From behind the lens: Photographer Jerrey Roberts, retiring from the Gazette, talks about some of his favorite pictures

  • Joshua Laveck, 13, studies his next move, Wednesday, March 10, 1999 during a chess match against Adam Korza, 13, at White Brook Middle School. Both boys are members of an after-school chess club. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Firefighters use gaffs to extinguish roofing while fighting a fire Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007 at 37 Holyoke Street in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Frontier Regional catcher Garrett DeForest eyes a foul ball hit by Chase Kupinsky, of Belchertown, Wednesday, May 10, 2017 in Belchertown. He missed the catch. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass Head Coach Travis Ford is lifted by Rashaun Freeman after the team completed a timed three-point drill at the buzzer during practice Monday, Nov. 14, 2005 at the Mullins Center. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sister Jane Patricia Freeland, 84, who has been a nun for 53 years, plays her Celtic harp at her apartment in Amherst in September of 1994. She has had a lifelong interest in music and plays organ for the 8 a.m. service at Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst. She belongs to the Community of St. John Baptist, an Episcopalian order based in England. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Emily Bigelow, of Amherst, practices spinning, which is circus-style hula-hooping, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 at Childs Park in Northampton. She has been spinning for about five years and taught a class in it during the summer at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jaime Manrique, a writer from Colombia, gazes out a window at Fort Juniper in Amherst, the former home of poet Robert Francis, in December of 1995. Since 1988, the home has been leased rent-free to poets in search of a quiet place to write. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2020 3:22:23 PM

When photographer Jerrey Roberts joined the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Bill Clinton was in his first year as U.S. president, the Mississippi River had one of its worst floods in history, and “fake news” and “gaslighting” were not yet part of the country’s political vocabulary.

It was 1993, and Roberts, a Wisconsin native, had come to the East for the first time in his life after college in Minnesota and working in Texas and Missouri. For more than a dozen years since leaving college, he’d been alternately a portrait photographer, a news photographer and a studio photographer, including a stint for a publisher of craft magazines.

But Roberts, 62, who’s retiring this week, says he felt he found his niche at the Gazette, where he’s been the go-to guy for years for sports photography and has covered everything else under the sun — breaking news, arts and features, elections, individual portraits and other colors of Valley life. And he’s done it in style: Roberts has won numerous awards for his work in the annual New England press competitions and in National Press Photographers Association contests.

That diversity of assignments has always been welcome, he notes. “I very much like having a broad range of things to do. That’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about newspaper photography — it’s different every day.”

He’s been working at the Gazette long enough to have started with film photography, something he says was a challenge, especially when shooting, say, a local high school football game, which are often played at night. “You’d have to toss out a lot (of images) that were motion-blurred, or out of focus.” The switch to digital cameras, which the Gazette made in 2001, was a welcome change for him.

“The transition was really easy for all of us,” Roberts said. “Even the first generation of digital cameras recorded in a way that was completely acceptable. It was all so easy to do, and it made all of our jobs so much faster.”

Not that there weren’t headaches on occasion. Roberts says scheduling difficulties sometimes left him racing between assignments or with lag time on his hands. Election nights typically had him fighting the clock: “The results would always come in so close to our deadline, and then you’d have to wait for the candidate to show up at an event, and you’d have time for only a quick shot and then have to rush back to the office and crank out the images.”

But he’s had plenty of good times, like going to the NCAA Final Four in New Jersey in 1996 to photograph the UMass Minutemen at the end of their great 1995-96 season. Another highlight was his trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee in late 1998 to photograph UMass football as the team won the NCAA Division I-AA title.

More importantly, he said, “I’ve met so many great people over the years, from so many walks of life. And the Gazette has always supported news photography. I was never laid off, never had my hours cut … it’s been a good ride.”

Favorites

The Gazette asked Roberts to pick seven favorite photographs from his long career and explain how they came about and what he liked about them. Fair enough, says Roberts, but with a laugh he notes that he really can’t limit his favorites to these pictures: “My favorites are like 100 photos, but I was asked to pick out seven and this was the best I could do.”

Colombian writer and poet Jaime Manrique, photographed in December 1995 at Fort Juniper in Amherst, the former home of poet Robert Francis that since the late 1980s has served as a rustic, rent-free retreat for poets and other writers. “I’ve taken a lot of portraits of people, but it’s not always possible to photograph them at what they do. In this case, I was trying to capture the atmosphere of a writer working in solitude at this old wooden cabin. The light was perfect for that. It was late afternoon and the light across his face is kind of warm and orangey, while the background is very blue. I love the contrast.”

UMass basketball coach Travis Ford and player Rashaun Freeman at a practice at the Mullins Center in Nov. 2005. “Practices can be hard to shoot, because not a lot happens. There’s a lot of stop and start. But in this case, (Freeman) just suddenly grabbed Ford and kind of spun him around like a rag doll. They were both laughing. It was just kind of funny and odd and very spontaneous.”

Firefighters tackle a house fire in Easthampton in February 2007, using gaffs to try to extinguish flames on the roof. “I’ve covered a lot of disasters, like fires and the aftermath of car crashes, storms, so I thought it would be appropriate to have something here. The combination of the flames, the smoke, the firefighters breaking through the roof, it all kind of captures the intensity of the scene.”

Emily Bigelow of Amherst practices with her hula hoops at Child Park in Northampton in October 2015. “I’d been looking for a stand-alone picture for about two hours. I’d been everywhere … I’d already been to Childs Park, but I thought I’d make one more stop there before giving up. This time I saw an older man ... with this child next to him on a tricycle or some kind of push-along thing, so I went in and parked, and then I saw (Bigelow). I immediately knew this was the picture I wanted. What I really noticed was the lighting, the long shadows and the way everything was backlit.”

Garrett DeForest, catcher for the Frontier Regional baseball team, goes after a foul ball in a game in May 2017. “I’ve always liked shooting sports, where there’s plenty of action and I’m just working on my own to find good images ... I like the simplicity of it. Here I really like the intensity of (DeForest’s) face, the way his hair is flying back, and the positioning of his face, the ball and his glove. And the background is so clean.” (footnote: DeForest could not corral the ball.)

Sister Jane Patricia Freeland, then 84, photographed in September 1994 in her Amherst apartment. “This was from a Hampshire Life story on a woman who’d been a nun for 53 years. She was a former teacher and also a member of the Community of St. John Baptist, an Episcopalian order based in England. She had relatives in Amherst and could often be seen riding around town on her bicycle, wearing her full habit, and she did volunteer work at Grace Episcopal Church. What I like about this picture is that it has such as old-world feel to it: the cross on the wall, the wooden chair she’s sitting in, the simplicity of the room. It feels likes it could have been taken 100 years ago.”

Joshua Laveck, 13, contemplates a move during a chess game at an afterschool program at Easthampton’s White Brook Middle School in March, 1999. “I’ve photographed many events like this, but I never was able to get an image quite like it. I think the key was when (Joshua) leaned down over the board, so I could get this really good angle of his face posed right above the chess pieces. His one eye that’s visible is above his glasses … it makes for a good reference point to the chess pieces.”




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