Nebraska photographer Bill Ganzel, who came of age in the '60s, is now in his 60s — still fascinated by the effects of that tumultuous decade a half-century ago.
Seven years ago, he embarked on a project he calls Sixties Survivors. He tracks down photographs and interviews people featured in Look magazine.
“For me,” said Bill, 64, “it's a unique way to judge how historic events affected the lives of individuals.”
He has photographed famous people around the country, but some of the most compelling subjects are names you don't recognize, though they are tied to famous events.
Jan Rose Kasmir was 17 when photographed during a 1967 peace march at the Pentagon, offering a flower to a soldier holding a bayonet.
Bill caught up with her in Hilton Head Island, S.C., where she is a massage therapist. She reflected on her “prayerful pose” in that famous photo.
Lewis Marshall was 15 when he was pictured carrying an American flag in 1965 in part of the 54-mile voting-rights march in Alabama, between Selma and Montgomery.
It took Bill more than a year to find him. A Vietnam veteran, Marshall hadn't realized until Bill showed it to him that he was depicted in a life-size sculpture at an Alabama museum, carrying Old Glory.
“This is fantastic!” he says on video as he views his image for the first time. “Fan…tastic.”
Bill Ganzel's amazing work in progress can be viewed at www.sixtiessurvivors.org.
“One reason it's called Survivors is that we lived through a very violent decade,” said Bill. “Vietnam, civil rights, even the implied violence of the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation.”
And the violence of assassinations — President John F. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy.
An interview that was especially important to Bill was in New York with former JFK speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, who since has died. Bill lives in the Lincoln home where Sorensen grew up.
Not surprisingly, Sorensen credited Kennedy's legacy with advances seen later, including the Civil Rights Act and the moon landing.
He also talked about a previous speaking trip around the country with Kennedy, testing the waters for a presidential run a few years later. “Just the two of them,” Bill said. “No entourage.”
Ganzel has photographed about 40 people for his project, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson; civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewis; former U.S. Attorney Gen. Nicholas Katzenbach; and Newton Minow, who said in 1961 as head of the Federal Communications Commission that television was “a vast wasteland.”
Among others in the project are John Krejci, who was a young Catholic priest from Omaha when he joined the march in Selma; and Martin Desilets of Omaha, a B-52 pilot in Vietnam.
The plan is to interview others, for a total of 50 to 75.
He would love to find Michael King, an Air Force captain from Chicago who was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base 50 years ago.
A Look article said that the then-32-year-old, who was black, was a member of a Strategic Air Command intelligence unit. He was said to suffer from housing discrimination and couldn't find a place for his family that was close to the base.
Ganzel has tried to find him or a family member, so far without success.
Bill was born in Lincoln, grew up partly in Alma, Neb., and graduated from high school in Waverly before attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He worked for Nebraska educational television for 27 years.
In the 1980s, he became involved in another “re-photographing” project, showing people who had survived the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. That resulted in a book and a touring exhibit.
When he left NETV in 2003, Bill formed his own company and began looking for projects. In his youth, he recalled, he read Look magazine.
Look's photo archives of about 5 million published and unpublished images were donated to the Library of Congress after the magazine folded in 1971. Bill has visited the library, but he decided he needed the actual magazines.
So he painstakingly began acquiring every edition from 1960 through 1971, in some cases one by one, purchasing them online through eBay.
He set up a database, assigned values to articles and photographs and set priorities. Then he sought interviews.
He has received foundation grants for the project but now is seeking online “crowdfunding,” asking for public support. The link is www.usaprojects.org/project/sixties_survivors.
Because the survivors of the '60s won't survive forever, Bill said, he hopes he can complete interviews and field production soon.
He plans a documentary for public television or a cable network, as well as a touring exhibit. In the end, he said, everything will be donated to the Library of Congress.
And the interviews and photos will be available online.
“First-person experiences are crucial,” Bill said. “That's what makes this, in my estimation, a primary historical document.”