Award-winning Daily Times photographer
Award-winning photographer Elbert F. "Bert" Hodge, 82, of Springfield, who won national acclaim for his pictures during his 33 years on staff at the Delaware County Daily Times, died Oct. 19 at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Upland, after a brief illness.
Born in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, Mr. Hodge was a 1948 graduate of J.W. Cooper High School where he learned to develop film and make prints with the help of a teacher who also got him a job assisting a professional photographer. Mr. Hodge got his first formal photography training while serving in the U.S. Air Force, primarily in the Philippines, during the Korean War
when he attained the rank of staff sergeant.
"I had made a deal with a recruiter. I would give him three years of my life (it turned out to be six) and he would send me to what was then the best photography school in the world – the United States Air Force Photo School at Lowrey Air Force Base in Denver, Col.," Mr. Hodge once said in recounting his career.
He noted that he knew he wanted to be "up front" taking pictures when, in the winter of 1948 during basic training, he saw an airman walk on stage during Bob Hope's annual Christmas show and take a picture of a beautiful female vocalist who he recalled was probably Doris Day.
Mr. Hodge graduated from the Air Force photography school in 1949. He was also a 1957 graduate of the Charles Morris Price School of Advertising and Journalism in Philadelphia. He was employed by the Harold M. Lambert Studios in Philadelphia from 1954 to 1959 and at the former National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center in Pomona, N.J. from 1959 to 1963.
Mr. Hodge was barely on the job with the Delaware County Daily Times a month when, in August 1963, he was placed behind a state police barricade while photographing an angry white mob encroaching on a black couple, Horace and Sarah Baker, and their 2-year-old daughter moving into their new home in Folcroft. Mr. Hodge was undeterred in snapping pictures of the rioting crowd including a photograph of adolescent white boys screaming taunts and making threatening gestures at the black family that gained national attention.
Seven months later, Mr. Hodge was covering a peaceful civil rights demonstration at Seventh Street and Edgmont Avenue in Chester when police appeared and started dragging the young protesters away. As Mr. Hodge snapped photographs, he was knocked to the ground by what he believed was a policeman who then ordered him to get into the police wagon. He remembered hearing a black photographer gasping for air as police dragged him with a night stick against his neck. Mr. Hodge continued to photograph demonstrators, on the ground with bleeding heads, through a window the size of a peephole in the back of the wagon.
"The wide lens came in handy because I was able to put it right up against the grid of the cage door," said Mr. Hodge who was later released on the order of then-Chester Mayor James Gorbey.
The Daily Times photographer endured several assaults in the line of duty. In 1982, Mr. Hodge was shoved and grabbed in a hallway outside Springfield District Court while attempting to photograph a grandmother, her daughter and her grandson who were suspected of supplying narcotics to high school students. In 1989, Mr. Hodge was slammed into the side of a Lower Chichester police car by the father of a drug suspect he was photographing outside of Aston Regional Court. Mr. Hodge declined to press charges against the infuriated father.
Delaware County Daily Times Associate Editor Joe Hart noted that Mr. Hodge never lost his cool in tense situations.
"Once we were doing a story about deplorable conditions in the Chester District Court and we weren't allowed to take pictures inside. We walked right in and Bert started shooting away. Eventually deputies descended on us but we were able to escape. That's when Bert showed me he had stashed his roll of film in his socks in case the lawmen seized his camera," said Hart. "He never lost that passion for his job and he was a role model for all of us."
Despite his seemingly tough hide, Mr. Hodge never lost his tender touch in photographing sensitive situations. Longtime Daily Times Staff Writer Patti Mengers remembers his kindness to an AIDS patient, and to her, during an interview about the patient's impending death that brought her to tears. "While I was regaining my composure Bert got the job done, never losing his compassion in the process. He was a true professional," said Mengers.
Mr. Hodge, who photographed almost every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, was as adept at taking pictures of nature as he was of national figures. In 1974, he won first place for color photography out of 488 submissions from the Pennsylvania Press Photographers Association for his picture of the sun setting behind the Commodore Barry Bridge in Chester.
After his retirement in February 1996, Mr. Hodge continued to take photos as he traveled extensively with his wife of more than 50 years, Lois, a retired Chester Upland School District nurse. Pictures taken by Mr. Hodge during their 7,850-mile cross-country trip were placed on exhibit at a Springfield photography shop in 1997.
"We stayed in Monument Valley all day to wait for the sun to set. I really enjoyed it, although I'm not sure Lois was as thrilled as I was," said Mr. Hodge when interviewed about the exhibit.
His work has also been exhibited at the Photography Center in Swarthmore and graced the vestibule of the Daily Times building for more than 30 years.
Mr. Hodge's news, sports and feature photos won him dozens of awards from a variety of journalism organizations during his career including the Pennsylvania Publishers Association, the Philadelphia Press Association and the Pennsylvania Associated Press.
In 1988, Mr. Hodge was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his September 1987 photo of Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham and New Orleans Saints cornerback Brett Maxie going head-to-head.
In 2007, he was presented the Salvatore C. DiMarco Jr. Photography Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
Mr. Hodge was a member of Covenant United Methodist Church in Springfield where he was involved in Methodist Men and Wednesday Willing Workers. He also served as a trustee. Mr. Hodge was also a member of the Philadelphia Newspaper Guild, serving for a time as a union officer, and was a member and past president of the Pennsylvania Press Photographers Association.
In addition to photography and travel, Mr. Hodge enjoyed spending time with his wife at their winter home in Florida, cooking for his family and watching the Philadelphia Eagles.
When he retired from the Daily Times in February 1996, Mr. Hodge said he considered his job as a photographer a "privilege," noting, "Along with this privilege has come a lot of responsibility. If I was going to be up front it was my duty to bring back the pictures for you. I had to show you what you couldn't see."
Mr. Hodge was the son of the late Elbert and Ruth Webster Hodge and the brother of the late Richard Hodge, formerly of Newtown Square.
Survivors: Wife of more than 50 years, Lois May Hodge; two sons, John E. Hodge and his wife Gail of the Havertown section of Haverford and Charles D. Hodge and his wife Cynthia of York; four granddaughters, Kathryn Hodge Driesbaugh and her husband, Jason, of Philadelphia, Julia Hodge of New York City, Melissa Hodge of Atlanta, Ga., and Heather Hodge of York; two nieces; one nephew.
Memorial Service: 11 a.m, Saturday at Covenant United Methodist Church, 212 W. Springfield Road, Springfield.
Visitation: 10-11 a.m. Saturday at the church. For directions call the church office at 610-544-1400 or visit www.covumc.com.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the church.
To share your fondest memories of Bert, please visit www.lifecelebration.com
and Arrangements by Spencer T. Videon of Drexel Hill, PA .