Longtime Los Angeles Times photojournalist Gary Friedman dies at 62

Gary Friedman, a longtime photojournalist who over the decades covered presidential elections, Olympic games and the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks for the Los Angeles Times, has died after a long fight with cancer. He was 62.

Friedman, who died Wednesday in Los Angeles, had an expansive career, covering landmark moments such as the breakup of the Soviet Union and small yet tender stories of triumph, like his gripping photos of twin women who were conjoined at the head. The photos won a World Press Photo award in 1981.

A self-avowed eccentric, Friedman was known as a master of being able to wiggle into news events while other journalists waited patiently for credentials or official escorts.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez recalled traveling with a group of colleagues to New York City after the terror attacks, only to find out that obtaining credentials to get near Ground Zero would be a grinding, hours-long process.

Inching closer to the front of the line, Lopez said he suddenly spotted Friedman crawling through the brush, covered in soot and flecked in mud. He’d somehow bypassed the security detail and had been shooting photos of the devastation for hours, having sent several batches of photos back to the newspaper while others waited dutifully in line.

“Hey, is this where we get credentials?” Friedman said, casually slipping into line with Lopez.

Bob Chamberlin, a former Times photographer who worked with Friedman for years, recalled a similar story of the photographer’s remarkable ability to get from point A to point B without detection. The two were in New York for an anniversary event at the Statue of Liberty, and organizers had issued credentials for only 50 journalists. Lacking credentials, Friedman looked to be the odd person out.

“No worries,” Friedman told Chamberlin.

With his head down and walking with a purpose, Friedman strode briskly through security and onto the boat headed to the statue. When he realized that he would no doubt be asked to produce his credentials at some point, Friedman came up with a plausible story: The wind, now whipping across the water, had swept the credentials into the harbor.

The story worked and he was promptly awarded a set of credentials.

Born in Detroit on July 20, 1954, Friedman attended Wayne State University and landed an internship at National Geographic Magazine after college. He was hired by The Times in 1980 and retired in 2015.

While Friedman had covered many of the defining moments in recent Los Angeles history — the riots of 1992, the fires that chewed through the hillsides, the last time the Dodgers went to the World Series — it was a photo he captured of the space shuttle Endeavour’s return to Southern California in 2012 that forced him to defend himself and his work.

The shuttle, riding atop a 747, circled the L.A. skyline in its return and — for a second or two — glided above the Hollywood sign. It was a classic L.A. moment, so perfect that one reader complained that the shot had to be photoshopped.

Friedman typed up a story on how he’d shot the picture. The day of the Endeavour’s arrival, he’d planted himself on the helipad at the top of the 73-story U.S. Bank building in downtown L.A. He had a 360-degree view and elected to use a 400-millimeter lens, fearing that with a longer lens the shuttle might move out of the frame before he could get off a shot. He kept his hand on the shutter, firing off three clicks. The first one was perfect.

It was not Friedman’s first time photographing a space shuttle. In 1983, he captured Challenger’s landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

“I felt like an excited kid,” he wrote.

Marc Friedman said his brother had battled prostate cancer for more than 15 years, far surpassing normal expectations.

Friedman is survived by his wife, Helen, and his brother.

steve.marble@latimes.com

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