Above: James Redmond, taken at Frost Illustrated in February 2017
Fort Wayne lost another community pillar the first week of September 2019 when James M. Redmond passed away (see his obit on page 10). The “Picture Man” served as a source for inspiration and direction for many African-American photographers in the city; his body of work, over 40 years of portfolio, represents the first full documentation of black life this city has ever seen...hopefully, it will be exhibited one day.
Fort Wayne Ink Spot managing editor William Bryant Rozier interviewed Mr. Redmond in 2017 for an oral history project collaborated with Frost Illustrated Newspaper. The following is a partial edited transcript from that interview.
James Redmond, in 2017: [People know me] as a photographer. Mr. Redmond Redmond’s photography. At one point, I owned a big studio at Southtown Mall until it closed. I did a lot of weddings until I burned out on them. I did other stuff: news photographs, birthday parties, family reunions. I worked for Frost Illustrated a long time, since they were downtown. That’s when I went to Saint Francis, started photography out there and studied under a photographer named Steve Perfect; he was strictly black and white. I [also] went to Fort Wayne Art School, which no longer exists. I took dark room [training] there.
At one point, I was the only so-called African-American doing any professional photography on this side of town. A lot of guys [other black photographers] caught on after they saw me. [And] I did a lot of white weddings too. I worked at General Electric (GE) full-time, and they ran a free ad in the paper for me every week for wedding photography. Therefore, I stayed busy. Co-workers would hire me to do their weddings. I did it for a long time; I enjoyed it. But man, my camera got heavy on me. I used medium format; it’s a big camera. It had a big negative, good for enlargements.
I had plenty of work. I shot some for GE on special occasions, to take up the slack for the regular company photographer. A lot of guys caught on after they saw me. I shot for Arby’s. They had their big conference here at the Grand Wayne…600 people there.
I shot a lot of celebrities. Al Jarreau…got a picture of him when he was at the Embassy Theatre. Frost put it in the paper. Lou Rawls. My goddaughter, Heather Headley. Sinbad. Ben Vereen. LL Cool J. Yolanda Adams. Kelly Patterson. Kelly Rowland.
Before the banquet, before the [shooting] incident at the Marriott Inn [in 1980], Vernon Jordan had a press conference when he got off the plane. I shot that. I had a photograph of the girl that he was his chaperone, Martha Coleman, went in every newspaper in the world…went to People Magazine.
The big event for me was when Barrack Obama came here, out at Wayne High School. And when his wife came to Northside, then Headwaters Park, I covered those times. By then I had shot so many so-called celebrities, it was kind of routine, but I was very elated that they were in the position they were in. That was a good feeling.
I had a pretty rich life as a photographer; it was a good field to be in. But being the only [black photographer], I had to cover a lot of ground. I couldn’t cover all what I wanted to cover. I was really glad to see some of the other guys get into the field. I was getting older. I didn’t have the stamina I had when I first started.
I got some landmark pictures. Do you remember the old American Legion on Lewis and Hanna…right on the corner? The old one is gone, it’s history. It was a stone building. I got a picture of that corner. We had a black-owned grocery store where the Pontiac Mall is…full lines. Roosevelt Barnes was the owner/contractor. We were hesitant about shopping there. See Scotts [Grocery] would lower his prices three cents on a chicken. And we being quite gullible would zoom out the Scotts over three cents instead of just shopping over here. Jesse Jackson had to come [to Roosevelt’s] and do promoting that store. I still have photographs of those.