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Slayton: Cameras, Life & Lasting Images

02/15/10 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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(HOST) After viewing a recent exhibit of photographs in Rutland, commentator Tom Slayton has been thinking about cameras, everyday life, and lasting images.

(SLAYTON) Aldo Merusi, who was the Rutland Herald's photographer for nearly 40 years, was an old-time newspaperman. He was gently sarcastic, slightly grumpy, and he knew what was going on, especially in Rutland, which he covered with his camera for almost 40 years.

He usually had a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, though by the 1960s, when I knew him, he didn?t light the cigarettes - just chewed them. He talked to everybody - at least everybody who mattered in Rutland. For much of his career, he carried a Speed Graphic camera, a bulky, black chunk of metal and glass that took one exposure at a time and was, in the words of Tony Marro, who was exaggerating only slightly, "about the size of a toaster oven."

Photo: Courtesy of The Rutland Herald
Check out the Aldo Merusi photo gallery

Tony and his brothers, Nicola and A.J. Marro, at a recent show of Aldo Merusi?s photos at the Chaffee Art Gallery, recalled their years working with him. In his years at The Herald, Aldo took more than 30,000 photos, encompassing every aspect of life in Rutland between 1937 and 1974. From farmers haying to kids splashing in the municipal swimming pool to the visits of six Presidents, Merusi was there with his Speed Graphic - which he later replaced with a smaller 120mm double-lens reflex.

No one ever saw Merusi use a 35 mm camera. He died in 1980, long before the age of digital cameras the size of a pack of cigarettes and smaller, which he probably would have scorned.

As the photos at the Chaffee clearly showed, Aldo could document the news when the occasion demanded. But he could also be playful. He was the master of the posed photo: A bunch of guys trading jokes around a country store?s wood stove; three pretty girls swinging golf clubs in unison; a couple modeling gas masks during the War years, and - unbelievably - Governor Joe Johnson up on his toes, mimicking the arched stance of a young ballerina. On and on they go.

I have to admit that those of us who worked in the Herald newsroom in Aldo?s later years thought most of his photos were - well - pretty corny. What we missed was that life could be pretty corny, too. Most people liked Aldo?s photos, because they were of people they knew, they were often quietly humorous, and they recorded the everyday life of small-town Vermont in ways that made it seem attractive and important.

He took newspaper photos every day in an era when having your photo in the newspaper was a big deal. To him, it was just a job. But it was a good job, and he did it well

What is obvious now is that those 30,000 photos - the newsy ones, the posed ones, and the corny ones, too - are Aldo?s legacy to Rutland: a visual record of Vermont in the middle of the 20th Century. They are, in short, proof that journalism, that most ephemeral of disciplines, can at times produce works of lasting value and importance.

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