Behind the Lens

Twenty years of Wellesley photography by Richard Howard

Richard Howard

Portrait of Richard Howard by Webb Chappell

In my mind, Richard Howard’s name is always going to be associated with a 14-foot ladder. A couple of years ago, I asked Richard, this magazine’s principal photographer, to take some pictures of the labyrinth students had built near Paramecium Pond. Naturally, he thought the best perspective would be from a certain height and called me to ask whether there was a tall ladder he could borrow from the College.

This far into our 20-year working relationship, I said no immediately. That’s partially because I once had a gasp-inducing moment watching Richard and his camera sway on top of a rickety ladder inside the chapel. (“No picture is worth a tumble, Richard. It’s just not,” I said. He just grinned and kept on clicking.) But it’s also because over the years, I have asked the College whether I could borrow a cherry picker for him, and whether he could have access to the highest roof levels of a number of buildings. No, no, and again, no, says anyone who handles liability for Wellesley. No surprise there.

However, this hasn’t stopped Richard. He actually showed up to the labyrinth shoot with a rented 14-footer. I made a deliberate decision not to watch.

If there’s one thing to know about Richard, who retired last month after two decades of service to the magazine and the College, it’s that he will do just about anything to get a good shot. I’ve seen him lie on his back in College Road as the alumnae parade rolled inexorably toward him, his shutter whirring. He’s hung over railings, waded into frigid Lake Waban, made friends with Secret Service agents, and traveled hundreds of miles to take our pictures, including one trip to photograph alumnae in a decimated New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina.

Another thing about Richard—as you’ll see from this retrospective of his Wellesley pictures—is that he can be counted on to capture the enduring moments of this institution. He has a knack for being at the right place at the right time, whether to catch a radiant graduate waving her diploma or a nervous junior making a presentation to Madam Secretary at the Albright Institute. He delighted in shooting the portraits of Alumnae Achievement Award recipients and College presidents—and chatting them up as he did so. And over the years, he’s been at Wellesley in moments of great sadness, as well as of celebration. The picture he took of President Diana Chapman Walsh ’66 comforting a student on Flower Sunday a few days after Sept. 11, 2001, still makes me choke up (see the slideshow above). As do some of his shots of tearful alumnae and students in the fieldhouse on Election Night 2016.

As we made selections for this retrospective from thousands of photographs of Wellesley, I was struck by the way Richard captured the heart and soul of this place and its people. There’s an affection that shines through these pictures—a great warmth for Wellesley’s alumnae, students, faculty, and staff, as well as for its landscape and buildings. That affection allowed him to capture what Saint-Exupéry called “the essential” that is “invisible to the eye.” Through his lens, the face of a 98-year-old alum is just as beautiful as a student’s.

Really, there are many things I’ll always associate with Richard, beyond just that ladder: vision, good humor, courage, caring, and joy. We should all be so fortunate as to take the kind of pleasure in our work as he has taken in his. We send him off to his retirement ventures with so much gratitude and affection.

Alice M. Hummer is editor of Wellesley magazine.

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