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October 11th, 2016 by Terry Miller
Iconic Track Photographer, Bill Mochon, Passes Away
Bill Mochon would have been 75 years old on Columbus Day. His family , friends and photo colleagues held a party in his honor at the Frontrunner at Santa Anita
Second Race Columbus Day named in His Honor
By Terry Miller
Local legendary horse-racing photographer Bill Mochon passed away last week after a short battle with cancer. He truly was a fixture at Santa Anita and always had advice, a good joke or two and knew everyone. More importantly everyone at Santa Anita knew and loved him. Bill was, for all intents and purposes the Grand Ambassador of Horse Racing Photojournalists, especially at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park tracks.
On Monday, friends, his three children and fellow photographers gathered at Santa Anita Park to honor his life and that amazing journey that led him to Santa Anita. Amy Gaskin had this to say about the man who taught her the ropes at the track: “Bill became like a second father to me. A kind and generous mentor….the type of person few people are lucky enough to know in a lifetime. He was always welcoming, inclusive, and helped me fit in when I was new at the track. He was always generous to share his encyclopedic knowledge of both racing and photography. I will never forget his kindness and miss him dearly already.
Bill was truly one of a kind….in all the best ways.”
Recently, April 2, the Press Photographers’ Association of Greater Los Angeles bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award upon the celebrated photographer Bill Mochon during its annual awards luncheon in Alhambra.
During that award, Gaskin elaborated on Mochon’s tenacity for teaching young photographers. “It was Bill who told me that first day at the race track, “Hey, you should remember to shoot out in the paddock this weekend because we have some good horses here. Some might even go to the Kentucky Derby, you never know.” He seemed to know what he was talking about, so I went to the paddock that weekend … and got really, really lucky when I picked 2 year old California Chrome.
WATCH Slideshow of Bill Mochon in Action
Bill is also generous in introducing me to other professional photographers at the track. Mr. Shig Kikkawa is here today as well. When I covered California Chrome’s journey to the Triple Crown races, it was Bill and Shig who guided me every step of the way. Their gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and kindness were ones I will never forget.”
A fixture at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, Mochon for years had been mentoring young and green photographers and helping us all understand horse racing photography’s dos and don’ts – i.e. like the first time I met Bill in the late 1990s he advised me it was perhaps not good protocol to stand in front of the automatic camera at the finish line … true story. Talk about photo finish … I’m lucky they let me back trackside the next day.
After a few more sessions at the track I got to know not only Mochon’s immeasurable sense of history and knowledge of the horse racing business but also his absolute passion for the art of black and white photography. His well-documented, deep caring for his colleagues and wonderful family of three ‘kids’ and one ‘terrific wife’ Joan truly elevated Mochon into a rare club of individuals who genuinely was one- of- a-kind.
Hanging out with Mochon trackside was an experience every photographer needs, in fact it should be mandatory for any budding shutterbug. He’d make you laugh, and just usually make the day at the races unforgettable.
Man, this chap had some amazing stories of not only famous horses, jockeys and owners/trainers but also of celebrities past and present.
This illustrious shooter has a million yarns to tell … “And … some of them are even true …” Mochon once quipped.
Mochon is well known by those regulars at the track for his uncompromising sense of humor and ever-willing mentoring nature. He is also the only credentialed photographer I know of who shot almost exclusively in black and white and had not converted to the digital side of life as most of the rest of the press corps.
You could see him everywhere with his trusty Nikon F5. He even developed and printed his own images in his elaborate darkroom in his North Hollywood home. It’s still magic to Mochon, “there’s nothing more beautiful than a black and white print on archival paper,” Mochon said with a wry smile. If you’ve even seen or held a print Mochon made, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Bill Mochon, a Providence, Rhode Island native, started his career as a photographer during 1960, in the Marine Corps at Quantico, Virginia, where he learned the basics by working in the photo laboratory darkroom mixing chemistry, loading film holders, developing film and making prints for the base newspaper.
He also assisted the base’s official photographer on various assignments, covering activities on the base from retirement ceremonies, visiting dignitaries, promotions and awards, and even football games. Upon his discharge, Bill came to California and started working with a commercial photographer in 1964, doing advertising and industrial and corporate reports.
Two years later, he started in motion picture work at a lab where he developed films of the aerospace program which led to still and high speed camera work covering the rocket launches at Cape Kennedy, including Apollo XV and the Saturn V program. He married Joan in 1967 and his breakthrough into Thoroughbred racing came when the couple visited Santa Anita Park in 1973.
Bill then started contributing to California Thoroughbred magazine by taking photos at the racetracks, breeding farms, etc. Retirement is not a word Mochon knew or even understood.
Bill – You’ll be missed but your legacy will live on forever.