Sharing stories during a lifetime behind camera
Longtime freelance photographer Bud Kraft remembers working in the darkroom at the Louisville Courier-Journal during the early-morning hours of Sept. 14, 1989, when he heard about a shooting on the police scanner. A gunman was still in the Standard Gravure printing plant, so Kraft was sent over to the nearby building by an assignment editor. When staff photographers from the C-J arrived, he stayed as a freelancer. Two of his photos were used by the Associated Press in its coverage of the Standard Gravure mass shooting in Louisville on that day. Joseph Wesbecker killed eight people and injured a dozen others before killing himself at his workplace - one of the country's first mass shootings. "It was a crazy day," remembers Kraft, who now lives in Versailles. "I didn't have time to think. All I knew was there was a lot of activity going on, and I needed to get pictures." So he ran to a parking lot shared by the Courier-Journal and Standard Gravure in downtown Louisville. His images of a shooting victim were printed in newspapers using AP's coverage. Kraft was also there to capture an image of Mel Ignatow being led away by federal marshals after his final court appearance in Louisville. Ignatow had been sentenced to eight years and one month in prison for perjury and making false statements to the FBI, but had previously been acquitted of Brenda Schaefer's brutal murder. Photos uncovered after Ignatow's murder trial proved he was guilty of killing his former girlfriend in 1988. However, he could not be tried a second time for her murder. TV vans and other media blocked entry into the federal building after Ignatow's sentencing in November 1992. So Kraft says he moved away from the frenzy and while, "looking through the fence I got this wonderful shot of Mel Ignatow coming out the back door with federal agents." His "clean shot" of Ignatow was later published in veteran journalist Bob Hill's best-selling book, Double Jeopardy. "As he (Ignatow) was led from the courthouse in handcuffs," wrote Hill, "Courier-Journal photographer Bud Kraft took a picture of Ignatow with a smug, almost beatific smile on his face, a picture that would last in the minds of many Louisvillians a long time." 'Break away from pack' Before getting married and becoming a father, Bud Kraft traveled from Louisville to Southeast Indiana to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky - and back again - taking photographs. Working seven days a week as a freelance photographer was not tough. In fact, he says, "I loved it." Kraft sold his first photo in 1983, but says he struggled for about four years as a freelance photographer before getting regular assignments from the Courier-Journal, the Associated Press and other media outlets. He credits his photo editors, including Bill Luster and James Wallace, whom he describes as mentors, for encouraging him to shoot features, sports and everything else. "I learned from them," Kraft says. "Both of them taught me - break away from the pack," he continues. "Start looking around. Look for a different angle." Kraft says gaining the trust of his editors allowed him to get more photo assignments. And not just more work, but a wider array of assignments during his 18 years as a freelance photojournalist. "He's really matured into a good, all-around photographer," says Wallace. He describes Kraft as a student of photography with a willingness to get better by adapting the approach of other photographers in his work. 'I can't write a story' Newspapers were a lot different when Kraft was embarking on his photojournalism career in the early-1980s. "You don't see spot news any more because of TV . It's so immediate," he says. "But back then, spot news drove newspapers. "If it didn't run on A-1, it was on B-1 - the local section." To get one of his spot news photos, Kraft climbed on top of an emergency service vehicle so he could use his wide-angle lens to capture the human element of a chaotic accident scene - knowing he was not insulated from danger. "You don't know if that car all of a sudden is going to lurch, and you're trapped. You become the story all of a sudden," says Kraft. He explains the value of being patient when taking photos amid the complete chaos of a multi-vehicle crash. "I learned to get a great shot with a 200 (millimeter) lens - just biding your time. Waiting for that little opening, and as soon as that opening was there - take your picture." James Tidwell, Kraft's journalism professor at Indiana University Southeast, was the first to tell him that he had an eye for news, but not the words. "I can tell a story," explains Kraft, "but I can't write a story." 'Saw colors differently' Kraft says he always had a Kodak Instamatic camera growing up. He liked taking pictures, but never dreamt he would - or could - earn a living as a professional photographer. His father, an electrical engineer for Bell South, never earned any money as a photographer even though he had a passion for taking pictures. "Dad could take great pictures. It was amazing," recalls Kraft. ".He never shot print film. He always shot slide film, and the colors in his slide film were unbelievable. He was really good at it." Creativity came from his mom. She drew. "She saw colors differently than most people, and I do too," says Kraft, who graduated from Indiana University Southeast with a journalism degree in 1982. 'They're heroes' Getting to know guys who would become firefighters and police officers in small Indiana towns, such as Sellersburg, where Kraft graduated from high school, and New Albany, gave an unproven freelancer access to structure fires and car wrecks in the years before he sold his first photo - of a vacant house fire - to the Courier-Journal in 1983. Before earning $35 for that spot news story, Kraft grew to respect what his longtime friends did for a living. "They are people who are just like you and I," he explains, "but they do so much. They're heroes, as we now realize since September the 11th (2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City). "They put their lives on the line." 