Out OF The Blue

Out OF The Blue

Out OF The Blue political campaign photography of James Thompson for Governor 1976Out Of The Blue

Have you ever had some news come your way that would seem just flat out crazy? Right out of the blue?

Something that you could not dream up in a fictional world?

Something that returned to you after 40 years?

One evening a short time ago, I was scanning through my emails and noticed a strange one labeled “Old Contact Sheets”

I remember thinking that I had not heard that photography term for quite sometime.

Contact sheets are what photographers, back in the day’s before digital, would make to show a whole role of film, in this case 36 exposures, on one easy to view 8×10 sheet of photography paper.

I made a million of them in B&W in my darkroom in the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s and very early 2000. It was the best way of sorting through a lot of images in a hurry to find the best ones.

When I opened the email the first thing I noticed was a very large image of a contact sheet of 36 images. The photographs looked strangely familiar.

As I looked closer I could read on the edge of the film say ‘Kodak Safety Film 5063’, which is another term for ‘Tri-X film 400 B&W film’. That was also a name I had not heard in a long time ether.

Naturally, as is my way, I read the content of the email last. Sorry, I am a visual people and that is just what my eye goes to first.

“Hi John, I’m a historian in Chicago and I came across a handful of contact sheets (8 rolls, shot in January 1976) that had ‘John Tarr’ on the back. Is that you? I’ve attached one below. Mike”

NO WAY!  NO WAY!!   I kept thinking…

I must have read his note 10 or 12 times in between looking at all the images again and again. The longer I looked the more familiar they became and then it all came back to me. I responded to Mike right then.

“Mike, O my gosh!! O my gosh! Those are my shots. I was a volunteer photographer on the political campaign of James Thompson for a few days in 1976. I lived in Waukegan and was 24 years old then. I think I developed them and then turned the contact sheets in to their campaign.

How did you find me? Tell me more about who you are and what you do. I want to know the rest of the story. I live in Tempe, Arizona now and have been a photographer for over 45+ years. I am also a graphic artist and website developer now. This has blown me away…. John”

Mike responded to me a number of times and we struck up a dialog. Here is the rest of the story I thought you would find interesting.

“John, I’ve been busy with interviews all week (just returned from one with Phil O’Connor, who was the strategist for the 1982 nail biter that Thompson won by a mere 5,704 votes). I’m with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and we’re doing an oral history of the Thompson administration.

A couple months ago I was looking through the files he has at Winston & Strawn (NW corner office, one floor below the top of the Leo Burnett Building) and he has several boxes of photos. One box had a folder with some contact sheets, including eight that you were good enough to write your name and date on. Most of the others are blank. Even absent the date I knew they were at the very start of his campaign given the subjects and the numerous poses. Fascinating to see the campaign trying to develop his image.

Looked up your name to see if I could track you down and thought you could still be our man, despite the shift in subject matter. Couple questions for you: do you return to the Chicago area much? Would you be interested in doing a short interview in how you got involved and shooting these at such a young age? Did you ever do more political work? …Mike”



Mike did me a very HUGE favor by scanning the contact sheets in high resolution so I could enlarge the sheets on my computer screen and do a screen shot of some of the images.

I really was totally out of the blue. It has brought back so many memories of those days and growing up in Waukegan, Illinois, a town 50 miles north of Chicago on Lake Michigan.

I got my start in photography by taking classes at Waukegan East campus my junior year and became a photographer on the year book staff my senior year. By the the way, I graduated in 1971. I feel old now…

PS. I still have the ‘Nikon F’ camera body and one 28mm lens that shot some of those images. Its sits on a shelf above my computer and stares down at me. She has not been used in many years but is a reflection of my past and the great times I had taking thousands of images in my early years. All the people and places I captured from those days is amazing.

Time sure goes by fast…