2011-03-31 / News

Island photographers collaborate on air show book

By Tim Riel


Islanders Paul Murray and Emily Rutherford have completed their third book together, “2010 Rhode Island National Guard Air Show.” Sean Tucker, right, in his Oracle Challenger III biplane is one of the stunt pilots featured in the book. Islanders Paul Murray and Emily Rutherford have completed their third book together, “2010 Rhode Island National Guard Air Show.” Sean Tucker, right, in his Oracle Challenger III biplane is one of the stunt pilots featured in the book. If one happens to be so inclined to believe in such a thing, it might have been fate that brought Emily Rutherford to Jamestown Mist on Narragansett Avenue that cold Sunday afternoon in February.

More realistically, it was just a coincidence that her car needed gas at the same time that Bruce Deleronde was dropping by the store.

“It’s amazing,” said Rutherford, seemingly fighting back tears at the mere mention of the moment, “that someone who I had never met could be so generous.”

Showing off her book – “2010 Rhode Island National Guard Air Show: 20th Anniversary Commemorative” – to one of the workers at the Mobil station, Deleronde walked into the store when curiosity got the best of him. “What are you looking at?” asked the stranger.

Rutherford showed him the book, but because his hands were dirty from work, she elected to take it back and flip through the pages of the $150 book for him. After seeing a few pages, Deleronde went to his car and returned with his checkbook. Who do I make the check out to, he asked.

“That’s alright,” Rutherford said. “You didn’t get it dirty.”

He insisted that wasn’t why he wanted to buy it. She told him that the book was hot off the presses, that she just received it that morning, and that it was her only copy. He told her to keep the check and just bring a copy by the Jamestown Philomenian Library when she received another one. He decided to donate it to the community. “I want to read it at the library when my hands are clean,” he said.

With the ink barely dry, the first copy had already been sold – but the journey leading up to that point proved to be a little more complicated.

Although actual research and preparation of the air show book began only a year ago, the co-creators of the book said that it has been indirect work over the previous three years that has brought the book to fruition.

Paul Murray – whom Rutherford calls “brilliant” – is the other half of the duo that has published two previous books along the same lines: The two collaborated on “Rhode Island National Guard Air Show: 2009 Selected Highlights” and “Leapfest 27: An International Military Parachute Competition.”

Both Murray and Rutherford live on the island. Murray grew up in Newport but spent his summers in Jamestown, at a house that has been in his family for over 50 years. He now resides in that same house with his wife, Beth.

Rutherford was born in Maine and moved with her mother to Jamestown when she was in grade school. Since moving to the island she has been in the same house, which she now shares with her 6-year-old son, Alex.

The pair met when Rutherford was caring for Murray’s ex-wife’s sick mother. Through passing conversations, the two realized that they had a common passion: Pho- tography.

Murray says he has been interested in taking pictures “since my first communion.” While in high school, Murray would spend his time at the Newport Bureau of the Providence Journal. “I was the classic kid hanging around with reporters,” he said. It wasn’t a job and he didn’t get paid, but he was lucky enough to get a few photographs published. After a while, Bert Wade – “my first editorial mentor” – allowed him to write feature pieces for the evening edition.

His work was so well received that he earned a scholarship to Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. From there he attended the Boston University School of Communications, but changed directions and began studying liberal arts instead of photojournalism.

Following graduation, Murray began a career in computer engineering. It lasted only five years – after getting on board as a fundraiser and photographer for community efforts to help impoverished minority children in suburban Illinois school districts, Murray decided that taking photos was what he wanted to do with his life.

Rutherford’s life of photography started much later; she wasn’t even born when Murray enrolled at Medill in 1968. Rutherford said she bought her first camera in 1992 – a 35mm Nikon – and up until meeting Murray, she worked exclusively with film. She had never before worked with digital equipment.

After seeing some of Murray’s work and his “playground of equipment,” Rutherford realized that she could learn a lot from him.

“Emily asked me to help develop her photography talents,” Murray said. “I started off by going after her weakest points.”

Rutherford was more comfortable working with “safe” things. She began gardening as a little girl and enjoyed taking pictures of flowers and plants. “I liked to take photos of things that didn’t move and things that didn’t talk back,” she said.

The two began working on their hobby together. They would travel as far as Maine with each other, taking photos of flowers and coastlines along the East Coast. Then one Sunday in June 2009, the two were on their way to Roger Williams Park Zoo. While on Route 4, Murray noticed that the air show was taking place and figured it would be a fantastic photo opportunity. Before she could object, Murray was taking the exit. After working together for over a year, Murray thought Rutherford was ready to graduate from “safe” photos of daisies to taking pictures of two Snowbirds zipping by each other at a closure speed at nearly the speed of sound.

After they arrived at Quonset and unloaded their equipment, Rutherford noticed one thing almost immediately: “They run a tight ship over there.” Murray, who admits that he “doesn’t necessarily always follow the rules,” tried to pull a fast one on one of the military personnel on duty. Almost as soon as Murray pulled out his National Press Photographers Association credential, Sgt. Megan Burnmeister turned him away, no questions asked.

But the pair wasn’t going to give up. They both had their own reasons to be there – Murray was a pilot with over 1,200 hours of flight time, and Rutherford was once the mother of a sick child.

Rutherford’s son was ill when he was just a month old. It wasn’t until Hasbro Children’s Hospital performed an emergency surgery that he got his life back. When she saw that the air show had raised over $1 million for the hospital solely from voluntary donations over the years, she realized that it was money from events like the air show that helped to save her son’s life.

Although they didn’t have offi cial clearance, the duo spent the day taking photos of the show. “We didn’t know there was going to be a book, initially,” Murray said.

After deciding that they were going to put together a book, Murray contacted Lt. Col. Denis Riel, the state public affairs officer for the Rhode Island National Guard. Murray sent Riel PDFs of the proposed book. “He looked at the files and told me, ‘This is incredible,’” Murray said. Riel, obviously impressed with the quality of the pictures and the substance of the captions, asked if they would be interested in doing the same thing for the upcoming Leapfest.

Of course, the two agreed. Having the clearance not only made for better photos, but helped with the text as well. “We do a lot of research for the projects,” Murray said. “We look online and in Army field manuals, but now we had people to talk to us in more detail.”

When it came to the 2010 air show, Murray and Rutherford began their preparation from day one. They didn’t just show up with the crowds, they attended all the meetings. They drove around the air base in golf carts with military personnel. They set up cameras in control towers.

“We went to all these meetings, and they seemed kind of boring,” Rutherford said. “They talked about where to put signs and trash cans. But in the end, everything has a meaning. That’s why it is such a great event.”

Murray admits that since nothing like this had ever happened – allowing “outsiders” into these meetings – there was some skepticism among some of the staff. “We had to earn their trust,” Murray said.

“We really just wanted to do it because we admire what these men and women do,” Rutherford added.

In the end, the trust was earned; 75,000 people attended the event last year, and along with Cox Communications, Murray and Rutherford were the only ones allowed behind the lines.

The final product is a 120-page book filled with photos that begin with board meetings and ends after hundreds of brilliant pictures of planes doing every maneuver imaginable, with a detailed description of each photograph. Along the way there are essays from a number of those involved with the air show, including Riel, Lt. Col. Richard Hart and champion stunt pilot Michael Goulian.

Although Murray and Rutherford admit that the book is pricey because it was self-published, they are pushing for it to be included in Rhode Island libraries so that everyone can see “the greatest air show in the country,” according to Rutherford. State Sen. M. Teresa Paiva Weed bought a copy and donated it to the State House Library on Capitol Hill. “It’s amazing,” the senator said about the book.

So was the journey.

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