Catching Up With ‘Kent State Massacre’ Photographer John Filo

Over at Neon Tommy, editor-in-chief Callie Schweitzer has a wonderful profile of Pulitzer Prize Winning photographer John Filo, who is best known for his photographs of the May 4 massacre at Kent State in 1970. It’s a long and comprehensive profile, but perhaps most interesting is the story behind the photo that won Filo the Pulitzer–a shot of 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio screaming over the dead and bleeding body of student Jeffrey Miller.

“Blood was just pumping out of his body, on the hot asphalt. It just stops you and I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here, I’ve got to leave.’ And I ran.”

But something stopped him when he got to the bottom of the hill and stood close to Miller’s body.

“I said, ‘Why are you running now? It’s all over.’”

And that’s when he saw 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio running up the street to Miller.

He pressed the shutter on his camera, but it would be hours before he realized the emotion he captured.

The photo is often described as a picture of Vecchio crying over the body of Miller, a 20-year-old student. But Vecchio wasn’t crying, Filo said. She was screaming.

He angled himself to take a more horizontal picture but changed his mind when he saw her face.

“I could see the tension building in this girl and finally she let out with the scream, and I sort of reacted to the scream and shot that picture.”

As a photographer at the scene, Filo had trouble blending into the background. Students were ever aware of the presence of law enforcement and assumed he was doing surveillance for the FBI or the CIA, Filo said.

Protesters screamed in his ears, asking him why he was taking pictures. Though he originally didn’t want to respond, Filo said one girl pushed him over the edge.

“I finally said to her, ‘No one is going to believe this happened.’ I remember just yelling back at her and continuing.”

Not surprisingly, Filo went on to a long and successful career in photojournalism. He’s now the executive director of CBS photography.