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Michael Evans, 61; His Photographs Chronicled Reagan's First Term

December 03, 2005|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Michael Evans, a photojournalist who took some of the best-known and beloved photographs of Ronald Reagan from the time Reagan sought the Republican nomination for president in 1975 through the end of his first term as president in 1985, has died. He was 61.

Evans died of cancer at his home in Atlanta on Thursday, his wife, Story, said.

Evans' 1975 close-up photo of Reagan wearing a cowboy hat and smiling amiably appeared on the cover of Newsweek, Time and People magazines after the former president's death on June 5, 2004.

Evans was Reagan's personal photographer during his first term as president from 1981 through 1985, and shot 37,000 rolls of film while he was working at the White House. Evans was standing behind Reagan in March 1981 when the president was shot. He had just walked out of a Washington, D.C., hotel where he addressed a union convention.

"I just lowered my camera as the shots rang out," Evans wrote in a 2004 article for The Digital Journalist magazine. "Instinctively I fired a frame as I raised my camera, then took one more before I dropped to the ground myself." He said his pictures showed where Reagan's body fell.

He had access to Reagan during official events, private discussions in the Oval Office, off-hours spent at home in front of the TV with his wife, Nancy, and elsewhere.

"Even in front of me, his personal photographer, he was the consummate pro," Evans said of Reagan in a 1990 interview with The Times. "He knew history would remember every photo."

The now-famous image of Reagan wearing his cowboy hat came about after a day of shooting Reagan doing chores on his Santa Barbara ranch. Afterward, he and Evans sat on the patio and started talking.

"I must have said something he liked because his face sort of lit up," Evans said of Reagan in an interview with National Public Radio in June 2004.

"What you saw with Ronald Reagan was what you got," Evans told NPR. Basically, Evans said, "he was just somebody you'd like to have next door as your neighbor."

Born in St. Louis, the son of a Canadian diplomat and a registered nurse, Evans lived in Havana and Cape Town, South Africa, with his parents as a boy and took an early interest in world events.

He went to boarding school in Ontario, Canada, where he started photographing campus sports events for the Port Hope Evening Guide at age 15.

After graduating from Queen's University in Ontario, majoring in physics and mathematics, he got his first full-time job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio in the early 1960s. From there he went to the New York Times, where he was a staff photographer until he joined Time magazine in 1974.

Evans often said he was impressed by Reagan from the first time he saw him in the early 1970s when the then-governor of California gave a speech at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Evans began to cover Reagan whenever he had a chance.

In 1983, during his years as President Reagan's photographer, Evans married Story Shem, a founding partner of Arrive, a Washington communications firm.

The couple later settled in Atlanta.

In 1982 Evans started a portrait project that resulted in pictures of several hundred of Washington's government leaders and other workers, including senators, congressmen, Supreme Court justices and the White House social secretary. "People and Power: Portraits from the Federal Village" became an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery and a book in 1985.

When he left his job at the White House, Evans returned to Time as a contract photographer for several years and was photo editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for a brief time.

More recently he developed software for cataloging photographs and sold the system to Los Angeles' J. Paul Getty Museum as well as other holders of large photography collections.

Evans' first marriage ended in divorce. Along with his wife, Story, survivors include four children from his first marriage and two from his second. A memorial service will be held Tuesday in Atlanta.

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