Photojournalism once a passion of portrait taker

Robert Symms

Robert Symms didn't have the advantage of long lenses and "fast" film, but he found ways to make photojournalism exciting in the 1950s and '60s.


As a contracted photographer for The Augusta Chronicle and Augusta Herald , he took 15 to 100 photographs per week at a rate of $3 per shot.

"That was an exciting time," he said. "We've got thousands and thousands we filed."

Symms' camera bag permanently sat by the door when he was away from the office. Like a firefighter , he had to be ready when a call came, no matter what time of day or night.

When Elvis performed at the Bell Auditorium in 1956, Symms was in an alley waiting for the young star's arrival with his 4X5 Crown Graphic camera.

Every time President Dwight Eisenhower made an appearance in the Garden City, Symms was there.

In 1951, he photographed the trial of Margie Kennedy, who was accused of killing her husband, John B. Kennedy, Augusta's former commissioner of public safety.

Symms recalled Mayor Will Jennings approaching the witness stand after being released from a hospital.

"They brought him into the courtroom on a stretcher and he made his tearful testimony," he said.

In a time when it took around 12 seconds to prepare for the next shot, Symms said photographers had to be on their toes and have perfect timing.

"Twelve seconds can be an eternity," he said. "A lot can happen in 12 seconds."

Many nights he stood on the side­lines of sporting events waiting on that perfect moment when the action came close enough he could almost touch it.

Although Symms didn't enjoy photographing sports, he won an award from the Associated Press for his sports photography in 1956.

In 1964, Symms and his partner Morgan Fitz opted out of their contract with the newspaper and began working at their Fitz-Symms portrait studio on Walton Way.

"We were spending about three-fourths of our time photographing for the newspaper and were getting about half our income from it," he said. "After a while our accountant told us we were going to be out of business."

Robert Symms

History: Symms received his first camera at age 13 after showing an interest in the photography habits of a medical student who rented a room in his parents' home. The student took photos of disease and decaying bodies and developed them in the Symms' bathroom.

Experience: After beginning his first full-time photography job with Morgan Fitz at 20, Symms went on to have 47 years of active photography experience.

Most Challenging Photo: Symms had to climb down into a pit to photograph the blades that pump the water into the Augusta Canal.

Most Rewarding Photo: In 1956, Symms won an award from the Associated Press for a photo taken during the final moments of the Richmond Academy football team losing the region title. And, of course, his photos of Elvis.