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Remembering Charles Kelly Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

6 June 2016

Associated Press photographer Charles Kelly has gone to great darkroom in the sky. Kelly, who retired in 1993, passed away at the age of 84 at his home in the Atlanta area, where he mentored many young photographers.

During his 33 year career with the Associated Press, Kelly worked in the Memphis, Milwaukee and Atlanta bureaus.

He covered the Braves in both Milwaukee and Atlanta for 32 seasons where Hall of Famer Hank Aaron was frequently in front of his lens. He shot eight Super Bowls, four Kentucky Derbys, five Major League All Star Games and four NCAA Final Fours. He also photographed Hall of Fame coaches Vince Lombardi, Paul Bear Bryant and Adolph Rupp.

Sports wasn't his only beat, though.

He also photographed Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, Queen Elizabeth II, Ray Charles and many other notables.

A legend among wire service photographers, Kelly was also remembered as a southern gentleman who 'just plain beat the competition.'

But his most memorable assignments were covering Martin Luther King, Jr., including King's last public appearance in Memphis and his funeral in Atlanta. He was a featured photojournalist in the "Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956-1968" at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

He also covered the funerals of Elvis Presley, U.S. Senator and United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stephenson and novelist William Faulkner.

Born in North Carolina, Kelly learned photography as a teenager from his father, who was self taught. He entered college in Cumberland, Kentucky, at age 16, where he took pictures for the college newspaper and yearbook, using a broom closet in the men's dorm to develop the film.

He attended Wake Forest College, leaving in his senior year to pursue career in photography at The Charlotte Observer, where he got a job as a retoucher. But he hung around the photo department and the newsroom until he was hired to take photos.

The Observer covered Duke University, the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University, launching Kelly's sports photography career.

At The Charlotte News, Kelly covered the Billy Graham Crusade, stock car races and basketball tournaments while working on the night shift.

Kelly joined the Associated Press in Memphis in 1961, moving to the Milwaukee bureau the next year. In 1966, he moved to the Atlanta bureau, where he was based until he retired.

SFGate has published an extensive slide show of his images.

A legend among wire service photographers, Kelly was also remembered as a southern gentleman who "just plain beat the competition."

He's survived by his wife, Lois, 85, of Atlanta and his son, Alex, 55, also of Atlanta.

(After publication of Kelly's obituary, John Stephen Richard Hyjek released a 25-minute video of Kelly reviewing the images he was most proud of in his 33-year career. We've subsequently included that video in our Saturday Matinee series. -- Editor)

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