Bernie Boston, the photojournalist who captured the iconic image of a young Vietnam War protester placing a flower in the barrel of a rifle held by a National Guardsman, died Tuesday at his home in Basye, Va. He was 74.
Boston, a former photographer for the Washington Star, the Dayton Daily News and the Los Angeles Times, died from complications of amyloidosis, a rare disease in which abnormal proteins build up in organs and tissues, said his wife, Peggy Boston.
The photo known as “Flower Power” became Boston’s signature image and earned him acclaim in the world of photojournalism. Taken during an antiwar march on the Pentagon on Oct. 22, 1967, the photo was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
“ ‘Flower Power’ is one of those quintessential images,” said Therese Mulligan of the Rochester Institute of Technology, which houses Boston’s archives and in 2006 presented an exhibition of his works. “It sums up that period, how a lot of people feel about the ‘60s.”
Boston was a photographer for the now-defunct Washington Star when antiwar demonstrators approached the Pentagon. Positioned on a wall at the mall entrance to the Pentagon, Boston watched as a lieutenant marched a squad of guardsmen into the sea of demonstrators. The squad formed a semicircle, their guns pointed at the demonstrators. Boston was ready for anything that might happen.
“And this young man appeared with flowers and proceeded . . . [to] put them down the rifle barrel,” Boston told National Public Radio in 2006. “And I was on the wall so I could see all this, and I just started shooting.”
The resulting photograph is a rich, nuanced image of a chapter of U.S. history.
“In photojournalistic terms, it’s referred to as a decisive moment when everything comes together,” Mulligan said of the moment Boston captured.
Back at the office, Boston’s photograph received a lukewarm response. It was not prominently displayed in the newspaper.
“The editor didn’t see the importance of the picture,” Boston said later. “We buried it,” Boston told NPR. “I entered it in contests, and it started winning everything and being recognized.”
Born May 18, 1933, in Washington, D.C., Boston grew up in McLean, Va., and was a photographer for his high school newspaper and yearbook. In 1955, after earning a degree in photography from the Rochester Institute, he spent three years in the Army. He joined the staff of the Dayton Daily News in Ohio in 1963 and three years later joined the staff of the Washington Star, where he remained until the paper folded in 1981.
The same year he photographed “Flower Power,” Boston shot a portrait of former Black Panther H. Rap Brown. He captured images of the civil rights movement, including a portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during his Poor People’s Campaign. Boston also photographed every U.S. president from Truman to Clinton.
In 1981 the Los Angeles Times hired Boston in its Washington, D.C., bureau. Six years later, Boston was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in spot news photography for his photograph of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at the unveiling of a bronze bust of King.
Boston and his wife moved to Basye in 1994, where he published and she edited the Bryce Mountain Courier. Boston is survived by his wife, an aunt and two nieces.