Editor’s note: The writer is Charlotte Observer photojournalist Jeff Siner. Mark B. Sluder died Saturday. He was 67.
When I came to the paper in 1988, I kept waiting to meet Mark B. Sluder.
All I had seen was his name, locker and wonderful photographs in our individual processing rooms.
Staffers told me that he wouldn’t talk to me because I was the intern. I wasn’t deterred. This guy was special. When he finally arrived two weeks later, I approached and told him that I had seen an exhibit of photos of one of the greats he had on his locker. We became friends at that moment.
I would ride around listening to him tell the history of Carolinians and things he had shot. I was probably like a little brother asking for one more story.
Mark’s work was photographs, not pictures. He was an artist who used the camera as his brush. The negative was the canvas.
Photographs are different — they are special and memorable. They last.
Mark’s portfolio was a who’s-who of famous people. He had the ability to meet and establish a relationship.
The Observer’s PTL coverage of disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker and wife Tammy Faye is highlighted by the tenacity Mark used to track them to Palm Springs, California. Once there, he convinced them to pose in a desert landscape. I don’t know about Jim’s feelings, but Mark once told me that Tammy Faye had written a note to him saying that she wanted to punch him. He also photographed Jessica Hahn, the secretary that Bakker had had a sexual relationship with.
On a subway ride in New York City, Mark met one of the members of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. A quick conversation and he was invited back to their studio to make photographs. I remember that small Polaroid on his locker to this day. All three doing something along the lines of See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. A lasting memory.
He stayed in a house near the infamous biker gangs of North Carolina, taking photographs at perilous times. He and the reporter were threatened to the point that when they came home, his family was moved from their home and police were stationed on top of the old Observer newspaper building at 600 South Tryon Street.
We traveled to Central Park in New York City to cover Billy Graham’s Crusade. Mark had made a connection with Graham’s team and we stood on the stage with the preacher the day before as he looked over the park. The access we had was unbelievable. But the most memorable moment was Mark’s affinity for “odd” — let’s say different — souvenirs. We went to a store where he could buy dinosaur eggs. We laughed about that two months ago.
The last couple of days I have thought a lot about Mark B. Sluder. My eyes have welled up and my voice has cracked.
Friendships aren’t always easy; ours had its ups and downs. I’m thankful I made the initial approach and we came together again.