Former Journal-News Photographer
Al Witt got sports shots that no one else was getting. As a photographer for The Journal-News through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Al captured the drama of athletic competition from angles and with techniques that were considered novel for their time: a long-jumper’s spiked shoes headed straight for the camera lens on descent into the sand pit; a shot-putter poised to uncoil, his throwing arm looming large in the frame; basket- ball players vying under the hoop, unhindered by Witt’s presence because he used no flash – “available light’’ in photographers’ parlance – while snapping off his gem.
“I worked in a business where there was constantly something going on,” says Al, who was a general-assignment photographer for the original Rockland Journal-News from about 1960 to 1989. “I shot everything, but it was really a joy to photograph sports. It was exciting. All the kids were trying like hell to be No. 1, whether it was a 50-yard dash, tennis, baseball, whatever. The intensity of the kids, the tension … they were working hard on their competition.”
A native of Yonkers, Al graduated from Mount St. Michael Academy of the Bronx in 1940 and served as a U.S. Army tank transporter during World War II. His ability to work well under duress – a trait that would manifest itself countless times while photographing sports – was first revealed during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Al was caught in the sudden first hours of fighting while delivering materiel during that crucial battle in the Ardennes region, yet he hunkered down, gauged his opportunity to finish his delivery and successfully completed his mission.
While in Europe during the war, Al took up photography to capture the landscape. When he returned to civilian life, he landed a job at Macy’s working in the camera department from 1946 to 1950. His Journal-News career came about after he sent a photograph to Journal-News editor Norman Baker. “It was something I thought would be good for a feature story in the paper,” Al says. “Norm liked my work and offered me an opportunity to head up The Journal-News photo department.” And thus began his illustrious tenure at the newspaper, shooting everything from pre-publicity shots, to spot-news photos like fires and accidents, to sports, which proved a forte.
“Whatever sport Al Witt was assigned, from pre-Little League to high school to semi-pro, he tried to capture the excitement, the opportunity/ loss of opportunity, the pathos, the drama, the tears of joy of sports in Rockland,” wrote Arthur H. Gunther III, who was a Journal-News photographer, writer and editor for more than four decades. He broke in at the paper as a cub photographer under Al Witt.
“Many a day at the old Journal-News,’ Gunther added, “it was sports, not general news, that carried the paper, that made it interesting for the moms and pops, coaches, fans and, most of all, players in sports-minded Rockland County. Al Witt was a legend in his time as a sports photog.”
Al was recognized for his excellence in shooting sports, earning third place in a New York State Associated Press competition for a photo from a local baseball game, and receiving an appreciation award in 1988 for his long and meritorious service to The Journal-News and the athletes of Rockland County.
After retiring from the paper, Al volunteered at the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program at United Church of Spring Valley for close to 25 years. “I cooked pancakes every Tuesday for a hundred people,” says Al. “I was happy to do it.”
Aloysius Witt turns 91 years young in June. He gave up bocce ball just a few years ago, relinquished his driver’s license recently and now uses a cane, but is enjoying life to the greatest extent possible, he says. He lives in New City with his daughter, Marie, and son, Al, and has two other grown children, Lois and Alyse. Another daughter, Nancy Rita, passed away some 10 years ago. His first wife, Angelina, died in 1986 and his second wife, Alicia, lives in Florida.