Story and Photos
by Terry Miller
I just received some very sad news that my good friend and horse photography mentor, Bill Machon passed away. He truly was a fixture at Santa Anita and always had advice, a bloody good joke or two and knew everyone. More importantly they knew and loved him.
Bill was, for all intents and purposes the Ambassador of Racing Photojournalists, especially at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park tracks.
Recently, April 2, the Press Photographers’ Association of Greater Los Angeles bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award upon the eminent photographer Bill Mochon during its annual awards luncheon in Alhambra.
A virtual 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 at 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 celebrated shooter had a million yarns to tell … “and … some of them are even true …” Mochon once quipped.
Mochon was well known by those regulars at the track for his uncompromising sense of humor and ever-willing mentoring nature.
Mochon was the only credentialed photographer I know of who shot almost exclusively in black and white didn’t convert to the digital side of life as most of the rest of the press corps.
You’d see him with his trusty Nikon F5 at the track almost every day the ponies were running. He even developed and printed his own images in his North Hollywood home.
It was 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.