A Tribute from the Free-Lance Star
Fredericksburg, Virginia

Quiet man
September 8, 2007 12:35 am

Barry Fitzgerald

BARRY FITZGERALD, who died last Saturday, worked as a pho- tographer at The Free Lance-Star from 1968 to 1976, a pre-cyber age when the newspaper's librarian cut out and filed printed stories. The 51/2-by-8¼ manila packet marked "Fitzgerald, Barry" bulges with clippings, many of which are write-ups about his awards--he won a passel--but most displaying his actual published work. That work retains amazing power in a medium whose showcasing potential--only so-so the day it hit a doorstep--now suffers too the yellowing touch of time.
But wood pulp and age burn off like thin haze under the sun of talent. Mr. Fitzgerald was a quiet man, perhaps because he knew quietness was necessary to sneak up on a thing and capture it, off-guard, alive. People, fauna, flora, shacks, fence lines, farm machinery--when Mr. Fitzgerald pressed the shutter, his subject, whatever it was, seemed caught in self-directed action. He was in effect a prophet of pantheism, the belief that everything is a small god, from Mount Everest to a thumbtack. Maybe that's why Mr. Fitzgerald almost everywhere toted a camera. His was a holy obligation to reveal glory, and in his darkroom he made shrines.

Red-stamped dates mark filed clippings:

FEB 7 1970

: "Carousel." As their platform blurs to inconsequentiality, two wooden horses, impaled by poles, come alive, nostrils flaring, mouths sucking air in a mad race to an unseen finish line.

FEB 28 1970

: "Final Flutter." A moth's death twitches send circular ripples, "a last pattern of life," across a pool of stagnant water.

MAR 7 1970

: "Hong Kong at Night." Each city light in this aerial shot is a fiery ghost, appealing as for release to an unsympathetic night sky.

MAY 2 1970

: "Sunday at a Washington hotel." On a sign, a caricatured Scotsman in tam-o'-shanter happily puffs a pipe. In the open window above, a smiling bellhop sucks a cigarette. The line between flesh-and-blood and plywood disappears.

Mr. Fitzgerald in 1984 joined the U.S. Information Agency, putting to national service his gift for corralling the elusive essence of his "studies"--the term, from art, is apt--inside a viewfinder. "He stayed in the background," says former Free Lance-Star associate managing editor Jim Mann, "but recorded moments that were put into packages and sent around the world to show what America is all about."

Mr. Fitzgerald also served as a Peace Corps teacher in the Philippines with his wife, Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, whom he helped in her project to memorialize Vietnam veterans who had died from non-combat causes. In occasional letters, he promoted voting as a rite of citizenship and deplored the muzzling, via lawsuits, of speech in Our Town. Through consistently dutiful actions, not flash and noise, he was a patriot.

In a caption to a 1969 Free Lance-Star photo spread of rural nature, "Suddenly It's Fall," Barry Fitzgerald wrote, "Throughout the autumns of his life, man has hope for victory in obtaining peace in the future." As he enters the fifth season awaiting every man, the one beyond solstices and the ameliorations of Kool-Aid and quilts, this quiet man, through his art, leaves intimations of hope for residents of the other four.

Copyright 2007 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.