Tom Myers, a Sacramento photographer whose vivid images of animals, places and people in California and the West have appeared in national magazines, books and on greeting cards, died April 7 of cancer, his family said. He was 88.
A prolific professional, Mr. Myers accumulated a visual library of more than 700,000 slides as a top freelance stock photographer for more than 50 years. His work has been reproduced in leading publications around the world – from National Geographic, National Wildlife, Newsweek and The New York Times to Comstock’s, Sacramento and Sactown magazines.
His talent at capturing close-ups of wildlife landed many of his works on Hallmark cards and in educational books. Besides roaming outdoors from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains and from Alaska to Mexico, he spent countless hours in zoos and aquariums to amass one of the largest collections of fish and reptile photographs on the West Coast.
“I try not to get more than 100 feet away from my car,” he once said in an interview with The Bee. “Don’t tell National Wildlife this, but I take a lot of my pictures in my own backyard.”
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Although he downplayed his efforts, Mr. Myers was a consummate professional who went to great lengths to record his subjects spontaneously in natural settings. During the 1960s, he scoured the California coast by air, land and sea with marine biologists to document some of the first images of the California sea otter – which had been believed to be extinct – for a National Geographic cover.
As a photographer for United Press International in the 1960s and 1970s, he covered daily press conferences at the state Capitol and trips by governors and other state leaders. He was on the scene when Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in Capitol Park in 1975.
He never left home without a camera in the front seat of his car, and “he never got out of the car without it – even when he just went shopping,” said his son Jeff. With boundless fascination for life, he collected stock photos of real-life subjects ranging from agriculture to urban living to wildlife.
“He even had a ‘roadkill’ file,” his son said. “One of his favorite expressions was, ‘We take pictures of what interests us – and almost everything interests us.’ ”
Along with his photographer wife Sally, Mr. Myers was a ubiquitous figure in Sacramento who documented changes in the capital since the early 1960s. Besides teaching at local colleges, he volunteered his photographs and gave demonstrations at fundraisers for many organizations, including the Sacramento Zoo, the Sacramento History Archives and the Sacramento Public Library.
Many of his iconic images of local architecture, culture, history and people have been seen all over the world in materials produced by the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization and in a book, “Sacramento Impressions,” which he published with his wife and son. A collector of vintage picture postcards, he chronicled the community with more than 200 samples in another book, “Postcard History Series: Sacramento.”
An extensive collection of his work is offered at tommyersphotography.com.
“Tom recorded so much of what happened in Sacramento and around here that I can’t imagine anyone who had a better view of what was going on in the city,” former Mayor Heather Fargo said. “He really recorded what the area is all about.”
Thomas Francis Myers III was born Oct. 24, 1925, in Chicago. His father, Thomas II, acted in silent films before starting a group of regional newspapers in the Chicago area. His mother, Marian, met her husband at work and edited one of his newspapers.
Sent to military school, a rebellious Tom Myers left in search of adventure at 16 and lied about his age to join the Merchant Marine during World War II. He steered a ship through the Suez Canal on a secret mission to deliver nerve-gas bombs to India, his family said. He walked the bomb-scorched streets of London and the desolate landscape of Hiroshima five months after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Japan.
During the Korean War, he served with the Army 45th Infantry and was assigned to drive top officers into a “no man’s land” between enemy lines. He began taking photographs of the area and later started a small newspaper for the Army Corps of Engineers.
After the war, he settled in Sacramento and began freelancing as a photographer in 1963 while selling ads for the Roseville Daily Press-Tribune and, later, the Sacramento Union and the Berkeley Gazette. He was married for 50 years to his wife, Sally, and had a son Jeff, who is a noted painter.
Well known among his peers, he was introduced into the American Society of Media Photographers by Ansel Adams and won national awards for his work, including the Kodak International Professional Photographers Showcase Award. He received honors from the California Press Association and the National Press Association.
Mr. Myers was a fun, enthusiastic man who connected easily with people. He enjoyed answering questions about his techniques and sharing professional tips – but he encouraged amateur shutterbugs not to make photography too complicated.
“Lots of people ask me, ‘Gee, how do you take this picture or achieve this effect?’ ” he once told The Bee. “I always tell them, ‘Look in the viewfinder and if it looks good to you, take the picture.’ ”
A celebration of Mr. Myers’ life is being planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Belle Cooledge Library in Sacramento or to the Sacramento Zoo.