A Photographic Memory

No One Was Hurt When Their Names Were Dropped

Tom Zimberoff


Tom Zimberoff circa 1980, somewhere in the Sahara Desert

Preface: f8 and Be There!

My career took off in a helicopter carrying the military dictator of Panama. I was a stowaway.

As a young photojournalist hell-bent on making my bones (having already had some less substantive success publishing rock-n-roll and celebrity pics), I gambled on capturing exclusive pictures of a populist strongman who was much in the news but inscrutably camera-shy. It never entered my mind that, once discovered — and quickly enough because there’s hardly a place to hide on a helicopter, I might be invited to exit the aircraft before it landed. After all, no one who cared knew where I was. But in my world, seen then through a viewfinder, nothing was real until it was seen on film or in print. That kind of tunnel vision makes a person oblivious to serial risk-taking. A magical consciousness dissolves inhibition, confers an impossible sense of invulnerability, and lets loose the daredevil in many a photographer. All that matters is to get The Shot. Precluding “no” for an answer, we may not ask for permission. But impulsiveness only works if you’re lucky. That helicopter ride turned out to be my entrée to shooting assignments for Time magazine and the outset of a decades-long journey through a lens of self-discovery.