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Creativity Leaps Off the Page

Every yearbook publishes senior photos. It’s a rite of passage.

In the 1970’s, The Wabash took the practice to new heights, publishing photos taken in different campus locations often with a prop or two, including significant others, babies, and even pets. If you remember the ’70’s, it looks completely normal.

When it came time for Class of 1977 members Bob Kniskern, Bob Snodgrass, and Mark Van Buskirk to submit theirs, the gentlemen were hoping for something out of the ordinary. Inspired by equal parts Butch Cassidy and Salvador Dali, the guys, and photographer Ben Thomas ’75 came up with the photo below, shot on location in Waynetown near a mobile home Kniskern and Van Buskirk lived in as seniors.

Class of ’77 members (from left) Bob Kniskern, Bob Snodgrass, and Mark Van Buskirk channel Salvador Dali and Butch Sundance in this senior pic taken by Ben Thomas ’75.

And the photo remains memorable to that group 40 years later.

“We ran together toward the road from the farm field across the road from our trailer and jumped into the air together over the ditch to get some good air underneath us,” Kniskern explained via e-mail. “It took a lot of takes before our photographer buddy Ben was satisfied he got one that would be cool.”

Thomas was inspired by “Dali Atomicus,” the 1948 Philippe Halsman portrait of Salvador Dali that appeared in Life magazine. It’s the one where Dali, three cats, an easel, a chair, a painting, Dali, and some water are all suspended in the frame.

“’Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ was not far from memory at the time, and they happy attitude of the gang’s successful migration is well reflected in our charging brothers’ faces,” Thomas recalled.

The nearly full-frame print was done in Thomas’ darkroom in the wiring closet on the second floor of the Phi Psi house on H&W Control film. He used a Leitz Tiltall tripod and a 300mm f5.6 Canon FD lens on his F1 camera. He was at least a hundred feet away from his subjects to get them

Philippe Halsman’s “Dali Atomicus.”

framed that way.

“In retrospect, it would have been better on a more contrasty film, even if it would have been grainy,” Thomas said. “If I ever see the negative again – I have no idea where it is, but I may still have it – I may have a go at it. That film I used, while very, very fine-grained, was notoriously lacking in contrast.

“It’s still one of my favorite photos, regardless.”

While the whereabouts of the negatives are in question, the final print still survives. “I have the only print from the original negative for that photo,” Van Buskirk said.

“It was fun and we wanted to be different,” Kniskern said, “and I think we succeeded.”