Who Was Sam Vestal? Do you recall a picture of John Fitzgerald Kennedy wearing a stylish pair of shades with a crowd of photographers reflected in them? How about a photo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, lying on their backs, laughing at the camera? Or a picture of serial killer, Herbert Mullin, so detailed you can see the links on his shackles and the seam in his prison slippers? If you’ve ever seen any of these photographs, then you have seen the work of Sam Vestal.
At the age of 19, Sam turned his life-long fascination with photography into a career by going to work for the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, his home town newspaper. He took a break from working for them when he entered the army. With some clever finagling, he got on board with the Stars and Stripes, and spent his army career taking photographs – many of them of military leaders and famous entertainers who were there for the troops.
After his two years in the military, Sam returned home and continued working for the paper. His daughters, Kim and Victoria, reveal that he rarely did anything without a camera in his hands. Kim explains how proud she was of her dad, and how his pictures would often be on the front page of the Register. Victoria adds that they really didn’t have a lot of money – something she didn’t realize until she was filling out her application for college. The girls were also unaware that Sam had helped his newspaper win a Pulitzer Prize for community service by photographing a politician in a compromising place – the fellow had been taking bribes after running on a platform to clean up corruption.
What Sam left his family when he passed away at age 70, was a wealth of negatives and photographs, carelessly tossed into boxes. His daughters and son-in-law, Brad Kupper, set about cleaning up and organizing this gold-mine of visual material. Some of the pictures they donated to charitable causes, some went to a television documentary entitled, “Twisted,” or “Born to Kill.” Still others have been posted on the Sam Vestal Facebook page. A very nice collection of choice photos have been bound into a book – which is one of the rewards you can earn by helping with their project.
The family has set up a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign entitled, “Just One More Sam Vestal.” Funds raised through crowdfunding will help pay for the continued efforts to clean up and preserve the wealth of photographs Sam took during his lifetime. But they want to do more than that.
Under the guidance of W. Bradley Kupper, himself a photographer and producer, the family would like to create a documentary of Sam Vestal’s life. They have the photographs selected and have lined up cast and crew to produce the video. Funds raised through Kickstarter would pay salaries, buy music rights and pay for permissions to use photographs that were published during Sam’s life. This exciting project would preserve the work of a home-town journalist who created a rich collection of photographs that records life from the early 1950’s until his death in 2002.