Photographer Al McLaughlin, instrumental in bringing color photos to the pages of The Oklahoman and training others nationwide to do the same, died Tuesday evening. He was 92.
Doug Hoke, current director of photography at The Oklahoman, who started at the newspaper in December 1976 and worked under McLaughlin, said, “Al was the best boss I've ever had. Of course, I didn't realize it at the time. Nor that I was learning how to run a photo department through his example.”
“Al was amazingly generous and influenced myself and many photojournalists starting their careers serving as our mentor,” said Oklahoman staff photographer Paul Southerland. “As an innovator in newspaper color photo printing he was a meticulous photographer that strived not only for the perfect photo but also the best reproduction possible in a daily newspaper.”
Alfred Willis McLaughlin was born April 27, 1921, in Oklahoma City. McLaughlin graduated from Classen High School and then attended the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University.
While at OU he did all the yearbook pictures for Classen High School and while at OCU he was a staff photographer for the university newspaper and yearbooks and did all publicity for the university's administration.
McLaughlin was a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant and chief of the photo lab at Enid Air Force Base for three years. In addition to teaching more than 500 service personnel to use cameras, he produced a weekly newspaper for which pictures, editing and layout talents were required.
His experience also included aerial photography.
McLaughlin, who was named to the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, joined The Oklahoman in 1942. He became chief photographer.
The personable Oklahoman was also a sought-after journalism and photo journalism expert, having taught classes at The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Oscar Rose Junior College, and Northwest Classen High School. For three years, McLaughlin also was chairman of an Oklahoma Press Association Photo workshop for photographers from state newspapers. His many lecturing and panel appearances included the Rochester (N.Y.) Photo Conference, the American Press Institute at Columbia University, the National Newspaper Production Association in Chicago and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo.
McLaughlin's work earned numerous awards, including National Women's Page Photographer of the Year in 1969 at the University of Missouri and first place in picture layout in the National Women's Page Photographer Competition. And, he claimed third in the National Press Photographers Association Traveling Show that toured the United States.
In addition to The Oklahoman, his work was published in Time, Life, Newsweek, The New York Times and the Miami Herald.
McLaughlin played a key role in ushering in color photos to newspapers.
Aside from regular responsibilities at The Oklahoma Publishing Company, McLaughlin produced, directed and filmed a 16 mm color sound movie about the company's method of producing run-of-press color. Three prints were made for screening at the American Press Institute, the Southwestern Color Conferences and the national meeting of newspaper production managers in Chicago. This film also screened for national advertising agencies and at major newspapers across the nation.
McLaughlin and others set out across the country to see how color photography was done by other publications, including those in Milwaukee and Houston.
Three-color photography was different from the four-color work done today because no black ink was involved.
“That was a pretty good system, really,” McLaughlin said of the original process used to get color to newspaper readers, “but the film we used at the time was unbelievably slow. So it would take almost an hour to process the film, alone. So you had to process the film, then you had to make separations, then you had to develop them, make prints from them, and then turn them over to the engravers to make the plates.”
As time progressed and the company updated its presses, the process changed to a four-color reproduction of color photographs, adding black ink into the mix.
The progression of technology continued as well. In 2003, McLaughlin said, “This new digital age, to me, is just unbelievable. You can do things with the camera, and after-the-fact in postproduction, that you never could possibly do back in the old days.”
McLaughlin will best be remembered by football sports fans for his development of sequence action of football plays during games. McLaughlin, along with photographer Bob East, adapted Bell and Howell 35 mm movie cameras with special shutters providing readers with several action photos, taken looking down from the press box. This was several years ahead of television's instant replays and stop action.
In 1974, McLaughlin married Joan Elizabeth Gilmore. Joan was women's editor of The Daily Oklahoman at the time.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, a son, Steve, a daughter-in-law, Lisa, and two grandchildren, Mark and Catherine.