Editor’s note: After about a 20-year absence, a popular Daily Mail feature has been revived. “Cornered By The Camera” offered glimpses of people in and around the Charleston area, a sort of “get-to-know-you” for the Kanawha Valley. It will be a regular Monday Life feature. Chief photographer Craig Cunningham remembers his experiences as the person behind the camera looking back, and now, forward.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When I first came to the Charleston Daily Mail 36 years ago, the photo feature “Cornered By The Camera” was already well established. Chief photographer Earl Benton told me that all I had to do was corner someone with my camera, take their picture and ask them several thought-provoking questions. We would strive to capture the subjects in their environment and try to get as interesting a picture as possible. The goal was to make it more than just a mugshot.
Sometimes we would get some surprising answers. I remember one time I asked the question, “What is your worst nightmare?” The woman answered, “Vampires.” Somewhat surprised I probed, “So vampires are a big problem?” She looked me in the eye and in a very serious tone told me that, “There are more vampires out there than most people realize.”
One of the best answers to the question “What would you do if you won the lottery?” was that they would buy an island.
Next they would declare war on the United States and after they lost they would collect billions of dollars in foreign aid to rebuild it. (Possibly borrowed from the the 1950s novel and feature film “The Mouse That Roared,” which employed a similar premise as its plot.)
At some point, the name was changed to the less threatening “Faces About Town” but most people still called it Cornered By The Camera. Several years ago, an editor decided the Daily Mail should stop doing the popular feature but it still endured in many people’s memories. In fact we would get phone calls from the public recommending a particular person we should photograph for Cornered By The Camera. We would have to sigh and tell them that we discontinued doing it years ago. That has changed.