker than twelve midnights and one was unable to see their hands in front of them or the whiteness of one eyes standing next to him. How was it that “this man,” James A. Finley, without X-ray vision could do all this work without seeing. The mystery nearly ran me crazy and being the mentor that he was, he refused to share the secrets of his passion, later turned into his profession until my curiosity began to take root. Then and only then would he share the light of his knowledge to me hence picking up his passion, and later my profession which ultimately lead to my 50 yard line seat (and credentials) at Super Bowl XXX and more.
I did not know magenta from cyanine, but I learned to follow the instructions given to me. If Finley said, three minutes and thirty seconds, 3 minutes and 30 seconds was what I did. Before long, the Associated Press stringers (part time free lance photographers) would bring me their many rolls of film from the St. Louis Cardinals as they took on the Dallas Cowboys or the numerous other teams from the NFL. If I messed up the film the photographers could not go back and asked O. J. Anderson or Tony Dorsett to do a instant re-play. The winning touch down would be loss if I failed to pull off my assignment in the dark room. The frequent agitation of the tanks containing their precious rolls of film, monitoring of the temperature, double and sometime triple checking the film so that the right roll of film went to the proper photographer. The “Fin” would later introduce me as the “shake and bake man.” During the home run chase between the Cardinals’ Mark McGuire and Chicago’s Sammy Sosa, I processed the rolls of films for national and international AP members. Prior to McGuire, there was Bruce Sutter, Jack Clark, Ozzie Smith, “Silent George”, Brett Hull, Wayne Gretszey, Tony Twist, President Ronald Reagan, President Bill Clinton, several World Series and anyone and everything in between.
There were the many “home plate” photographs that made the sport page of nearly every paper in the country, taken by “me.” If there were 120 baseball games a season I worked most of the 60 home games at Busch Stadium, manning a 600 meter lens perched high above home plate. I would often tell others that the “last” thing I learned in becoming a photographer was “how” to put film in a camera.
“Teach that boy how to used that camera” I over heard Fred Waters talking to Finley. Waters was the staff photographer for the St. Louis Bureau for AP. Waters mentored Finley who at the time was a AP stringer. Finley had been the Director of Student Activities at State Community College in East St. Louis. He previously attend SIU Carbondale and Edwardsville, having earned a Bachelor of Science in Math, with his minor in Engineering. He would later earn his master’s degree in education. I recall Finley informing me how Harold Washington, the first and only black mayor for Chicago, and the commencement speaker one year at a SCC graduation, once came to his defense when Washington supported his desire to pursue his passion of photography. Pursing his passion was one thing, leaving SCC was another, and Rosetta Wheaton, the President of SCC was not in the mood for losing one of her most prized administrators. SCC produced many registered nurses, teachers, lawyers and other professionals, however today the institutions’ history and legacy has been abandoned, which will become a story for a later date. (Try to Google State Community College)
A former administrator for SCC and a beloved friend of Finley was able to locate a “42-year-old article title “Have You Met James Finley“. The article ran in the East St, Louis Crusader on June 13, 1974 written by Marlayne Simpson. The Crusader, a black own and operated weekly newspaper was the communication center for East St. Louis just as the Chicago Defender was to same for Chicago. “He (James Finley) is to the student (at SCC) what a lighthouse is to a ship. He reaches out to help others” wrote Simpson. Simpson had observed several students who entered Finley’s office during her interview. “…Each student entered his office with their own individual problem from inquiring about school rings, to film negatives, to a previous school affair. Each problem was treated efficiently and expeditiously.” wrote Simpson. Ten years later Finley joined the staff at the AP Bureau in St. Louis after being mentored more than five years by Waters.
Finley retired from AP in 2006. After years of arriving to more than ten Super Bowls, usually a week before the event setting up the venue for AP and their members. Every year he was off to spring training in Florida for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was inducted into the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame in 2009, one year after his mentor, Fred Waters’ similar induction honor. “He (Finley) was my mentor” said retired St. Clair County Circuit Judge, the Honorable Milton S. Wharton. You can search the archives of firstname.lastname@example.org for Judge Wharton’s article titled, Outside Agitators, post date June 8, 2014. I had several allias during my journey with the “Fin” from being called “H” to “Mr. J.”. But my official name, as Finley and I called each other is “Home”, short for ‘Homeboy.” The only regret I have is that I did not make the trip “down under” to Sidney, Australia with “Home” during the Olympic Games of 2000. It has been one heck of a ride and I wouldn’t take anything for the experience and the journey. Thanks “Home.”