'Telling a story' Kraft continued covering "spot news" - structure fires and car wrecks - throughout his freelance career. He was also given opportunities to document an array of human interest stories in photos. One of Kraft's favorite feature portraits was taken of Claudia Sanders - former wife of Kentucky Fried Chicken's Col. Harland Sanders. She had become a recluse in her 80s, and it was his job to put her at ease, he says. Once Kraft talked to her about growing up in "the old south" - Alabama and North Carolina, which made her laugh, he says getting a beautiful portrait of her was easy. She ended up giving him two hours - not 15 minutes as originally arranged - to take photos. One of Kraft's favorite subjects was a southern Indiana musician named Lotus Dickey. A fiddler, singer and songwriter, Dickey was still living in the same cabin where he was born when Kraft met him during a photo shoot for Indiana Weekly. "I spent the day with him," recalls Kraft, "and shot that picture" - Dickey playing his fiddle with a dog looking up at him and his family cabin behind him. "That (photo) would not have worked in color," he says. "The beagle," he adds, "just happened to walk over and get into my picture. The original photo-bomb is what it was..." He says any photo assignment for Indiana Weekly was an incredible opportunity because "I was telling a story with my photos. I had a beginning, middle and end in my pictures - documentary photography." Kraft can capture the emotions of a subject with his photos, says Wallace. 'It was perfect' Over the last decade as staff photographer for the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission (LRC), Kraft has been documenting what happens during sessions of the General Assembly - in photos. "I still wanted to be a photographer. It's the only thing I knew how to do," says Kraft, who met his future wife, Regina, while on a photo assignment for the C-J. They were married for 15 years and have two children together. Kraft says he left his career as a freelance photographer when his son was 2 years old because he didn't want to miss any more of his son's life. During a legislative session, Kraft wants his photographs to show the emotions being felt by lawmakers - and others - during contentious and not-so-contentious moments. His photo of state Rep. Sannie Overly and Heather French Henry shows them unable to contain their emotions when a military veterans' bill - supported by both - moved out of committee with no objection in 2015. Kraft captured their moment of unguarded happiness using his telephoto lens from a balcony located high-above a committee room. "I just laid-on the shutter and got about six frames, and it was perfect," he says. Kraft says he brings a different perspective to LRC because of his journalistic background. Still, he never takes a photo to embarrass state lawmakers. "You just want to show that they have a passion for what they're doing," explains Kraft. ".They don't even know I'm taking a picture half the time." Sitting on the floor or high above legislators in a balcony lets him tell stories in pictures - without being noticed. "He's great at capturing special moments that really capture the essence of what being a legislator is about," says LRC head photographer Mike Sunseri. He says Kraft's dedication to his craft shows in his photos and his willingness "to put in the effort to get the right shot." 'One minute to the next' In addition to his fulltime job with LRC, Kraft has been shooting NASCAR photos as a freelancer for about eight years - a huge deal for someone who grew up around motor sports in Birmingham, Ala., and Greensboro, N.C. He appreciates James Wallace, now director of photography at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, for allowing him to pursue freelance work he'd always wanted to do. Twice a year, they shoot photos at Richmond International Raceway. Wallace credits Kraft's love of NASCAR for allowing him to become a wonderful photographer in the sport. "There's a depth to (his photos) that only comes from knowing that sport and knowing it well," says Wallace. Kraft has another creative outlet to nurture his passion for sports photography as a freelancer. "I love rodeos," he says. "I love the excitement. It's something different." He likens rodeo to NASCAR because of its many different personalities. "You don't know from one minute to the next what they're going to do (or) how they're going to react," says Kraft. 'I loved old gyms' Seeing his photograph of Gen. Arnold Schwarzkopf at the Kentucky Derby Parade published in the London Times was one of those "wow" moments in Kraft's career. His AP photo "showed up every place . even (in obituaries) when (Schwarzkopf) died," Kraft says. He's shot photos at the NCAA basketball tournament, but still goes to an occasional basketball or football game at Woodford County High School - just because he enjoys doing sports photography so much. Kraft especially liked covering high school basketball games. "I loved the old gyms," he says. "The lighting's terrible, but boy when you get a shot in that light . you've accomplished something." In high school, Kraft thought about becoming a disc jockey. Because of his lifelong interest and many hours spent talking politics at the dinner table with his grandfather, Kraft also may have pursued a legal career. Instead, he chose to pursue his life's passion and became a photographer while never forgetting his father's words, "You're only as good as the last picture you took." Kraft has lived in Versailles for about 13 years. His son, Ryan, is a sophomore at WCHS, and his daughter, Hailey, is a seventh-grader at Woodford County Middle School.