By RICHARD DYMOND
Bradenton Herald Staff Writer
Carson D. Baldwin loved to lug a camera and huge telephoto lens into the Ohio woods, lay on the ground alone for a week and try to get the definitive picture of a groundhog.
But he also had a passion for spot news, like the morning in 1980 when he captured iconic images of the Summit Venture freighter after it slammed into the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Baldwin shot news and commercial pictures for the Bradenton Herald from 1966 to 1998 and, at the same
time, accepted wildlife photography assignments from National Geographic, Field & Stream, and other publications that allowed him to travel the world, family members said.
He died at age 75 on April 5 in Sarasota.
His final days were spent at Sarasota's Springwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where he was admitted in November, 2009 and battled Lewy Body Dementia until his death, said his sister, Joanne Baldwin Wilson.
A celebration of life ceremony for Carson Baldwin has been delayed and will probably be held later in his home state of Virginia, said his brother Larry Baldwin.
The groundhog story is a favorite of Bradenton mayor and former Bradenton Herald editor Wayne Poston, who sent Baldwin out on many an assignment.
"Carson never said much," Poston said Monday. "I would say, 'Carson, I need this picture.' He would look at me. I would say, 'Can you get it?" He would say, 'Yes.' Then he would surprise me with a picture even better than I ever expected."
One day Baldwin told Poston he needed a week off to shoot a cover for Field and Stream magazine.
"He told me his assignment was to capture a groundhog," Poston said. "I told him, 'Carson, there is no way to make a groundhog look good.' Carson went up to Ohio. The picture he came back with shows a groundhog sitting on its haunches with a split rail fence behind it. The groundhog is holding a tomato and tomato juice is dripping down its jaw. It's simply the finest wildlife picture I had ever seen."
"Carson could stun you with how good he was shooting, but he was also helpful to people," said Gene Page, who helped his father, publisher W.E. Page Jr., run the Herald. "He had the patience to sit down and teach someone something from the ground up. Not everyone can do that."
On May 9, 1980, as chief photographer, Baldwin chartered an airplane so he could take pictures of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which had just been struck by the Summit Venture, crumbling a column and sending 35 people to their death.
In his stunning 20th anniversary story about the collapse of the bridge, then Herald editorial page editor David Klement wrote of Baldwin's picture that was printed just five hours after the accident.
"Dramatic aerial shots showed... a haunting image of the Summit Venture at anchor to the west of the broken bridge, shards of girders and highway asphalt dangling from its enormous bow like broken pieces of a child's toy."
"The word that best sums Carson up was gentle," Klement said Monday. "I never saw him lose his temper or go ballistic as many do in a newsroom under stress. I had so much respect for him. He was so professional."
Said colleague Grant Jefferies, who started in 1986, 12 years before Baldwin would retire.
"A gentleman, soft spoken," Jefferies said. "It's sad. I miss Carson."
Published in The Bradenton Herald from Apr. 24 to May 10, 2012