The first time I saw Butch Comegys, he was on his stomach in the middle of Spruce Street snapping shots of oncoming cars for a story about potholes.
I walked into the newsroom and said, “Hey, there’s some nut laying in the middle of the street with a camera. He’s gonna get run over.”
“That’s the new shooter,” someone said. “He’s crazy.”
That crazy new shooter went on to set the platinum standard for photojournalism in Our Stiff Neck of the Woods and across Pennsylvania. Butch’s images bear gleaming, timeless testament to the magic made when childlike wonder and world-class skills share space in the same soul.
Butch is the best shooter who ever worked in this market. Just ask him. News that his time with Times-Shamrock newspapers has come to an end saddened his many ardent fans — none more so than me.
Butch and I logged a lot of miles together over 20-plus years, from working daily stories to special projects that took us to far-flung places where I had to explain his craziness to strangers in every strata of society.
There’s at least one Pentagon cop who will never forget him. We were doing a special section on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and were granted access to the 9/11 memorial there. Butch could take all the pictures of the memorial he wanted. Everything else was strictly off-limits, a prohibition I explained to Butch a thousand times.
The Pentagon is in Washington, D.C., but technically not part of the United States. It is a world unto itself, with its own laws, rules and restrictions. Due process on and off the reservation are not the same things. About 30 steps onto Pentagon property, just past a sign prohibiting all photography, Butch starting shooting.
The Pentagon cop popped out of another dimension. He was ready to arrest both of us until I went into Sundance mode and explained that my partner suffered from “chronic impulse control problems” and meant no harm. I assured the cop that Butch would behave himself the rest of the afternoon. And he did.
Until we were leaving. At the edge of the reservation, Butch wheeled around and banged off a few frames of the limestone home of America’s military brass. Then we ran like hell.
Butch and I shared many adventures like that, and I am proud of the work we did together. I’m sad his time here is over, but thankful for the time I was blessed to spend with the kind of nut who lays down in front of oncoming traffic to get just the right shot.
We will never run out of potholes. There is only one Butch Comegys.
Happy trails, Kid.