Native ‘Sun’ calls it a career

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Mann steps away from photography

Kendall Sparks
The Winchester Sun

James Mann landed his job at The Winchester Sun by a stroke of luck, and it’s a story only a few people know.

At 23, he was rather naive, he said, and he had to take a test for the photographer job opening. The paper’s editor, Bill Blakeman, interviewed him, studied his pictures and put him to the test in the dark room with a photo negative.

“I had never used a print processor,” he said. He had only tray-processed with chemicals, but he was determined to process the perfect black and white image.

The negative was overexposed, or dense, so it was James’ best guess at the exposure.

“I burned the image on the paper so I could see it, and it was perfect. It was the only time I ever used a print processor that it worked the first time,” he said, “and I never told Bill Blakeman any different.”

Blakeman, who died earlier this year, praised him for his print processing skills and asked when he could start, so James became the Sun’s chief photographer in 1976 — a position he held for 37 years until his retirement on May 23.

James graduated from Washington County High School in Springfield, Ky., and attended Eastern Kentucky University where he studied graphic arts and photography. He also followed in the footsteps of the Sun’s then city editor, Len Cobb, by becoming a part-time emergency medical technician with the Winchester-Clark County Ambulance Service, where he worked until the early 1980s. He then dedicated all of his time to the newspaper.

James recalls an early memory of his career when he was traveling down Fair Avenue. He saw a little boy, about 4 years old, sitting on his front step and scraping mud of his boots. He told the boy he was from the newspaper and asked if he could take his picture.

“He said, ‘Sure, just don’t tell my parents I got my boots muddy.’ I told him it would be in the newspaper, and he said, ‘That’s fine, just don’t tell my parents I got my boots muddy.’ It was so cute,” James said. It was one of the first pictures he took for the paper.

James has witnessed some of Clark County’s most memorable events and tragedies, including fires on North Main Street and Rockwell Road and a jet crash on Combs Ferry Road in the early 1980s.

He vividly remembers June 28, 1984, as firefighters battled the blaze that was quickly consuming Trapp Elementary. He was taking pictures over their shoulders and couldn’t see what was happening around him.

“With no warning, the front of the building, instead of collapsing in, it fell outward,” he said.

The firefighters turned to run, and firefighter Maynard McGever grabbed James and the three fell to the ground as the wall tumbled.

“The bricks landed right at our feet,” he said.

Capturing the image was only part of James’ job — much time also was spent processing film and making prints.

Slowly, the newspaper began including more color photographs on its pages, prompting James to learn different techniques for processing images. He began developing color negatives in a Styrofoam cooler, a system he used for several years, before the company purchased a self-contained automated processor.

But the major technological changes James witnessed was the change from film to digital photography.

“When I first saw a digital shot, I said I’d never shoot digital,” James said after seeing the poor quality of the first-ever digital images. “But the advancements have really helped.”

James will leave his legacy in photographs, but he will also take with him the close ties to the community he developed by chronicling the lives of Clark County residents.

“I will miss the people I’ve worked with through the years. There’s been some good people,” he said. “I’ll miss having my pictures published. When I first started, it was a thrill to have a picture published, now I just want it to be a good picture.”

Maj. Greg Beam, of Winchester Fire-EMS, said he won’t know how to react without James at an emergency scene.

“He was just part of the scene,” Beam said. “He stepped up and helped us. He’s pulled a hose when we’ve needed more manpower. We were always relieved to see him. We knew everything was going to be OK. He was always smiling and had something nice to say. He will be missed.”

Former Sun publisher Betty Berryman worked with James until she retired from the paper in 2006.

“When I think of Jim Mann, I remember his great relationship with our community. His unassuming ways, his soft-spoken responses, and of course his expertise as a photographer that he captured the last 37 years of Clark County history,” she said.

Berryman said as a publisher, she never worried if breaking news happened at 3 a.m. or 11 p.m., because she knew James would be there.

“His dedication to his job was exemplary. His photos were outstanding, and regrettably, newsprint didn’t always show their excellent quality. Above all, his eye for just the right picture for the story was exceptional. And finally I can say Jim Mann and his photos are both top-of-the-line,” Berryman said.
Assistant Managing Editor David Stone worked alongside James for about 18 years. He will always know James as “Bubba.”

“I will miss coming to work and working with someone who just has a staggering amount of talent,” Stone said. “He made my life absolutely easy. There weren’t any assignments, he knew what photos to take. I could always trust him to bring back jaw-dropping photos.”

James plans to travel upon retirement and spend time with his wife, Charlene; his children, Brandon and Matthew; and his grandchildren, Andrew, 3, Caleb, 5 months, and Olivia, who will turn two in September.

James and Charlene will be married 40 years this June. They enjoy choreographed ballroom dancing with the Rhythm Rounds Dance Club of Lexington.

“I don’t fish, but I may go fishing,” he said.

Charlene said she will be happy to sleep through the night without the sound of the police scanner.

Mann, who has won more than 50 first place Kentucky Press Association photo awards and many second- and third-place awards, is the son of the late Earl and Martha Mann and a 1972 graduate of Washington County High School. He is married to the former Charlene Carrico, the daughter of Clarine Carrico and the late Maurice Carrico of Springfield.